Not All AL’s Place is Cracked Up to Be

Menu for AL’s Place

I didn’t know much about AL’s Place until it topped Bon Appétit’s Best New Restaurant list in 2015 and was soon followed with a Michelin star earlier this year.  So as expected, it became one of the hardest reservations to get in San Francisco.  Occupying a small piece of real estate on a corner in the Mission District, it totally exudes the ambiance of a typical San Francisco dining establishment for the hipster millennials that live in the surrounding neighborhood.  Simple, understated, and cool.  Thanks to RFotographer’s ability to nab a prime time reservation, Hubster and I were luckily invited to join him and EmAyWhy for dinner.  I had some high hopes going in mainly due to all the buzz and although I didn’t have a chance to read any reviews, RFotographer mentioned that the menu was leaning more toward vegetables and seafood and this was most definitely the case as there was nary a sign of meat on the menu.  We easily agreed as a table to order the Family Style menu for $60/person figuring that approach would give us a great sampling from the kitchen.

Brine Pickled French Fries with Smoked Apple Sauce

The french fries were perfectly crisp and had a tangy taste which seemed a little unsettling to my taste buds at first, but the smoky sweetness of the apple dipping sauce provided a nice balance which left me liking the fries but not loving them.

Olives, Ras el Hanout

Olives have never been my thing as I find them to strong in their salty flavors, but Hubster and EmAyWhy enjoyed them.

Vadouvan Almonds

Like many of the dishes, this one was covered in a myriad of micro greens and it’s hard to see the candied almonds sitting at the bottom of the bowl.  These weren’t just any old nuts though as each almond was coated in vadouvan, also known as “french curry”, which is a mixture of Indian spices, shallots and garlic. It was quite tasty.

Chickpeas a la Catalan with Romesco Sauce

The Romesco Sauce was what I enjoyed most about this dish. The sweetness of the sauce was wonderfully complemented with a mix of herbs that really made me forget that the main ingredient of the dish was chickpeas.

Baby Lettuces, Herbed Avocado, Pistachio Crumble

With the beautiful spread of ruffrage unevenly presented on the plate, I couldn’t help my immediate thought being “that does not look very edible.”  I say that not because it looked bad, but that it really looked like a bunch of flowers and greens that had literally been fresh picked from the garden, but with avocado, pistachios, and a very tasty dressing hidden in the underbelly, this turned to be quite a delicious salad.

Cured Trout, Crispy Potato, Bashed Cucumber, Bagna Cauda

I found the ubiquitous use of half the dish throughout the meal somewhat odd, but I tried not to let it distract me from the wonderful ingredients that were on display.  I enjoyed this dish quite a bit mainly because it was the first sign of hearty protein we had encountered in the meal.  Although one would think the trout was supposed to be star of this dish, it really was a member of the ensemble cast.  I liked the the texture from the crispy potatoes and the bagna cauda which was the sauce really brought together the ingredients nicely.

Chilled Green Bean Casserole, Burrata, Tomato, Basil, Pickled Padrons

Even though there were a number of ingredients on display here, I really just remember it as a very solid execution on burrata and tomatoes.  It was quite good, but I really could have gone without the excessive use of micro greens.

Grits, Goat’s Milk Curds, Corn, Padrons, Pickled Green Tomatoes, Yuzu Blaster

I really wanted to love this dish.  The grits served as a nice creamy canvas upon which fresh corns, padron peppers, and pickled green tomatoes exploded onto a not so beautiful looking dish (at least compared to others that had preceded it) but a markedly interesting tasting one.  There was such a complex mix of flavors with every bite I took that I couldn’t decide if I liked it or not.  In the end, I think the sourness from the pickled tomatoes might have been too overpowering.  If the sweetness from the corn could be elevated more to be the predominant flavor, I think this dish might have hit it home for me more.

Campanelle, Smoked Fumet, Charred Fava Pesto, Goat’s Gouda

The cone-shaped campanelle was the ideal pasta for this dish because it could scoop up a healthy bit of the fava pesto sauce with each bite.  The goat’s cheese was pretty subtle, but for the life of me, I’m not sure if there was any protein in this dish. I’m guessing the smoked fumet might have just been a part of the sauce.  It was a good dish but since I find pesto a little too strong for me, I can’t say I loved it.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownie with Caramel Sauce

This chocolate peanut butter brownie  doused with caramel sauce was absolutely sweet and decadent.  It was a little more sugar than I needed, but it really was quite well executed.

Peanut Butter with Chocolate

This dessert was a little less overpowering with its peanut butter ice cream and chocolate cookie crumbles.  I really enjoyed it.

Overall, I did enjoy the meal for what it was, a wonderfully executed, beautifully presented homage to all that is vegetables, greens, and from the garden.  To be honest, it is quite amazing to create a meal that can use little to no protein (seafood or meat) and deliver such hearty and interesting flavors.  Some dishes went a little too far with some overpowering flavors, but in general, the food tasted fine.  However, in the end, even though I was full, I think I left feeling a little wanting.  When I think about what I ate, I realize that so much of the meal was just vegetables and greenery that I can’t help but feel that paying $60 was a little hefty, no matter how fresh and organic the ingredients might have been.  I still have to hand it Aaron London for pushing the envelope to do something quite different, and with its emphasis on vegetables, I think this is a restaurant that is perfectly suited for today’s SF food scene.  I give him credit for the uniqueness of the concept, and for the most part, the food being relatively well done.  For me though, the lack of substantial protein just left me feeling unsatisfied.

AL’s Place
1499 Valencia St
San Francisco, CA 94110

PAFO Ratings for AL’s Place:
Price $$$½
Ambiance 3 stars
Food 3 stars
Overall rating 3½ stars


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