**WARNING: If you’re a fan of NOPA, you’re going to hate me. And I’m okay with that.**
Restaurant reviewers of San Francisco: Lay down your pipes. That shit is affecting your judgment.
Or so it would seem. Dinner last night at NOPA was a huge disappointment. Not that it was really bad. It just wasn’t particularly good. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.
I was dining with my partner and our good friend Julia. Julia and I showed up early for the reservation, and thusly took seats at the communal table for a glass of wine. Our waitress had the bored look of a suburban teenager, and when we asked for wine suggestions, she responded with a tone that said, “If I have to pretend to like my job for five more minutes, I’m going to vomit.” Thankfully, she held it together long enough to fetch us two very nice glasses of her recommendations—so at least her taste was better than her attitude.
When my partner arrived, we were seated amidst the deafening cacophony that passed for urban ambiance. The question is, if you’re going to go to the trouble of tricking out a space as cool as NOPA’s, why not go to Home Depot and spring for a few of those noise-dampening ceiling squares? Just a thought.
But whatever. I was actually pretty stoked to note that the menu featured several things for me to eat. Plus, our table’s waiter was much nicer than the Moody One, so all was forgiven.
For like, five minutes.
We ordered three starters to share. The Wood-baked Giant White Beans with Feta and Oregano, the Warm Goat Cheese, with Frisee and Pickled Beets, and the Flatbread of Butternut Squash, Escarole, and Pinenuts.
Now, you’d figure with three things to taste, something would have to shine. Not so.
The White Beans tasted like “the very best casserole I ever did bake”. Yummy in the way that anything salty is yummy. The Warm Goat Cheese was just that— some warm goat cheese. In a little cup. Next to some frisee. With picked beets on it. Plus a few pieces of greasy toast. It was more like a do-it-yourself shopping list than a dish. Then there was the real train wreck of the bunch. The Flatbread was a total letdown. The escarole sat on top, all limp and sad, like forgotten, leftover salad. The flavor was inoffensive, bordering on okay, but the texture was all mush. The presentation was the real kicker, though. The pieces were literally flopped on the plate with all the apparent effort of a really stoned Pizza Hut employee.
(Insert worryingly long wait for our entrees here.)
Next up, I had the Moroccan Vegetable Tagine with Almonds and Lemon Yogurt. Which tasted surprisingly like the aforementioned baked white beans. Stick-to-yer-ribs salty goodness, I guess. Which would be lovely if I were living in Minnesota and it was 2 degrees below zero outside. My hand to God, I wanted to like it. I really did. But there was no subtlety. No nuance. It was like someone in the kitchen was cooking with mittens on.
My meat-lovin’ lover had the Lamb Rigatoni with Green Olives, and our friend had the Pan-Roasted Black Cod, with Green Lentils and Braised Chicories. Neither one of them was blown away. The dishes were passable, but not notable.
At this point, I really wasn’t feeling the love for ordering dessert, but they had Kryptonite on the menu. (AKA donut holes.) We ordered a plate for the table and they turned out to be the best dish of the meal. But then again, I ask you, how can you fuck up donut holes? Even bad donut holes are good.
So what gives? Have I turned into the pickiest bitch in San Francisco? (It’s quite possible. I’ve been heading down the path toward that title for years.)
Here’s what I think. I think that NOPA is a gosh darn fine neighborhood restaurant with a reputation that’s been blown out of proportion. If we had walked in there with our expectations set near, let’s say, Oola level, I might have given them a bit more slack. I’d have said, “It’s a good choice if you’re in the area, but nothing to go out of your way for.” With all the hype, however—Michael Bauer, I’m looking at you—I couldn’t help but be disappointed.
Anyway, there you go. I didn’t like NOPA. Let the flurry of refutations begin. I can take it.