Finding something new and avante garde can be a challenge when visiting a city in which one has spent quite a bit of time – especially if one is searching for something new in the world of Spanish food. I am very much a traditionalist when it comes to Spanish food and cannot get enough of the classics; but I am also a Californian, seeking out a cuisine marked by use of the freshest local ingredients available. A recent trip to San Francisco (to celebrate my birthday) was cause for yet another exhaustive (Spanish) restaurant search; but would I find something other than the norm? Enter "Contigo" located in Noe Valley (an eclectic, upscale San Francisco neighborhood).
From the moment you walk through the doors of Contigo you feel welcome and at home. Our table on the vegetative back patio was perfect for our small group (given that I expected my birthday celebration not to be a quiet one). The restaurant had barely been open an hour when we arrived on that Saturday night and was already almost half full. This is always a great sign for me. My voracious appetite had already kicked in, but I am always more willing to wait in line for great food than to sit down immediately for mediocre. Fortunately, at Contigo neither was the case – no wait and great food!
Owners Brett and Elan Emerson chose the name Contigo (meaning "with you") because it "connotes connection, community, collaboration, and conviviality". The food here is heavily influenced by Catalan cooking and is cooked from scratch using local, organic, and humane products from a variety of artisans. The restaurant is a veritable recycling plant as much of the structure and everyday amenities are produced from recycled products. This should intrigue you rather than put you off. It did me.
A quick glance over the menu caused my mouth to salivate and although there were some notable omissions (due only to the seasonal nature of the restaurant) I could not wait to dig in. First the wine list. I am always impressed when I open the wine list to find wines from Spain holding a place of prominence. To my utter delight the wine list was not only heavily Spanish but ALL Spanish! They had already won my heart. Below are the wines we enjoyed over the next three hours:
- 2007 Naveran Cava (Penedés)
- 2008 Joan D'Anguera L'Argata (Montsant) – Incidentally, this is an incredible winery I visited a couple of years ago.
- 2008 Venus Mas Sorrer (Montsant)
- 2006 Pedralonga Duomia (Rias Baixas) – a delicious and unusual red wine from Rias Baixas
- 2008 Tritón (Castilla y León)
- NV Musva Sparkling Muscat (Valencia)
Of course, incredible wines should be paired with sumptuous food. There was certainly no shortage of that here! We enjoyed an incredible array of some of the freshest, Catalan-inspired, locally-produced food. The menu at Contigo changes daily so they may serve only what is in season. We enjoyed the following:
- Montadito – Cantabrian anchovies, house-made Mató cheese, cracked pepper
- Galician pulpo and potato pincho – Piparra pepper and pimentón
- Wood oven-roasted Monterey sardine and avocado toast – with pickled onions and smoked salt
- Roasted cauliflower – with olives, dates, lemon, and pimentón
- Patatas bravas – crispy fried potatoes with Alioli and Salsa Brava
- Wild mushroom canelón – with house-made nettle pasta with butternut squash and sheep Ricotta
- Coca (flatbread) of brocolli rabe – fatted calf bacon, caramelized onions, and Manchego
- Calamars a la planxa – with Blood Oranges, black olives, pickled onions, and spiced chickpeas
- Moorish lamb tagine – with prunes, ginger, saffron, toasted almonds, and buttered couscous
- Albóndigas – pork and jamón meatballs in tomato sherry sauce
- Tripe with chorizo and chickpeas
- Churros y chocolate
- Almond cake
Is your mouth watering now? Well, mine is again remembering each and every dish as I type. Although you may not see all of the above on your menu at Contigo you will undoubtedly find an incredible selection of Catalan-inspired tapas prepared flawlessly and served with enthusiasm. Make your reservation at Contigo and enjoy and tremendous Spanish meal.
Life is short. Drink Spanish wine (at Contigo)!