Restaurant Review: AL’s Place

Chef Aaron London’s AL’s Place is a vegetable-focused restaurant in San Francisco’s Mission District that was named Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurant in 2015 and has also received one Michelin star.  The menu is divided into snacks (they call them “snackles” on the menu), cold and hot dishes, and meat add-ons, that are all meant to be shared.  One can order a la carte or choose the chef’s tasting menu for $60 (2016) that includes 4 snacks, 3 cold dishes, 2 hot dishes, and 1 dessert.  One can see that a lot of care was put into the conception and execution of each dish, even the “snacks” where I had some amazing figs.  There is a ton of layered flavor, and with the focus on vegetables, meat is really not missed or probably necessary if one orders the 10-course tasting menu.  I went in August, when a tomato and green bean salad showcased these vegetables at their peak flavor.  The style I might describe as new American but there are Southeast Asian (a delicious stone fruit and fish curry) and Latin American (salsa) influences.  Dessert was a very satisfying warm brownie with a gooey caramel-peanut filling, topped with ice cream.  Located in a quieter part of the Mission, the atmosphere is very casual and relaxed.  Highly recommended.

Link to AL’s Place here.

Restaurant Review: AQ (San Francisco, CA)

I really liked AQ, a fine dining restaurant in San Francisco run by Chef Mark Liberman that changes its menu as well as its decor each season.  The tasting menu is delicious, highlights local and seasonal ingredients, exhibits the chefs’ technical expertise (without being only about technique), and is not unreasonably priced (relative to other restaurants in San Francisco).  One outstanding dish among many was the rainbow trout, seared on one side to make the skin crispy while keeping the fillet perfectly cooked.  It was served with a smoked trout cream, potatoes, and a swiss chard “jam” with pickled swiss chard ribs.  Well-balanced and delicious. The braised root vegetable was really transformed by braising in red wine.  It is paired with a cassoulet of boar confit, beans, and a sweet prune jam.  The desserts are unique and creative, including a sorbet that tasted of pure apple and a dessert that straddled the line between sweet and savory, with thyme, olive oil, and olives.  One disappointment was the truffle supplement.  Three slices of shaved truffle that did not add much flavor or aroma to an otherwise great dish of black walnuts, wheat berries, and oats in an aromatic mushroom broth.  Service was very professional, and they even kindly sent out a complimentary chocolate birthday cake.  Chef Liberman was expediting at the pass in front of an open kitchen and brought over and explained several of the dishes and answered questions.  Overall an excellent meal in an elegant setting with outstanding service.  Definitely recommended.

On a side note, over the past several years, many menus are being written in a style where a dish is not described in terms of preparation but simply as a list of ingredients.  This style puts the focus on the ingredients and de-emphasizes technique, but often leaves the diner puzzled about what they are actually going to get when the food arrives.  I kind of want to know what I am going to get, but on the other hand some people like being surprised.

Link to AQ web site here.

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