Hummus and pita
One of the unexpected pleasures of my book writing process was rediscovering places I hadn't visited in a while (and of course there were some places I wish I had left well alone, ah well). But in the delicious revisit category was ~TERZO~. I have always been drawn to the chic and intimate room by Cass Calder Smith, full of warm wood and dim lighting (and cool design details), the interesting wine list (with a rather extensive range available by the glass), and the friendly service. Why the hell did it take me so long to come back? Why did I act like one of those guys who take a week to call you after a good date? For some things in this world, there just aren't acceptable explanations.
It feels like chef/co-owner Mark Gordon's menu has really hit its stride with what regulars and the neighborhood want; and one of the things they wished for was larger plates. There are a now a few bigger dishes to choose from on the menu of (mostly) small plates; one night there were eggy hand-cut noodles ($13/$20) with truffle, butter, and pecorino; I saw a table of ladies scarfing the grilled skirt steak ($26); and there was a homey braised chicken ($22), all made with quality ingredients. But the small plates here are still the domain I like to play in.
The seasonal Cal-Med menu changes daily; when I went in June, my friend and I loved the trio of baked squash blossoms ($8) stuffed with fresh ricotta, salsa verde, and a drizzle of Umbrian olive oil, a nice break from the usual fried execution you see. I also got to enjoy my first apricots of the season in a salad ($9) with pistachios, sweet Walla Walla onions, mint, and a tangy honey dressing made with white balsamic. At first I thought the flavors were a little too disparate, but as I kept coming back to it, I liked it more and more (different often takes a little time to get used to).
Skewers of lamb keftas ($15) were succulent and an effortless match with the tangy counterpoints of pomegranate molasses and a base of lebne (the execution here was more like yogurt than the spreadable cheese). Truth be told, the plate of roasted carrots and turnips ($9) was my favorite of the evening, a beautiful and simple dish made with brown butter and a sweet and spiced gastrique with clove, allspice, cinnamon, and honey. The caramelized sugars in this dish were magic. I know, how Chez Panisse/platter of figs, but whatever, it was delicious. Since we're on vegetables, vegetarians will be happy with the number of choices to be found here.
The Cow Hollow ladies who come here to eat and drink wine are definitely fans of the house-made pita ($8) that's cooked to order, with a dusting of the house za'atar, a mix of oregano, thyme, sumac, allspice, and sesame. The warm pita is so delicious, paired with a thick hummus topped with a pool of glistening olive oil (you'll find a lot of olive oil here, don't be afraid). The crispy onions ($6) are another fave, strings of red onion from a buttermilk bath, coated with a dusting of cornstarch and fried. They're ridiculous--just watch them disappear.
Desserts are simple and homey, like strawberry shortcake with lemon curd, or a silky buttermilk and vanilla panna cotta with huckleberries. (All the desserts are $8, although I don't agree with the sorbet costing the same amount as the chocolate cake.) Or you can always go for some dessert wine--again, there's an impressive number of glasses to choose from.
There are all kinds of useful features here, notable for such a small space: there's a back room that's spot-on for private events (seats 16), there's a back corner table perfect for larger groups (ideally seven), and the front sidewalk seating is actually reserve-able! (Nice little trick for the next heat wave, eh? Shhhhh.) The communal table and bar inside also make it convenient for drop-ins or single diners. But folks, if you want a perfect place for a second date (or maybe you have kids and you're finally going out for date night!), well, this is it.
3011 Steiner St.
Cross: Union St.
San Francisco, CA 94123
Small plates $8--$15
Larger plates $16--$27
NOTE: This is a shorter update; my original fresh meat review can be found here.