by Jessica Yadegaran
Daniel Patterson’s latest restaurant is located inside an artist’s enclave in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood. With its white paint, raw concrete and minimalist lines, Alta at the Minnesota Street Project is every bit as arty as the warehouse’s gallery spaces. It belongs here.
Unlike the original Alta on Market Street, where the eyes are naturally drawn to a giant, freestanding liquor shelf that separates the dining room and kitchen, the focus at the smaller, 45-seat Alta is a dramatic walnut bar, where the focus is on low-alcohol (or low-proof) vermouth-based cocktails and sparkling wine cocktails on tap.
We loved the slightly bitter tang of the Cindy Sherman ($12) made with sparkling rosé and Contratto Aperitif with strawberry, mint and tarragon. The super-fresh Minnesota Grove ($12) is so inspiring it just might jump-start your next health kick: The drink is made with Carpano Bianco, tomato, cucumber, thyme, basil and cilantro spiked with jalapeno. Why take your green juice any other way?
Executive chef Matt Brimer’s menu has a similar plant-based vibe. It changes daily, so some of the items in this review may no longer be available. But not to fret: Brimer’s brain is always calculating the next micro-seasonal inspiration.
For instance, Santa Rosa Plum Gazpacho ($15) was easily the best thing my tastebuds met this summer. Brimer marinates roasted plums with red onion and garlic overnight, then emulsifies the combination with extra-virgin olive oil and adds crunchy bits of lemon cucumber and marcona almonds. If it is gone (tear), look for a late-summer version with melon, and, down the line, possibly a fall version with persimmon, pomegranate and charred grapefruit.
Brimer’s market-driven food combined with the staff’s genuine service and the dining room’s artsy ambiance help to make Alta MSP as memorable as it is. The Dogpatch location also offers lunch during the week and brunch on weekends (Alta on Market does not). But the dinner menus are similar in scope: about four starters ($5-$9), five small plates ($11-$18) and four entrees ($26-$33). Simple and concise.
Everyone starts with Brown Rice Puffs ($9), massive, light-as-air chips made from brown rice that is cooked, blended, spread evenly on a sheet pan, then dehydrated and fried at a very high heat so they puff up. The puffs are sprinkled with a touch of red chile pepper powder and served with a smooth dip of avocado, olive oil, lime juice and salt. I thought the puffs needed more chile pepper powder, or even a chile lime seasoning, to bring out the lime flavor in the dip.
We tried two of the four entrees and both were sensational. Roasted Chicken Breast ($29), topped with peppery nasturtium leaves, had a crispy seared skin and juicy, tender interior. On the side: sweet Brentwood corn, skinless Sun Gold cherry tomatoes, sauteed chanterelle mushrooms and a light green lovage foam that had a subtle celery aroma and flavor. I rarely order chicken in restaurants, but this one is must-have.
Monterey Squid Porridge ($27) is more risotto than porridge; koshihikari, a short-grain Japanese rice, is added to a broth made with preserved lemon and black squid ink, then topped with fresh squid, red bell pepper and greens. I crave this dish, and I think it’s because of that beautiful balance of acid and savory flavors.
You’ll crave the popular cake sundaes ($8) too. They do a Chocolate Banana Sundae (with banana bread, smoked peanuts, dulce de leche and chocolate ice cream) that will leave you whimpering for more and wondering, “Wait, why didn’t I think of this?”
Sticking to the micro-seasonal thing? You’ll want the Strawberry Shortcake Sundae with lemon-poppyseed cake, strawberries and vanilla ice cream. And if you miss it, just imagine what Brimer will do with apple cake and pumpkin pie come fall. That should put a smile on your face.