I eat quickly. Lunch usually takes about seven minutes for me to finish, and dinner fifteen. It’s not a matter of rushing through the meal—I just can’t stop myself from reaching out to the food when it’s in front of me. So spending three hours eating is out of the question, unless I was stuck in a wedding where getting up to leave after I polish the plate before everyone else constitutes as the greatest affront to decency. But then I found myself spending three hours dining with my best friend in Poesia, and suddenly I’m not so sure about my eating principles anymore.
The house converted restaurant is bathed in muted oranges and candle lights, and a small and delicate chandelier casts a poetic glow over the tables. A black and white film projects onto the inner wall, silent and unobtrusive. Judging from the comfortable noise level floating around the tables, I doubt many are paying attention to the film. Next to us, a group of rather raucous friends discuss the merits of chefs, a couple leans toward each other to catch their partner’s words behind me, and a pair of elderly friends joke over their bread, faces crinkling with radiant smiles. It’s an intimate atmosphere to the point of suffocation (probably perfect for dates).
We order the special trout salad with spinach and garbanzo beans, duck bruschetta, mixed seafood pasta, lamb shank ragu over fettuccine pasta, and squid ink ravioli filled with Dungeness crab.
The bread is thick and soft, so hearty it deserves to be called a meal in itself. I break off chunks of the warm tender slices to dip into the small cup of olive oil. The oil is unlike anything I’ve ever tasted, pungent and a tad nutty. Its fragrance is so overwhelming that if I ever had to compare it with something, I would say it tastes like the smell of gasoline. Having tasted Italian homemade olive oil, my friend assures me that it’s not unusual. Still, I dip less with each slice of bread, until eventually I’m eating the bread plain, which is rich and scrumptious by itself.
The salad is so divine that I swear I will pay attention to all restaurant specials from now on. A generous juicy fillet of trout rests upon a layer of spinach, grilled vegetables, sweet beets, and crisp garbanzo beans. The fish is salty and succulent, its flesh firm and resilient though it tears apart quiet easily in my mouth. What’s most important was how moist and gentle the texture is, something I’ve never had much luck with when ordering fish out (with the exception of having it steamed in Lei Yue Mun, Hong Kong’s famous seafood district). Each leaf is coated in a light shimmery gleam of oil, but the salad is tangy enough to correct for the fat. While the assorted grilled vegetables each wear a delicate layer of peppery crispy skin outside, the insides are a bit bland. Nevertheless, it’s a nice balance when forked together with all other bolder components.
The duck bruschetta is a mixture of flavors. Sweet relish dusts the top of a large poached egg that rests on a layer of thick smoky duck slices. Just underneath is the creamy burrata cheese and minty pesto slathered on a piece of hearty crisp bread. The juicy duck slices bursts with savory goodness, although the poached egg fails to impress. The texture is so rubbery that I was unable to recognize what I was eating upon the first bite until I saw the yolk. I dub them space eggs, in the category of weird but intriguing food like freeze-dried bananas they probably serve to astronauts.
The stars of the show tonight are the pastas, which arrive promptly after my friend and I finish the appetizers. The ravioli is generously filled with Dungeness crab meat and complemented by a lemony olive-oil based sauce. The flavors are delicate and light, but I’m afraid that squid ink isn’t a taste that agrees with my palate. The pasta’s texture, however, is amazingly dense and springy. In fact, I never want to go back to store-bought pasta after eating this.
Both the seafood pasta and lamb ragu are based on a similar tangy tomato sauce, though the seafood has a bit more of a kick of spice to it. The rich dense pasta is divine to munch on, and the tomato sauce gives a gentle lift to the assortment of mussels, clams, shrimp, and bits of fish. The plump mussels and clams are succulent and flavorful and the shrimp is cooked just right.
I’ve always avoided lamb because of its gamey smell, and I’ve found only that only by heavily seasoning and frying the meat can I mask that unpleasant aroma. My friend’s choice, however, is impeccable. The lamb is very light and tender; the strands of meat melt in your mouth. The wispy fibers of cheese lend a welcome richness to the fruity sauce while hints of nutty olive oil call out to your taste buds. This is my favorite dish of the entire night.
By this point, my friend and I are stuffed. Don’t be fooled by the restaurant’s seemingly small portions; they are very filling. Nevertheless wanting to extend this amazing experience, I impulsively order the poached pear dessert and force my friend to order the chocolate mousse.
Two scoops of chocolate mousse arrive on a walkway of double Devonshire cream and olive oil, its tops sprinkled with large crystals of sea salt and chili powder. The chocolate mousse is rich and smooth, but the salt crystals are too intense and overwhelm the chocolate. While these two components traditionally work well together, salt only pairs well when added in minimal amounts. The chili powder is a nice touch however. The fire does not come until you have swallowed most of the chocolate mousse and it leaves a pleasurable tingling in the back of the mouth. The generous double Devonshire cream is thick and flavorless, possibly as a counter to all the components working with the chocolate mousse. I find the idea of salt, chili powder, olive oil, and double Devonshire cream to be interesting partners for chocolate, but the result is a jumble hodgepodge of messy flavors. Ambitious but disappointing.
The velvety pear is soft and warm. While it’s been poached in red wine, only sweet notes of alcohol come through. The mesh of creamy custard sprinkled with crispy lemon peels is a delight to dig into and it works amazingly with the pear. Ribbons of the tart citrusy sauce helps to cut through the rich cream, however the dessert is not as I imagined. Upon reading the menu, custard brought the image of a flan-like texture to me, and not simply a sweet version of double Devonshire cream. Nevertheless, my friend and I finish the desserts.
Overall it was an amazing experience, and my friend and I were positively stuffed when we got up from our seats. The pasta and appetizers are divine, although I suggest ordering dessert elsewhere. Although the meal was perfect probably because my childhood friend was there as my companion, I would love to visit Poesia again to try out items on their rotating menu.
4072 18th Street
San Francisco, CA 94114