Super Duper Upscale Mexican Food
Deftly combining Mother’s Day and Cinco de Mayo, Kate invited us to lunch in the City at Cala, a place on Fell Street that Michael Bauer thought might just be the best Mexican restaurant in the country. The chef/ower owns two famous restaurants in Mexico City and obviously knows what she is doing.
While it was indeed an excellent meal, the restaurant we went to is clearly not the one he tried. In the first place, his review says that there are no meat dishes on the menu, and that has completely changed. Not that I have an objection to carnitas. I’m just noticing major changes since he visited.
The facility is lovely–a converted industrial space, painted white and lit with huge skylights. Heavy wooden chairs, thick linen that helps hold down the noise, staff in solid black.
The menu is written with the Mexican names of the dishes but no explanations, so your waiter has to describe virtually everything before you can make an intelligent choice.
The table is graced with pickled cauliflower and carrots, green habañero salsa and pickled onions. The onions are HOT. I know that now.
The signature dish is their “Santa Cruz abalone and oyster aguachile with sea beans”. It is a mark of how interesting the other dishes are that Gail managed to pass this one up–she has been known to want to drive to Pescadero to get abalone for dinner.
Instead, Gail chose the carnitas, which is served with black beans and tortillas, becoming essentially a make your own taco meal.
Gail shared with Demi, who ordered the ‘Chilaquiles verdes with chicken and a fried egg’ tortillas fried in chile verde. We first had this dish when staying with friends in Mexico City and Gail has been spoiled ever since.
Kate and I had the same dish–the Torta. I don’t understand the concept here at all. It was an excellent pork sandwich, partially submerged in a red sauce, and there is no way to easily and neatly eat it.
Kate, the polite one, used a knife and fork, which is slow but tidy. I went the other route, tucking a napkin into my shirt, adding another on my lap, using a third to wipe my hands. I don’t have to pay the linen bill.
It was an excellent sandwich, but too messy and too large. I liked the not-overcooked meat, the avocado, the pickled onions and even the sauce it was drowning in. I didn’t like the difficulty or the mess.
After all that food, we didn’t really need dessert until we found out that “Capirotada with strawberries” was bread pudding. Really, this trend to unintelligible menus has to stop. The bread pudding was New Orleans good, eggy and smooth.
Cala has a full bar. What they don’t have is any semblance of normal drink service. No iced tea. No diet Coke. No sweeteners except lump brown sugar. The water is served at room temperature, in tiny useless glasses. This is supposed to be hip, slick and cool, but it fails to impress me at all.
Prices are reasonable for San Francisco. There is no tipping, but 20% is added to the bill automatically.