But putting up his stake over in the Inner Sunset near the popular 9th and Irving neighborhood is Chef-Owner Jose Calvo-Perez and his 2-year-old Pasión restaurant. Calvo-Perez isn’t a stranger to Peruvian food having worked at his father’s Fresca restaurants, but Pasión is, well, his passion project — a stylish spot putting a twist on Peruvian classics.
I’ve dined here a few times because of its close proximity to the Golden Gate Park. Pasión makes a nice place for Sunday brunch combined with a walk at the park, or a pleasant dinner before or after a trip to the de Young museum. (The bar does a perfect rendition of the pisco sour.) The service is friendly and accommodating and the music and bustling crowd add to the lively Latin vibe.
If you’re a fan of ceviche, the Latin American dish of raw fish cured with lime juice, then you can’t go wrong with any of Pasión’s selection elevated with special sauces or unique ingredients. My favorite is the ceviche campechano ($13) with local halibut, ahi tuna, salmon, white truffle leche de tigre, red onion, cilantro and pickled jalapeno.
Once during brunch with my friend Kim, she got the trio tasting ($16) and chose the following:
- ceviche atun — ahi tuna, lime, coconut milk, red jalapeno, ginger, jicama, scallion oil, and honey cashews
- ceviche sofia — local halibut, watermelon rocoto juice, mint, papaya, red onion and purple corn
- ceviche camarones — shrimp with roasted tomato gazpacho, red onion, chives, and plantain crisps
She said her favorite was the sofia with the slight sweetness of the watermelon rocoto adding a different spin to ceviche.
Another traditional dish is the causa ($13), which is a mashed potato dish topped with a special ingredient. At Lar Mar, its causas are built like miniature potato towers with a blend of special toppings and sauces — a very refined take on a classic. But Pasión’s version leans on the hearty, with an aji Amarillo potato puree sitting on the plate almost like a backup singer supporting the main ingredient. While the causa seemed simple, I loved the topping of salmon and tuna tartare accompanied with avocado, tomato, olive, and quail egg.
While the kitchen handles fish expertly, I found it can be hit and miss elsewhere. Empanadas de pato ($8) are made with duck confit and smoked duck ham, but I thought the empanada shell was unremarkable (not as flakey or golden brown as I’ve seen elsewhere) and the duck filling just average in taste.
At brunch, the Pasión frittata ($12) is a festive delight for the eyes with the open-face omelet showcasing fiery red Spanish chorizo and piquillo peppers with potatoes and Jack cheese. But on this occasion, at least, the overall dish had an off-taste to it, almost funky. (Not sure if it was the cheese or something spoiled.)
An entrée of pan-roasted salmon ($24) best sums up the dining experience at Pasión — creative and different but sometimes a bit overboard. The salmon came offset with the black squid ink calamari rice and calamari salad. While the salmon was perfectly cooked to my taste (the server asks you how you want it done), the overall dish was complicated with other add-ons like the sweet passion fruit escabeche sauce.
The last bite
It seems like Chef Calvo-Perez wants to present fancy dishes to surprise and delight his diners, and while sometimes the experience can be fun, some dishes seem to need just a bit more refinement in presentation. Still, Pasión offers up something fun when you’re looking for something different in the neighborhood.
Pasión, 737 Irving St. (at 9th), San Francisco. PH: 415.742.5727. Open lunch, weekday, 11 a.m.–3 p.m.; dinner, daily from 5 p.m. (till 10 p.m. Mon.–Thu., till 11 p.m., Fri.–Sat., and till 9 p.m. Sun.); and weekend brunch, 10 a.m.–3 p.m. Reservations and major credit cards accepted. www.pasionsf.com