4 Embarcadero Center, Promenade Level, SF, CA 94111 | 415.362.0645 | website
I ventured out for a delightful dinnner at Sens Restaurant when a few friends and I took Chris out to celebrate her birthday, which happened to fall during this winter’s Dine About Town series, now in its 8th year. After surviving a major round of layoffs at work that week, we all felt a sense of relief and appreciated being able to enjoy a three course dinner for $34.95. This was my first time eating at the dramatic location perched at the edge of the Embarcadero complex overlooking Justin Herman Plaza. The space was originally designed by Pat Kuleto and retains most of the original architectural elements.
The round domed brick ceiling at the entrance feels like you are entering an underground cavern which is reinforced by the rustic stone walls, but your eyes are drawn to the view which looks out over the Ferry Building and the Bay Bridge. I don’t know if it is a sign of the times or what, but we had our choice of tables and asked for a secluded table where I could take pictures with the flash. Not only that, but look at the view from my seat! I loved the cushy armed leather chairs too.
I was glad to see interesting sounding items on the dine about town menu for a change. Chef Dane Boryta uses flavors of the sun-drenched Southern Mediterranean, which include the exotic and spicy cuisines of Turkey, Greece, North Africa and Southern Spain. The menu is focused on ingredients indigenous to these lands…with locally sourced organic and sustainable produce, meat and fish. We started with a plate of sliced baguuette with a scoop of zesty hummous, made of chickpeas with garlic, tahini and lemon which was a refreshing change from the usual butter or olive oil.
I was intrigued by the free range Lamb Tartare, mixed with turkish spices, fried pita and topped with lip puckering sumac onions. The meat was very mild and had a luscious velvety texture that was really good with the thin slices of tangy onion. I liked to alternate it with smears of the garlicky hummus on the pita.
Kathy had the Kakavia, Greek fisherman’s stew, sea bass, squid, mussels, clams and gulf white prawns in a fennel-ouzo tomato broth. It looked good but I don’t remember a thing about it, she was sitting diagonally across from me so it was hard to share… But I bet that the grilled bread was good dipped into the broth.
Libby and Chris had Lamb’s Lettuce salad with toasted almonds, goat cheese toast, pomegranate vinaigrette, which looked like it was dressed with a delicate hand.
I really enjoyed the Moroccan Chicken Breast, Tagine Vegetables, Cherry Tomato and fluffy couscous with dried apricots. It was a huge serving, it seemed to be more like a half of a chicken. The crisp skin had a tantalizing coating of spices bolstered by garlic and paprika and the flesh was juicy and tender. I haven’t had couscous in a while and I loved the soft fluffy grains. They were topped with roasted veggies, strangely gritty roasted chickpeas, and pieces of chewy dried apricot.
The Market Casserole was served in a generous pan full of stuffed vegetables baked in the wood oven with spicy tomato sauce and topped with halloumi cheese and toasted sliced almonds. The lentil stuffing in the vegetables was spicy and filling and I would come back to get this dish again.
Grilled Flat Iron Steak, with Metaxa sauce made from the Greek brandy/wine blend and came with almond green beans and manouri filled red potatoes. Chris thought I needed my own potato, and provided me one to sample. It looked like a deviled egg. The roasted red potato had been cut in half and a yolk sized area was scooped out and filled with a manouri cheese mixture, which is similar to feta cheese but creamier and less salty. The bite of the meat that I sampled was perfectly cooked and juicy, a very good plate. We all were huffing about the big portions, but the plates were cleared and the desserts inexorably arrived…
Libby had the Kataifi Cream Cheese Tart with almond and pistachio frangipane honey yogurt, dates. The pastry was a nest of delicate thin crispy noodles that reminded me of weetabix cereal, but was delicious with the thick, sweet gooey toppings. It was a compelling combination of textures that reminded me a little bit of baklava, but with so much more going on.
Chris had the Citrus Parfait which was somewhat deconstructed, echoing perhaps the opening pastry chef’s origins from Citizen Cake (Shuna Fish Lydon who has long since moved on). A scoop of vanilla ice cream was served on top of a thin slice of spicy chocolate gingerbread, topped with candied citrus, pomegranate, juicy slices of orange and exuberant drizzles of caramel and chocolate sauces
I had the Milk Chocolate Panna Cotta with Cardamom Cocoa Nib Cookie apricot cherry chutney, whipped yogurt. I loved the slightly gelatinous creamy texture of the chocolate, which reminded me of the chocolate popsicles of my youth. I have a serious sweet tooth and would like my desserts to all be encased in sugar crystals, and found both the chutney and yogurt to be too tart. It was a good thing that everything was arranged separately on the plate, so I was able to savor the panna cotta in its pristine state.
Our cozy nook was very comfortable to hang out in, although it was so dimly lit that even our waiter had a hard time reading the menu. Our tastebuds had been tantalized by the spices and flavors of faraway lands during the course of the evening and we enjoyed ourselves greatly. On the way out, I admired the playful surrealist sconces which were disembodied hands holding glowing lamps.