UPDATE: This restaurant quietly closed in March 2016.
The story: Chef Sachin Chopra opened a successful restaurant in San Mateo called All Spice, and then decided to make his mark in San Francisco by opening a restaurant called Game near the Union Square area. The restaurant specializing in unusual meats didn’t catch on, so Chopra reimagined the space into a second All Spice, bringing his global cuisine to a more casual room.
Why I went: My friend Carolyn of the lovely Food Gal blog was invited by the restaurant to check out its new menu as All Spice, and she asked me to join her so I was lucky enough to tag along for dinner.
The vibe: Casual with wooden chairs, the decor makes you feel like you’re entering someone’s home. The deer head with uniform body over the bar is the only remnant of the former Game. Because we were dining early, the crowd was small but eventually grew, but mostly the feel of a business crowd on expense accounts.
The menu: I had told Carolyn that I’m not a big fan of Indian food, but she assured me that Chopra’s food isn’t traditionally Indian. Sure, there’s Indian influences with the spices and items like the Indian bread fritter (ma mere), but there’s lamb baba ganoush, Hungarian-style beef, and rice congee soup with onsen egg. It’s not necessarily meat heavy, but the dishes come out beautifully plated and complex with multiple flavors, such as the the octopus ala plancha ($21) that I had as a starter, with smoked garbanzo beans and strawberry-tomato chutney hidden under some of the peaches, the sweetness mixing with the savory octopus with what seemed like a squid ink smear for serious drama on the plate. The same could be said for Carolyn’s artichoke, artichoke, artichoke ($17) that served up three types of artichoke (regular, Jerusalem and Chinese) with Peruvian potato causa and spiced vinaigrette. Our entrees of pan-seared seabass ($36) and lacquered squab ($36) was just as complex albeit less in the drama category. Our meal ended with some complimentary chocolates, including a Thai tea truffle that was true to that flavor and a perfect ending note.
The booze: All Spice has several specialty cocktails and a decent wine list. Carolyn had a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc but I passed on any alcohol this night.
My favorite dish: I must be on an octopus love fest because I’ve had some great octopus dishes lately, including All Spice’s version, again for the beautiful presentation and multiple flavors, some hidden bursts as you work through the plate. Definitely a must order if you visit.
Insider tip: There’s a $109 chef’s tasting menu if you want to explore the techniques of Chef Chopra.
The last bite: I didn’t try Game, but this reincarnation of All Spice is not what I expected. There’s a sophistication to Chef Chopra’s dishes, many with complex flavors to give it a meal at All Spice an interesting point for discussion. While some dishes aren’t always fully developed (such as the complimentary “gentrified ramen” Chopra sent to our table made with leftover pig’s ear broth and glass noodles), many are built on several foundations that make it worthy for a try.
Thanks All Spice for the dinner, and thanks Carolyn for letting me tag along!
The rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: All Spice, 648 Bush St., San Francisco. PH: 415.874.9481. Open: Tuesday through Friday, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.; and Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.allspicerestaurant.com
Check out Carolyn’s take on our dinner here.
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