54 Mint continues to be one of my all-time favorite Italian restaurants in San Francisco. Although it isn’t really a rule, I think I subconsciously minimize repeat visits to restaurants unless they are really, really good or really good AND inexpensive. Given that I have this growing list of places to try and limited volume in my belly, it really makes perfect sense. However, 54 Mint is one of those restaurants that in spite of not being much of a bargain is so good that I look forward to coming back. After our first time, we’ve been talking with Casper, who first introduced us to the restaurant, about when we would go again. They were planning on joining us but ended up getting stuck in Napa. So it was Pdho and I carbo-loading in preparation for running the SF Half Marathon tomorrow.
The Carpaccio de Polipo was a very interesting dish. They thinly sliced the squid and served it carpaccio-style topped with shaved fennel, extra virgin olive oil and a smoked paprika dressing. I was mesmerized as to how they were able to get the squid so thin, but it tasted so good that I didn’t think too hard. Definitely one of the most memorable dishes I’ve ever had.
Although it seems inevitable, I did try to NOT order fried calamari. I can’t help it. I have a thing for fried calamari, but at least this particular dish, Frittura di Paranza, added some rock shrimp and smelt to the mix. The sauce was a smoked paprika aioli which added a nice spicy flavor. Although the texture of the seafood was not as crispy as one would expect, I still really liked it, because the batter was pretty light and you could taste the fresh flavor of the seafood. It was great. The smelt was very interesting. It’s surprising how much flavor those little guys have.
One of my favorite dishes from my first time at 54 Mint was a squid ink rice ball-like dish, so I was really looking forward to ordering it again. I was so bummed when I didn’t see it on the menu, but then I saw Squid Ink Risotto Croquette on the Daily Specials board. In fact, none of the dishes we had last time were on the actual menu, but all of the really good ones including the Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli with Sage and Butter Sauce were on the board. Anyways, in this version of the dish, the same black color and rich flavor of the squid ink risotto is still there, but it was served as 3 round balls instead of 1 big square. It still tastes good and remains one of my favorite dishes.
There was an unusually long wait between our 3 appetizers and the serving of the main entrees, so it gave us some time to digest and make some room in our bellies. The Bistecca ai Ferri was a 9 oz. skirt steak grilled and served with broccoli rabe and roasted potatoes. The meat was cooked well and had nice charcoal grilled flavor. I wasn’t a big fan of the broccoli rabe, because of its bitterness, but the potatoes were amazingly delicious. There was so much flavor literally infused in the potatoes. The were well cooked throughout and every bite I took of the potatoes was well-seasoned to the point that I really had to wonder how they managed it.
The last dish, Spaghetti con Vongole Veraci, seemed to suffer the most from the long lag in service. The kitchen got backed up somehow, so by the time we go the entrees, we were starving. Unfortunately, although the clams and “Garafalo” pasta was supposed to be served in an sauce made of white wine, extra virgin olive oil, parsley and chili flakes, it actually tasted really bland. I think they must have forgotten to add the sauce, because it tasted really bland. After the waitress took it back to the kitchen, it came back out with a little bit more sauce, but the white wine taste was too strong. I think in their haste, they failed to completely cook off the white wine. It was a little bit disappointing.
Overall, it was another delicious meal at 54 Mint that included an old favorite and introduced us to some unique and really well-prepared new dishes. In spite of the misstep with the Spaghetti con Vongole Veraci, I can easily forgive it and focus on the high points of the rest of the meal. I really do like the food here and I would highly recommend it for anyone looking for great tasting Italian food.
16 Mint Plaza
San Francisco, CA 94103
PAFO Ratings for 54 Mint:
Price 3 ½ stars
Ambiance 4 stars
Food 4 stars
Overall rating 4 stars