2823 Mission (at 24th Street), SF, CA| 415.375.1185 | website | cash only
Staff takes a break from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. daily
We visited this restaurant last weekend with Mr. K’s sister Connie and her husband John who (visiting from MN), saw this featured on an episode on the Food Network ShowThe Best Thing I Ever Ate, where local chef Chris Cosentino divulges this too good to be true gem on national TV (click here for link). Chef Manny said that the Chronicle was there earlier in the day and would be running a piece next Thursday, so regretfully, the secret of Mr. Pollo is now officially out of the bag…
I ran across this Colombian delicacy which was being served at Mr Pollo a few years ago, although what I had was pre-made and sitting in a warming pan; a dense cheese filled hocky puck-like thing that bore little resemblance to the heavenly creations as described here by Jim Leff (the founder of chowhound) or this NYT article. Last year, Venezuelan chef Manny Torres Gimenez, became partners with the owner and has transformed the tiny space (five tables plus two counter seats) into a market-driven eatery that uses the freshest ingredients for a menu that changes daily. Chef Manny spent time in the kitchens at Quince, A16 and Coi, sources all the produce at local farmers markets and butchers all the meat himself.
The tiny kitchen is completely open and if you manage to score the two counter seats, you can chat with the friendly chef while he prepares your meal. He had another worker who appeared to need close supervision sharing duties as cook, dishwasher, busser, runner and server. The menu is short and offers arepas, empanadas and cachapa, but the best deal is the 4-course Chef’s Tasting Menu for $15. Yes, you read that correctly, a four course tasting menu for $15.
I must focus on the arepa, which is the item the that Mr. Pollo was best known for (at least before chef Manny came aboard). But this is a Venezuelan-style arepa, a thin walled construction that resembles a pita, but with a texture that is uniquely different. It is firm from the ground white cornmeal mixed with a bit of roux made from butter, sugar and salt which enhances the caramelization and brings out the corn flavor. It is fabulously crispy on the outside with a moist corn interior and oozing with melted cheese, a smear of richly flavored sauce and plump chunks of crispy fried pork.
As we delved further down into the arepa, the melted cheese merged with the delectable green salsa de ajo, a verdant aioli that is made with cilantro, wine vinegar, a little mayo and garlic. Biting in reveals a heady mixture from the ethereally crisp corn shell with a slightly sticky caramelized crunchy surface, gooey cheese, savory creamy sauce and crunchy chunks of pork that have been fried to a crisp. I can see the obsesssion people have with these arepas.
The next course was Baby Octopus cooked ala plancha topped with strips of watermelon radish, and chunks of purple peruvian potato. The octopus flesh was succulent and tender, the tips of the tiny tentacles were browned and crisp and it was tossed in a bright, lively vinaigrette.
Then we enjoyed Trout with an expertly crisped skin, searing in the flavorful juices and topped with a spicy green sauce along with blobs of rhubarb foam served over fluffy white rice mixed with the same delectable green sauce. This was Mr. K’s favorite dish, we battled over that delicious rice…
The last dish was Quail served over spaghetti squash, snow peas dusted with spicy chili powder and drizzled with an aji panco sauce. This dish was full of lusciously spicy layers of flavor and fresh textures that demanded our attention.
The only limiting factor is the size of the dining room, it’s small and only fits 10 people inside and a few more on the outside table, which is a great spot to hang out on a sunny day (a treat to be sure for our visiting dignitaries from the cold country). And the best thing is that after such a feast, there are endless possibilities for dessert within easy walking distance…