AL stands for Aaron London, the young energetic chef of Ubuntu fame (renowned for vegetarian food in Napa Valley). This newly opened San Francisco restaurant on the corner of 26th and Valencia is a standout. Beautifully presented, but in a very noisy, but pristine white environs, AL’s Place seats only forty-six diners. All the dishes we ordered—including meat and fish—were standouts.
London’s confidence and virtuosity with vegetables is no surprise and is reflected in the unusual combinations of fruit and veggies he dreams up. Seafood is peppered in many main dishes, while other meat and fish options are listed as sides. In addition to snackles (small bites) and sides, the menu is divided into cold/cool and warm/hot sections and limited availability items.
We started off with a stunning cold dish of “lightly cured” trout with crispy potato, smashed cucumber, in a bagna cauda sauce (very light garlic and anchovy dip). The Coho salmon trout looked more like sushi than a smoked fish, or perhaps Gravlax: pure, ineffable freshness in a beautiful presentation on top of crispy tomatoes and cucumbers.
In the cold/cool section of the menu we had an unbelievable salad—thinly sliced yellow squash with crushed raspberry/fig oil, burrata and toasted almonds. The presentation is worthy of an artist. Another veggie dish we loved was a generous portion of royal trumpet mushrooms with fava bean mayo, and topped with green peach/pluot relish. What a mix of flavors! On the warm/hot section the stone fruit/albacore curry with black lime marinade, green beans, and a sprinkling of blueberries was a mind-game of ingredients that you would think to be mutually exclusive instead of astoundingly compatible. Going to AL’s Place for this dish alone would be worth the trip.
For sides (don’t let the name fool you), we had the smoked brisket with sieved egg, pickled mire poix, and a faint touch of maple mustard. Brisket is quite trendy now but this one was remarkable. Brisket is not easy to smoke—gristly, fatty, and dry—but this dish had none of those attributes.
In the limited availability menu we had the fish catamaran with a double dip, one of which was a lemony vinaigrette while the other was an incredible miso béarnaise. When the chef stopped by to greet us, we asked how the miso sauce was made and I was exhausted just listening to all the steps involved.
We had a sparkling rosé pinot noir (Onward) that was not to our taste so we recommended another one from Carmel to the sommelier. He was inviting and asked for the information, proving he was open to other wine selections. We did like the idea that AL’s Place was experimental in trying lesser-known appellations from all over the world for their wine list, which was very modestly priced.
For nonalcoholic drinks the freshly made watermelon and shiso sparkling soda was perfect—not at all sweet, but refreshing on that warm evening.
I don’t think you can go wrong with AL’s Place—your vegetarian friends will be in Nirvana and we carnivores and pescatarians will have just as good a time. If you are in San Francisco, check out AL’s Place—you won’t be disappointed!