Friday, November 10, 2006

Dish on Dining: Limon Revisited

Mission spot gets Peruvian right

524 Valencia St., San Francisco
(The Mission)
Lunch, M-F, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner M-F, 5-10:30 p.m. (till 11 p.m. Fri) and Sat.-Sun., noon to 10 p.m.
PH: (415) 252-0918
(Reservations OK; major credit cards accepted)

Limon is one of my favorite restaurants, reflecting a fresh and sophisticated approach to Latin cuisine right in the heart of the Mission. You sense it in everything from the clean lines of the decor to the fresh ingredients and careful execution of the dishes.

This time I wanted to see how authentic Limon's Peruvian dishes really are. I brought as a dinner guest a friend who grew up in the Bay Area but lived the last few years in Lima, Peru. Our night got off to a rough start when my friend found out that the restaurant's bar only served beer and wine, and not the pisco sour (the white grape brandy that's Peru's national drink). (It was also confusing that Limon served a small selection of sake. Well, maybe not that confusing because Peru does have a large population of Peruvians of Japanese descent.)

With a California red in hand, my friend marveled at the selection of ceviches (citrus-marinated raw seafood). It's not just raw fish, but Limon offers ceviche with shrimp, clams, or a seafood medley. We ordered the Ceviche en Crema de Aji Amarillo. I've never had a ceviche with cream, and it was a new experience. The creaminess and slight chili kick were a perfect complement to the slices of fish (my guess was halibut). My friend said the taste took him back to his Peruvian days and I dreamed of being there as well if I could eat this all day. (A side note: my friend mentioned that ceviche is never eaten at dinner in Peru because it's made fresh early in the day and the locals would eat it all for lunch to avoid letting it sit out and spoil later.)

For our main courses, my friend ordered the traditional Peruvian dish lomo saltado--a meat-and-potatoes-kind of dish with slices of sirloin sauteed with onions, tomatoes and french fries. The meat was cooked to the right tenderness, and my friend was impressed at the presentation. "It's exactly how they serve it in Peru," he said.

I ate the Pargo Rojo, or red snapper. Earlier, when I was waiting at the bar for my friend to arrive, I had seen this dish drift by from one table to another and was intriqued by the presentation. The fish is deep fried but allowed to curl naturally instead of scored to stay flat. So what you see on your plate is this fried fish with its curled tail providing an interesting sculptural element to your meal.

Now, I generally stay away from deep-fried dishes. But like I said, I was intriqued watching other diners order this. And when I tried it, I felt like a bird rather than a fish. The fish fillet was perfectly fried with a light batter that felt like I was biting into pillows of air. It was served with an earthy curry dipping sauce, but it really didn't need it. It was just so good by itself.

We ended the dinner with two scoops of these Peruvian-flavored ice cream, bypassing the rich but traditional tres leches cake. I don't remember the name of the flavors, but that's OK because they weren't that memorable. Next time I would stick with the tres leches.

I've heard people complain about Limon's greeters at front and wait staff, but in the times I've been there I haven't had any problems with getting seated in a timely manner. And I especially like how our table staff--from the waiter to the bus boy--would be sure to describe each dish on the plate when brought to our table.

I think my friend was impressed at Limon's authenticity and attention to classic Peruvian cuisine. I was just simply impressed.

Single guy rating: 4 stars (expense it!)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Limon in San Francisco


Eric C. said...

Great review! I've been meaning to try Limon for the longest time, but haven't gotten around to it yet. Hopefully your entry will help motivate me to do it sooner :)

It's also nice to know that Limon is reasonably authentic -- not exactly something you'd necessarily expect from a Mission hotspot.

Chef Ben said...

Thanks Eric, hope you finally make it to Limon!