San Francisco, day 3. Nopa.
When my mom planned this short jaunt down to San Francisco, two of the three nights were already spoken for, but the last night would just be us, and she left it up to me to decide where to go. N. threw around a couple of places she liked, but Nopa was the one that caught my attention. Then R. mentioned that she, too, had gone there and enjoyed it. I called them up and amazingly - apparently they are quite popular and hard to book, impossible to get into without a reservation - they had an open table for the next night. Labor Day night. Definitely a good sign. There is nothing that makes me happier than getting a reservation for a supposedly difficult-to-reserve restaurant.
The cab has trouble finding the restaurant, with its nearly blank wall facing Divisadero and almost invisible sign. But we get there, slip into the tiny waiting area, stand near the high communal table while our table is readied. It is a generous, open space, a long bar running back towards the open kitchen, with a big rotisserie full of chickens - everyone seems to be ordering either the roast chicken or the burger, and I almost regret not ordering either - lots of dark, polished wood and bright murals. We are led upstairs to a balcony table, with a perfect bird's-eye-view of all the action down below, the bartenders pouring drinks, the chefs plating dishes, the booths and tables full of happy diners.
We order soft goat cheese with a beet salad, which comes tangled with frisée and a heaping pile of freshly made crostini, the post-millennial answer to the Melba toasts of the last century. Next come crisp-skinned fresh sardines with roasted cherry tomatoes and oily - in the best possible way - croutons. Our main courses arrive, a roasted pork chop with peaches and escarole, and duck legs with beans, figs, and some dark leafy green that is probably kale. The pork is delicious, rosily brined and just cooked through, marbled with fat around the edges. The duck legs are tender, slipping from the bone. Everything is thoughtfully put together, the flavors clear and balanced. It is the best kind of cooking, simple, with only the barest flourish of caramelized cherry tomatoes that need nothing except heat to bring out their sweetness or figs as sweet as candy.
I shouldn't order dessert; we're full. But who knows when I will be back again, to try the burger or the roast chicken or all the things I didn't have? We ask our server, who suggests the warm cookies with 'milk,' fresh chocolate chocolate chunk cookies hot from the oven, with a cool glass of almond milk on the side. They are like molten lava cakes in cookie form. We take some of the cookies home, for breakfast; I drink the last of the milk, and plot how soon I can return. Oh, very soon, I hope.