Thursday, June 23, 2011

Criolla Kitchen in San Francisco

Southern Home Cooking in the Castro
2295 Market St. (at 16th), San Francisco
The Castro
PH: 415.552.5811
Open daily from 6 p.m.; weekend brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Major credit cards accepted; no reservations

This weekend is Pride in San Francisco, but I’ll be out of town and will miss it for the first time in some years. But since there’ll be lots of people roaming town, I thought I’d feature a restaurant that’ll probably get a lot of business in the Castro.

Criolla Kitchen is a new restaurant that opened in the prime location of Market and 16th, once the home for what I considered an institution, the Bagdad Café. It was a longtime greasy spoon that was popular for the late-night dining and the people watching. I’m not really clear what happened to make Bagdad Café close, but Criolla Kitchen has some big shoes to fill in the community for that spot.

I visited Criolla Kitchen on a Sunday with my friend Ken. The space got a fresh look, but much of the layout and open-air feel of Bagdad Café was retained. Because Criolla Kitchen doesn’t take reservations and the “what’s new” crowd has been keeping this spot busy, we got there just as the doors opened at 6 p.m. to get a table.

The chef in the kitchen of Criolla Kitchen is Randy Lewis, who’s not a stranger to the area because he helmed the kitchen during the heydays of Mecca in lower Market. But at Criolla, Chew Lewis has created a menu featuring Southern-style cooking, primarily the food of New Orleans.

I also love the idea of Southern cooking, but I always forget that there’s very little I can eat because of the tendencies for things to be deep-fried, which some of you know by now I’m not a big fan of. Criolla’s menu does have fried chicken and standards like po boys and fried catfish.

They also have a whole section of slow-braised BBQ, which I do enjoy. Unfortunately, our waiter told us they didn’t have any BBQ items. That was kind of odd considering the restaurant just opened, but apparently they don’t make BBQ every night. So it’s kind of hit and miss if BBQ is serving on the night you show up.

So what did we eat?

Well, to start, I got half a dozen of charbroiled oysters ($9.90) served with crusty bread. I like the idea of grilled oysters, so I imagined this would be the same. The oysters smelled heavenly coming out, and looked quite plump. It did seem a waste, though, that they were presented on a platter of dried beans, which fit the theme of the menu but made me wondered what they did with the beans after I slobbered over them (you can’t really eat them since they’re still dried). The bread, also, was oddly like plain ole’ white bread even though it did have a flaky crust.

Ken tried a salad made with something called a mirliton ($5.90), a vegetable that’s shaped like a pear, apparently. The merliton was shaved thinly and then mixed with avocado and a lemon-cumin vinaigrette. I tried the mirliton and it was crunchy like a pear. Ken enjoyed the light salad.

For our entrees, Ken ordered from the Rice and Beans section, which lists several different items served with rice and beans. Being a vegetarian who eats seafood, he got the rice and beans with the garlic shrimp ($14.90). His platter came out with the shrimp on a skewer, with some greens along with his rice and beans. He said the shrimp had a nice grilled flavor and that the rice and beans were nicely cooked.

I also got shrimp, specifically the Gulf Shrimp Criolla and Creamy Ridgecut Grits ($14.90). I loved everything about the dish, especially the sauce that’s called Lewis’ “Holy Trinity” sauce. It was spicy with a nice tang that really had the perfect Creole flavors.

Side note: We had a great server who was friendly and came from the South so really was passionate about the menu. But one thing I noticed was there were a lot of servers for the place. As we ate, many of them were just standing around kind of just watching the customers eat.

Despite the lack of BBQ this night and the sprinkling of fried foods, I still was intrigued by Criolla Kitchen and its Southern cooking in the Castro. Its comfort food that’s fitting for the spot, which has always served as a gathering place for the neighborhood.

Single guy rating: 3.25 stars (Down home eating)

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

Criolla Kitchen on Urbanspoon


Kim said...

I can't help feeling sad about Bagdad Cafe. I had no idea it was gone!

The Kid said...

Beeeaautiful blog you got here. Great pictures and I love it :-)

foodhoe said...

yeah, I didn't know Baghdad Cafe closed either, that is kind of across from Cafe Flore, no? Anyways, the food looks pretty good tho, I just love shrimp 'n grits

Carolyn Jung said...

Yum, that all looks so divine.
By the way, you might actually have had a mirliton before. Apparently, it's what's also called a chayote squash, which is what most people are more familiar with.

Single Guy Ben said...

Carolyn, I'm pretty sure I've never had chayote squash either! But it's good and seems healthy, so definitely would try it again whether chayote or mirliton.