560 Divisadero St
San Francisco, CA 94117
Dining date: 12/22/11
I’ve wanted to try Nopa for a while, a consistently highly-regarded restaurant since opening in 2006. The food is rather comfortable modern American and reasonably priced with starters between $5-15 and generously-sized mains in the $13-27 range. The food, combined with a trendy bar scene and late-night hours (open til 1am), make this one of the more popular SF restaurants. The popularity was clear as we walked through the door; on a Thursday, we still had to wait a little bit past our 11pm reservation time for a table to clear.
What started as sort of a joke over dinner at Marlowe turned into a second dinner with the cousins here at Nopa. Given my time in San Francisco was limited, I had to make the most out of my meals right?
We started with an amuse bouche from the kitchen.
Apples and Housemade Farmers Cheese
This was a smooth and rather light, creamy cheese that was easily spread onto the crunchy apple slices.
Baked Giant White Beans, Feta, Oregano and Breadcrumbs
These beans were creamy, soaking in a hearty tomato-based sauce. I liked the crispy breadcrumb topping, adding some fun texture to the creaminess of the dish.
Baked Pasta, Nine Hour Bolognese, Escarole and Parmesan
This next plate had a lot of similarities to the beans with the tomato sauce and again a breadcrumb topping. I thought the pasta was good, as was the tomato sauce, and the escarole provided a nice vegetable balance. Rustic and comfortable, though nothing particularly noteworthy.
Grilled Country Pork Chop, Arrowhead Cabbage, Apples and Nantes Carrots
I’d been hearing a lot of about the pork chop here (enough that we ordered three of them) and it really delivered. The pork had a slightly sweet exterior glaze, a nice char, and was incredibly juicy and flavorful. It kind of reminded me of veal moreso than pork. I tasted maple and apple flavors within the meat (from the brine?), as well as a smoky perfume unmistakably from the wood grill. Again, so juicy (see puddle of juice in above picture). I thought the cabbage side was okay – probably could’ve used more acidity, but the star here was the pork chop. Quite possibly the best I’ve ever had.
Grass Fed Hamburger, Pickled Onions and French Fries
One of my cousins opted for the burger – he said it was good, but that Marlowe’s was better. The beef patty looked awkwardly small for the size of the bun.
Although pretty full at this point, we still got a couple of desserts.
Blue Bottle Cocktail Vodka, Coffee Liqueur, Espresso
I usually try to stay away from coffee in the evenings, but for some reason this sounded irresistible at 12:30am. Hey, it was the first day of my vacation. I really liked this cocktail, with the strong espresso flavor masking much of the bite of the alcohol, while its bitterness was balanced by something sweet in here too. Definitely a drink to keep the party going after two meals.
Sopaipillas Spiced Hot Chocolate
The sopaipillas were light and airy and dusted in sugar, while the extra-thick hot chocolate (perfect for dipping) added a rich chocolate flavor with just a little bit of cinnamon kick.
Spiced Apple Crisp Calvados Ice Cream
The apple flavor definitely came through and I liked the texture of the crumble with the soft apple and melting ice cream. I thought the calvados flavor in the ice cream was fairly muted, however. A fairly typical dessert, but a nice way to end the meal.
I liked this meal better than Marlowe, and I just wonder how it would’ve been if we came here first. The food at Nopa isn’t particularly creative nor inventive, but it relies on comfortable and familiar flavors and consistent execution. The diner knows exactly what to expect here and perhaps that’s why it’s been so popular. Or maybe it’s because of the pork chop, which I would say is worth a return trip alone. If I did a 2011 best dish roundup, that pork chop probably would’ve cracked the top 10. Seriously good.