It’s like an artist took a brush dipped in amber and carefully – ever so carefully – painted a chicken to make it glow like a warm sunset.
But it’s more than the beauty of the roasted chicken that came to our table at the San Francisco institution Zuni Cafe. Yes, the seasonal greens gave the plate that rustic drama, and the Tuscan bread salad unearthed from the bountiful whole chicken added pop. But as we bit into the tender chicken pieces, some still dripping with moist chicken juice, it was then that we understood true beauty.
Zuni Cafe’s Judy Rodgers has elevated the simple roasted chicken to an art form, first with the well-known technique of salting a whole chicken at least 24 hours in advance, and then roasting at high heat in the restaurant’s brick oven.
The recipe for this famous chicken is in Rodgers’ award-winning The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, but if you want to try it done right, you have to order it at the restaurant on Market Street just south of Hayes Valley. Made for two ($48), the dish takes at least an hour, so prepare yourself for a leisurely lunch as I did when I went recently with my friend Maureen.
We took the time to catch up, munching on fresh oysters and house-cured anchovies. And when the chicken finally arrived, it was the star of the table as other diners turned to watch the waiter place it on our table, many whispering to each other, “oooh, that’s the roast chicken.”
Zuni Cafe’s roasted chicken is still on every food lover’s list of must-eat food. I am so glad to say that I have tasted it, and happily checked it off my list.
Zuni Cafe, 1658 Market St., San Francisco. PH: 415.552.2522. Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner (closed Monday). Reservations and major credit cards accepted. www.zunicafe.com
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