We’ve had the good fortune to dine at Contigo, a fun and stylish tapas and wine bar restaurant in Noe Valley, twice in the past few months, most recently with our lovely friends, Charles and Fernando.
Since that last time, Hegui and I’ve been talking off-and-on about what makes Spanish tapas so appealing right now. There’re several similar restaurants around San Francisco and we enjoyed a marvelous lunch at another one, Estadio in Washington, D. C., over the winter holidays.
There’s something about all the small plates that arrive randomly and almost magically that really delights. Kind of like Japanese restaurants or perhaps Korean, all those little dishes with different tastes are thrilling. Probably you could even include an Ayurvedic thali on the list, even though those small plates come all at once on a large metal tray. These meals de-center the dining experience from the standard appetizer-salad-main-dessert style of eating in exciting ways. I always notice the food more when I’m not really certain what to expect next.
Contigo is tiny and snug, with an open kitchen, a warm cheery atmosphere and good service. The food is really enjoyable and the menu, varied. We ordered most of the veggie and fish/shellfish oriented dishes and shared some inexpensive yet good Spanish red wines. The dining room can be loud, but people are having fun so it seems okay.
So in no particular order, we had the delicious wood oven roasted Monterey sardines and the Dungeness crab croquetas. Mmmmm!
To me the marinated Spanish olives always seem like a required dish at a place like this, and can so often disappoint. Not here. The olives were flavorful, and came with some pickled veggies and Spanish marcona almonds: a very elegant presentation which provided multiple textures and taste sensations.
The chicories salad and the Moorish blood orange salad were both refreshing. We all adored the sautéed Brussels sprouts leaves, which were sweet and a bit smoky. The sautéed greens Catalan style had lots of lovely Swiss chard, which I adore.
Of course patatas bravas is another of those stereotypical dishes that one must have at a tapas place. Like the Spanish olives, these didn’t disappoint.
I wasn’t especially keen on the black trumpet mushroom flam because the texture didn’t work for me. I’m not that into super-squishy. The others seemed to enjoy it well enough. The chickpeas and spinach Andalusian style, calamars a la planxa and seared local black cod finished our stunning meal.
We skipped dessert as we had already arranged to have cake at our friend, John’s house afterward.
So that’s all. Contigo is a must-try restaurant. I suggest a reservation.