Monday, October 25, 2010

A Return to Limon in San Francisco

This is an occasional report on return visits to restaurants that I’ve already reviewed.

Refreshed But Still Serving Up Refined Dishes
524 Valencia St. (near 16th), San Francisco
Mission District
Lunch, M-F, noon-4 p.m.; dinner daily from 5 p.m.; weekend brunch, 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
PH: (415) 252-0918
Reservations, major credit cards accepted

Original visit: November 2006

The Peruvian restaurant Limon is one of my all-time favorite spots in San Francisco, and when I started this blog back in 2006, it was one of the first restaurants I reviewed, giving it a stellar 4 stars.

But my return to Limon was hampered by a fire that closed down the restaurant for more than a year. Then I was diverted when Owner/Chef Martin Castillo opened the casual but still feisty Limon Peruvian Rotisserie a few blocks away. A couple of weeks ago, I finally checked out the refurbished classic on Valencia Street when my friend Margaret came for a visit from Hawaii.

The restaurant didn't change much in layout, but many of its finishes and the bar were brighter and colorful. There were some new modern artwork on the walls, but it still had the open bar area and open kitchen were later in the night you can see the chefs fire up the dishes.

The menu also didn't seem to have diverted much from its original, but that's a good thing because while the smaller Limon Rotisserie has pleased regulars who missed the original Limon, the newer place still weren't able to offer many of the favorites.

Margaret and I started with a ceviche. Limon has a delightful ceviche made with cream, but tonight we went with something reminiscent of Hawaii in honor of Margaret's visit and ordered the Ceviche Nikkei de Atun ($12), raw ahi tuna marinated with a soy sauce-infused leche de tigre.

The soy based made this dish very similar to Hawaii's version of ceviche, aka poke (pronounced po-KAY). The flavors were just right, and there were a lot of meaty tuna to eat. The Peruvian touch came with the thinly sliced red onions and choclo, the large kernels of Peruvian corn. Margaret really loved trying this corn, which in the past I found a bit bland but this time was intensely sweet and warm.

Margaret also never had an empanada before, so I ordered the Empanadas de Carne ($8), which were two crispy empanadas stuffed with braised beef, raisins, eggs, onions and served with rocoto sauce. This was also a hit for her, but I was less enthusiastic about it. First off, I like my empanadas baked but at least Limon's deep-fried version came out light. I just wasn't excited about the filling. The braised beef had a mealy texture that reminded me of pounded red beans. I think the filling would have been better with ground beef and maybe some green olives.

For our entrees, I recommended that Margaret get the Pargo Rojo ($20), because I've had this before and knew it would be an exciting presentation. Basically it's a whole red snapper totally deep-fried, curling into an interesting presentation on the dish. (I was so enthralled by this presentation when I first saw it a few years ago it was one of the few dishes that convinced me to eat a whole deep-fried fish.)

The Pargo Rojo didn't disappoint when it arrived, with the fillet portions of the fish nicely removed and deep-fried and then reassembled on the plate. Margaret loved it, including the rocoto-curry sauce. The only thing she didn't like was the coconut fried rice served on the side mostly because she thought it was odd to have the flaky coconut mixed in with the rice. I tried a bit and agreed that the coconut flavor could have come through the use of coconut milk instead of actually coconut meat.

For me, I decided to go the red meat route. After visiting Argentina, I knew people in South America knew how to grill their meats. So at Limon, I ordered the Churrasco a la parilla ($22), or grilled ribeye. The big cut of meat was served with vegetables and crispy potatoes and chimichurri and red wine demi-glaze.

The meat was perfectly cook, with a nice seared flavor from the grill and the meat allowed to shine with its minimal seasoning. The vegetables were OK and the potatoes could have been more crispy, but they're all just the supporting cast to the starring meat.

We ended our night with the Panna Cotta de Mango ($7.50). I wasn't expecting much from this because when I asked the waitress if the panna cotta was infused with mango, she said the mango was simply placed on top. So I just thought we'd get a traditional vanilla flavored panna cotta with fresh mango on top.

Instead, what arrived was the creamy and tasty panna cotta with a thin layer of mango-flavored gel. It was an enjoyable end to dinner at a spot that continues to be one of my favorite places in the city. (And now Margaret says it's one of her favorites and she plans to bring her whole family here on their next trip to San Francisco. Who can blame her?)

Update experience (previously 4 stars): Old favorite keeping it fresh

Limon on Urbanspoon


foodhoe said...

Being a nikkei I love the reference in peruvian cuisine. I noticed it also at La Mar... I really must go check this place out!

Kim said...

I just went for the first time last weekend. They do an excellent brunch.