"Food responds to our soul's dream as to our stomach's appetite."
Joseph Delteil, La Cuisine paléolithique, 1964
Yarr, I blog like a Pirate!
Observations on Food in the Bay Area
Soluna Cafe
website - handily located in the middle of SF's Civic Center, which isn't too far from the Opera or Symphony for those of you looking for a pre-or-post show meal, it's a reasonably ordinary rectangular space with a bar along the front half, spruced up with some fun lighting (especially the small star-like lights opposite the bar), and most of the restaurant seating is on what are essentially couches. This is somewhat nifty, except that in my experience couches make for a horrible seating choice when attempting to eat - they encourage you to lean back (though these have rather upright backs) rather than forward towards your plate, and are much harder to comfortably shift in towards your table.

We appeared on a Thursday evening around 8:30, and the place was reasonably deserted, with one lone server tending to the few diners. By 9, however, it had filled up suprisingly, and we felt bad for his having to do his best to tend so many customers.

They have a passable wine list of perhaps 20 options, many by-the-glass, and prices generally ranged around $35/bottle. After sampling their by-the-glass pinot, which was rather bland and unremarkable, we opted for an '02 Greenwood Ridge Estate Pinot Noir (at the suggestion of said waiter), which was quite excellent. Very tasty with solid cherry fruit and plenty of spicy character. A medium-bodied wine, with complex notes of leather complementing its fine tannins, leading to a nice, longish finish.

The food!
Soluna offers a $35 prix fixe option for 3 courses, and we both chose that (as it would add up nicely to our $70 dinner coupon, courtesy of SF Survey).

Duo of Dungeness Crab (lemon-thyme crab-cake, clementine crab salad) - an attractive presentation, but a bit lacking in implementation. The cake was small enough that it's battering and frying nearly overpowered any other flavors within it. It was overly dry, and the crab nearly lost. The salad didn't fare significantly better, with nothing remarkable about its flavor. Mostly, I was unimpressed by the lack of sweetness I'd hoped for from the crab - it was either lost in the mix, or simply not that great to begin with.
Wild Mushroom Risotto (roasted mushrooms, thyme, and parmesan reggiano) - while my girlfriend enjoyed it thoroughly, I found it disappointing in that the mushrooms tasted to me entirely too much like buttons, which I distinctly don't enjoy. Had they been anything more exotic, I think this would have been a much better dish. The consistency seemed good, though, from my small experience with risotto.

le Main Course
Pan Seared Wild Salmon (on asparagus and hazelnut risotto, with orange vinaigrette) - the first thing I noticed was that the 'salmon' was white! This struck me as rather odd, and i queried the server who realized he'd forgotten to mention that it's Alaskan white salmon (which I'd never heard of). While it did have some salmon flavor, I'd describe it as most similar to farmed salmon, which is rather bland. It was flawlessly cooked (though a bit past seared; it was nearly cooked through) and fell apart at the faintest touch. The risotto was very tasty and rich, and complimented the light flavor of the fish well.
Grilled Kurobata Pork Loin with sweet potato and applewood smoked bacon hash (braised baby beet greens, caramelized onion whole grain mustard sauce) - the pork was thinly sliced, charred around the edges with a wonderfully flavored marinate or rub, and the sauce was about halfway to a BBQ sauce and went perfectly with the pork. The only disappointment was that the meat was a bit dry, though impressively tender. The real winner, however, was the hash. WOW! This stuff was astounding. The sweetness of the potato flawlessly complimented and contrasted with the smoky, salty perfection of the bacon. I'd come back here if for no reason other than to try and order this stuff by the pint. Amazing. The greens were, well, braised greens.

Fallen Chocolate Souffle Cake (with caramel sauce & chocolate gelato) - the cake was dense and quite tasty, and only sitting upon the sauce which I appreciated as I don't enjoy caramel. The gelato, unfortunately, was over frozen and rather icy.
Strawberry Shortcake sandwich with vanilla gelato - much better than the cake, in my opinion, with heaps of fresh berries, delicious cold gelato for contrast with cakey cookies, and whipped cream.

The result?
The food was generally quite good, though the appetizers were a bit uneven. Service was very friendly and helpful, made even more impressive because of how busy he was. It was worth the cash outlay, and certainly worth a return for that amazing hash. We tried to wheedle the recipe out of them, and failed. Perhaps next time...

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