With one Michelin star and dubbed Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurant in America (2015), I didn’t know what to expect from AL’s Place except that it would be good. Despite hearing lots of buzz about the restaurant, I found that I actually didn’t know much about it besides it being a very notable restaurant, hard to get reservations, and one person said it was vegetarian. Sounds like a lot of restaurants in San Francisco, to be honest. Finally, I had the opportunity to solve the mystery and try this enigmatic restaurant for myself. And let’s just say, whatever vague preconceptions I had about AL’s Place were not accurate at all.
First, they weren’t kidding about the difficult reservations. For our party of six, we ended up dining at 9:30pm on a Friday night. Well, at least it was the weekend. Located on the relatively quiet corner of 26th and Valencia, I was immediately surprised by how small and casual the restaurant seemed. Very unassuming and cozy, with a outdoor patio to boot. Despite the late, very European hour we were dining at, the restaurant was packed to the brim with young, trendy people enjoying a good meal.
We sat right next to the open kitchen, and was able to see chef Aaron London (ie AL) working his magic, though I didn’t realize he was the chef at the time. I would highly encourage reading a bit of his story through the Bon Appetit link in the beginning of this post— it is a very inspiring story.
Due the fact that we had a party of six, we were “forced” to enjoy everything family style. That’s the way I prefer to dine so I had no qualms with the policy. Our lovely waitress worked with Chef to choose what dishes we’d have, so it was sort of a casual prix-fixe style experience. We told them what food allergies and aversions we had, and voila! The food began coming out like magic.
First, the “snackables,” a term coined by Chef himself. Piping hot bread from Josey Baker, chickpeas a la catalan with sauce romseco, blue dane radish with preserved meyer lemon butter, brine pickled french fries with a smoked apple sauce, and vadouvan almonds. I enjoyed the fresh radish and french fries the most. I mean, who can really deny fresh fries? Due to how the french fries are prepared, with a brine, it had the most interesting soft, creamy center with a perfectly crisp exterior. As weird as it sounds, I also love cabbage, so the fact that little pieces of fried cabbage accompanied the fries was a plus in my book. I have a strong aversion to mixing fruit with anything savory, so I ate my fries solo, without the smoked apple dipping sauce.
We also had roasted green tomatoes (pictured above) with a strawberry gazpacho. Like the fries, I liked the tomatoes but not the cheese sauce…
Next, we moved on to the COLD/COOL dishes. The salads are a work of art. Beautifully plated and topped off with an array of vibrant flowers, I could barely bring myself to dig into each dish. But then, hunger and reason took over and we dug in.
Above was the baby lettuces with herbed avocado and pistachio crumble. This was one of my favorites from the night. Shaved rainbow carrots added a delicate crunch to partner with the fresh lettuce and avocado hidden underneath.
Basically a flower crown on a dish. Similar to a caprese, this delightful ring featured fresh tomatoes, burrata, and pomegranate seeds. It was beautiful but very similar to the previous salad, so not quite as memorable on the palate.
The COLD/COOL tasting concluded with a dish of lightly cured trout, crispy potato, bashed turnips and bagna cauda. It was nice to get a savory umami taste from the trout as we had only been eating salads before, both with a tart, crisp flavor. The trout broke up the dishes, and the texture of the crispy trout skin against the sashimi-like trout was outstanding.
The food doesn’t end there. We moved on to the WARM/HOT dishes, starting off with the campanelle, tomato fondant, caper-pepper, goat’s gouda. To be perfectly frank, I don’t remember what this tasted like, so it must have paled in comparison to the other dishes.
We ordered two entrees in addition to our “prix-fixe”— the 15 oz rib eye steak and a trout collar.
The trout collar was spectacular. Perfectly grilled, flaky fish that fell off the bone. For those of you who love hamachi kama, you’d really enjoy the trout collar. Absolutely one of my favorites from the night. Although it was too dark to snap a picture, the rib eye was fantastic. Cooked to an ideal medium rare, the meat was not too tough and very tender. Some might have thought it was a bit too charred, but I really liked it.
Finally, dessert. Can’t beat a classic brownie with ice cream, right? Those candied peanuts, fantastic!
Overall, AL’s place was a unique dining experience and reminded me a lot of Coi. Heavily focused on vegetables and inventive ways of using them. My only grip, if you can even call it a gripe, is that when everything is so heavily focused on vegetables, the dishes can start to taste a little too similar. Looking back, a lot of the salads blended together and I can’t quite distinguish the three we had. I felt the same way about Coi—they all started to taste heavily of flowers, bitter greens, and slightly tart from the citrus ingredients. Since I also don’t like a lot of fruit mixed in with my savory food, some of the dishes were not quite what I’d normally choose to eat. I would still recommend going though, so you can experience his inventive cooking for yourself.
1499 Valencia St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
Have you dined at AL’s Place? Share your pics with #culteats so we can take a look!