San Francisco: Contigo

There are many things to admire about Contigo, Brett Emerson’s Catalan-style restaurant in the Noe Valley neighborhood, from the small-but-not-crowded interior full of reclaimed wood to the lovely covered patio and kitchen garden, but it is the brightness of the food—the vividness and freshness of Emerson’s flavors—that stands out the most. A quick glance at the menu, divided into pica-pica (small dishes) and platillos (larger plates), reveals Emerson’s commitment to his sourcing, as does a fastidious list of purveyors on the back of the menu. Sautéed fava greens, whose flavor is deeply redolent of the bean itself, replace spinach in the classic Catalan pairing with pine nuts and raisins. Oxtail croquetas offer some welcome indulgence. Ramps are strewn across a delicious wood-fired coca (flatbread) alongside artichokes, green garlic, and rosemary. The organic, wood-roasted chicken, whose crisp skin is suffused with aromatics, may even prove a rival to Zuni Café’s vaunted brick-oven masterpiece. My family’s appraisal of a restaurant often rests on the quality of the simplest green salad. (Full disclosure: I’m the daughter of Alice Waters and grew up in Chez Panisse.) I’m happy to report that Contigo’s little gem, adorned with fried garlic and piquillo peppers, was just right.

Contigo 1320 Castro St., San Francisco (415-285-0250;



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