Scored a sweet last-minute table at Contigo thanks to rockstar Glickenator. We let the waitress do all of the ordering for us, which has really become my favorite way of experiencing a restaurant. Overall, I would say that this place is standout and has a lot of the qualities I love in a restaurant. The design is flawless. Very inviting and charming with modern touches like: all of their refrigerators are lined up in plain view next to the bathroom. The owners are clearly passionate about Spanish food and seem to be creating a community vibe in the place. Chef Brett Emerson is an alumni of Zax and Zax Tavern, L'Amie Donia, Bizou (all are now closed), Lulu, and the Greens. He also has a blog called In Praise of Sardines [LINK].
We started with a host of fish courses, despite indicating that two of our diners were not fans of fish. More for me I suppose, but it did seem a bit inconsiderate. The Sardines were wonderful, thick with a bite of fishy up front but a mellow finish. I wasn't a huge fan of the tomato and anchovy dish - I felt the anchovies overpowered some really good tomatoes! But the octopus, oh the octopus. It was exceptionally tender with a hint of dressing and a crunch of friseé. Lovely.
The Serano ham could have been the best I've ever had. Sliced to order and clearly a good batch. It's amazing how a bit of charcuterie can be so right or so wrong (here me Gialina and Tony's!). I was conflicted with the oxtail croquetas. The crunch of vegetables was both interesting and a little curious. I still haven't resolved that one. But one thing I definitely resolved was that I loved the pork belly bocadillos, which is essentially a bacon hamburger. A nice, not too fatty slab was piled with onions and allioli on a bun. Served with mini paprika potato chips. Ah.
The little gem salad didn't knock my socks off. It seemed to be on the menu just to fit in to San Francisco. I was also a little soft on their albondigas [meatballs]. I liked the meat itself, a lot. But it needed sme salt and could have had a zippier sauce for my preference. But the garden lettuces with sherry vinegar was on point. They accented it with caña de oveja cheese and toasted hazelnuts. More more more.
We all enjoyed a chicken dish served with insanely sweet caramelized onions and a risotto made with paella rice. The chicken itself was perfectly cooked and as tasty as chicken can be, but I kept scooping up the rice and onions. I could have had a dish of just those. We ended with a catalonian flan that was stellar. But the dessert that stole the show was a cup of hot chocolate with hot and crispy churros to dip. Are you kidding me? Nice.
Contigo is definitely worth a visit. I suspect it will have staying power as a neighborhood joint. Frankly, it's the best thing going in Noe. I'm not sure if it will reach legendary heights. There is still room for someone to take Spanish food to another level in San Francisco. I'm waiting for a proper Basque-style pinchos [basque tapas] joint. Anyone?