Sustainable seafood from Water2Table prepared with fine dining touches with a more casual dining room vibe is at the heart of San Francisco’s Ancora. Come here for a special evening, a date night, a night away from your screens and obligations. Relish the flavors of the sea that arrive in a wave, an ideal metaphor for a fishy meal that was anything but.
It All Begins with Service
More often than not lately, service at restaurants is an issue. High employment rate notwithstanding, finding, training and keeping staff is an on-going pinch point. Experiencing fine service is notable in our weird cultural moment, an exception to the post-Covid “meh” service that we all tolerate (some better than others). “Meh” was not the case at Ancora, a new, sustainable seafood-focused restaurant in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood.
We were greeted promptly at the door, my chair pulled out and then pushed in as I sat down. Printed menus were given to each person in our party. (Reading menus on a mobile phone is a topic for another post.) Every table had full water glasses. Our server showed up moments later and remained professional, timely, and friendly for the duration of the meal. Nothing felt rushed. The coup de grace was another server who remembered me from a visit to another restaurant on the other side of town almost a year ago. Crazy! (Could it be she remembered me for my hair?)
Happily seated and treated, I began with a Bamboo cocktail, a low a.b.v. mix of amontillado sherry, dry vermouth and bitters (yum!) but fell hard for a glass of bubbly Murgo Brut Rosé from Sicily. Either libation is a dry, crisp pairing for the evening’s flavors.
What to Eat
Into that mix came Chef Nick Anichini’s food, a daily feast of the fishes, supported by behind-the-scenes sustainable, traceable seafood from Water2Table Fish Co. Note that the menu provides space for bread and vegetables and land-based proteins, most shot through with flavors of the sea, but Ancora is a pescatarian wonderland and like the Dude, you should abide.
We began with the salmon mousse gougères and be warned: these are impossible to stop eating once you start, a joyous romp through classic French technique enhanced with plenty of dairy. The halibut crudo was plated with four seaweeds, each named by our server and promptly forgotten. The flavor of the sea was intact, fragranced with seaweed’s greenish aromas – who needs names?
But the dish that knocked all of the other appetizers down a peg was the celery Caesar. Celery can have a bad rap but Anichini pulled together crispy bits and crunchy flavors in a way that made sense for the anise-flavored green, amplifying the humble ingredient to a new, better-than-you-can-make-at-home place.
It is impossible to believe there is no coconut milk in mussels au poivre, part of the Second menu section. Chef attributes the creaminess to a broth made with foie gras, adding sleek style to the broth’s traditional mirepoix. On the plate, little pieces of foie teeter atop the mussels. And which part of the plankton tagliolini represented the tiny organisms? Was it the dots of white sturgeon caviar and bottarga? Or the julienned pieces of darker-hued leek? The mystery remains unsolved.
Our server suggested we try the halibut rack as our Third (or entrée) and I spent a few moments trying to envision exactly how this would be presented. What is a rack of halibut? When the dish arrived, the richly scented halibut was presented on the bone (the rack) and tasted buttery, a chef sleight of hand for a dairy-free dish. I am never wild about mushrooms but tried the chanterelles, prepared soft with a hint of vinegar. (I remain a mushroom skeptic.) A dish of accompanying seafood sausage and peppers was modernized caponata without the eggplant. Fun. Don’t eat any of it without the attendant chermoula – its lemony character made everything better.
Buttermilk stonefruit was our dessert. The “snow” on the “ski ramp” was fun and the dish was delicious with a sip of espresso.
Is it Worth It?
It was definitely a couple’s crowd, and it seemed like people who dine as opposed to people who live nearby, popping in for a quick dinner. Come here for a special evening, a date night, a night away from your screens, your kids, your obligations. Relish the unhurried service and the flavors of the sea that arrive in a wave, an ideal metaphor for a fishy meal that was anything but.