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Saturday, August 4, 2007

Essencia 401 Gough St. (at Hayes), San Francisco - SFgate.com

Essencia's upscale peruvian fare is hit-and-miss
Michael Bauer
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Printable Version
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After my third visit to Essencia, this question stuck in my mind: Why did Anne Gingrass-Paik choose to open a Peruvian restaurant?
Gingrass-Paik and her former husband, David Gingrass, were the original chefs at Postrio. They left to go out on their own to open Hawthorne Lane, which garnered glowing reviews. David Gingrass generally handled the front, while she was in charge of the kitchen, creating innovative East-West dishes. She even installed an aquarium with live prawns in the dining room. After the two divorced, she opened Desiree Cafe in the Presidio, which has since closed.
Now she's lending her name to Essencia in Hayes Valley at Hayes and Gough streets. The restaurant's Web site proclaims, "Essencia is a new and exciting Peruvian restaurant with an organic California twist," which sounds as innovative as her previous ventures. Yet the niggling question remains: Why?
The food, while pleasant, isn't particularly distinctive, especially for the price. I'd just as soon go to Limon or Destino, where the tab is lower and the food more interesting.
While I love the idea of giving cuisines an interpretive twist, in this case the twists take a wrong turn, beginning with the bread. The three or four irregular chunks of baguette tossed on a saucer look like leftovers. I first thought it was a mistake and cut the kitchen some slack, but after the third visit, I realized that was the way it was supposed to be. Why?
And why is the kampachi ceviche ($12) doused with so much mustard-yellow hot pepper sauce that it destroys everything but the texture? Dish after dish, I wondered why.
The interior has a modest, upscale look, using the same large plate-glass windows as when the space was the Pendragon bakery-cafe. The dozen or so tables are made of wood slabs with irregular edges; their small size might be the reason many main courses are served on rectangular plates that look as if they were last used in United's first-class cabin.
The brown color scheme helps warm the space, and the amoeba-shaped lights with printed fabric shades add interest to the ceiling. It's pleasant, but I'm not sure the cramped interior and somewhat disjointed service support the $26.75 price tag for lomo saltado, the classic Peruvian beef dish Gingrass-Paik updates with yucca fries and a sauce with too much vinegar.
The staff seems better suited to the casual interior than to the upscale prices. They place the flatware on the table helter-skelter, and often don't bother to put the right dish in front of the person who ordered it.
They also aren't well versed on the menu. When we had a question about the wine, the waiter couldn't answer it, although he offered us a taste of two other wines. When we were confused about why barbecued octopus with celery heart salad with black olive sauce ($11) was listed under the ceviche section, the waiter gave a convoluted explanation of how the sauce was put in the pan until crusty and then the seafood was added, but really wasn't cooked. He came back later and offered another unintelligible explanation.
The dish consisted of a few pieces of tentacles briefly sauteed and served over frisee and celery. It tasted fine, but it was more of a salad than anything else. Another one of the three selections in the category was the shrimp, sea bass and mussel ceviche with cucumbers ($11.50), which had too much acid to do the seafood justice.
With the chef having such a seemingly assertive seasoning hand, I was surprised by the lack of flavor of the sea bass ($12), served chilled on paprika onions, practically raw green beans, slices of avocado and cherry tomato halves. The flavors never integrated, and when I wanted to perk things up with salt, there was none on the table.
One of the best ways to counterbalance the assertive items is with the golf ball-size potato fritters and crisp yucca fries ($8.50); or the composed salad ($12). The salad includes artichoke hearts sliced and fanned around a lemon parsley sauce, and a quinoa salad in which each bead was separate, slightly firm and topped with strands of smoky marinated peppers.
My favorite appetizer was grilled beef hearts ($7), which has chunks of chewy meat marinated in Cabernet vinegar and served on a small plate of marinated bell peppers.
I also liked some of the riffs on the main courses, such as adding whole fried chickpeas to baked halibut nestled on garbanzo puree and accented with shrimp and clam sauce ($23.50). The best part of the lamb ($25) - chunks of leg meat simmered in a cilantro sauce studded with peas and green beans - was the accompanying bowl of saffron-yellow risotto with what looked like an egg on top. It was a tad mushy, but the flavors were so good, it didn't matter.
A side of rice came with the "chicken with pecans, Parmesan and hot yellow pepper sauce" ($23.50), although I wasn't sure because the waiter placed the bowl in the middle of the table between that dish and the chupe, a shrimp, sea bass and rice chowder ($21) with a harsh, one-dimensional broth. The chicken - a Latin version of creamed chicken without the toast - was nothing like what I had expected. Shreds of meat were blended with a brownish creamy sauce topped with toasted pecans. It was good in a homey, 1950s way, but the price was clearly planted in 2007.
The green risotto-like bamboo rice ($24) also had a homey appeal. It was mounded on the plate with garlicky shrimp and scallops flanked by knobs of spinach.
I was mildly disappointed with the dessert offerings. The moist vanilla cake with white chocolate and cherry sauce ($6.50) was the best. The lucuma fruit flan ($6.50) tasted more of condensed milk than anything else; the whipped cream on top was overprocessed and the papaya was underripe.
The flavor of the guanabana (soursop) mousse ($6) with strawberries was pleasant, but the texture was a bit grainy. Orange pisco madeleines ($7) were too sweet with orange syrup, and the alfajores ($4.50) - butter cookies with various fillings - were slightly soggy.
Still confused about what was going on at Essencia, I called Gingrass-Paik for an explanation. Turns out that Peruvian food is a newfound interest. The family of one of her former employees wanted to open the place and lacked the experience. She became the go-to person in helping Juan and Carmen Cespedes design and staff the place, plan the menu and cook. Eventually, she said, she plans to open another restaurant, but she's now spending most of her time getting Essencia in order.
Unfortunately, the Cespedes' passion and Gingrass-Paik's talent haven't translated very well to the place. I still wonder why.
New: For a 360-degree view of the restaurant, visit sfgate.com/food.
The Wine List
The high food prices are consistent with the wine prices at Essencia, where the 15-item list concentrates on international wines.
Most wines come from Spain, with a few from Argentina and France. There are no California wines, which is strange since part of the gestalt of the restaurant is to offer an organic, local (read California) twist to the menu.
Most people probably won't recognize many of the wine producers, and from our visits, it appears the staff isn't well versed in the selections. They did offer us tastes when we asked about two Tempranillos on the list; both are offered by the glass. In fact, nine of the 15 wines are offered by the glass, priced between $7 and $9.
The list also includes two sherries by the glass, a Port and one beer: Cristal ($4), from Peru.
If you bring wine, corkage is $15. - M.B.
Essencia
401 Gough St. (at Hayes), San Francisco; (415) 552-8485 or www.essenciarestaurant.com . Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, until 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Beer and wine. Reservations and credit cards accepted. Difficult street parking.
Overall: Rating: ONE AND A HALF STARS
Food: Rating: ONE AND A HALF STARS
Service: Rating: ONE AND A HALF STARS
Atmosphere: Rating: TWO STARS
Prices: $$$
Noise rating: THREE BELLS
Pluses: Some Peruvian combinations have interesting twists. Try the fritters, grilled beef hearts, baked halibut.
Minuses: Food, service and decor often don't justify the prices.
Michael Bauer is The Chronicle's restaurant critic. E-mail him at mbauer@sf chronicle.com. Read his Between Meals blog on SFGate.com and visit sfgate.com/food for comprehensive Bay Area restaurant reviews and listings.

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Essencia 401 Gough St. (at Hayes), San Francisco - SFgate.com

Essencia's upscale peruvian fare is hit-and-miss
Michael Bauer
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Printable Version
Email This Article
After my third visit to Essencia, this question stuck in my mind: Why did Anne Gingrass-Paik choose to open a Peruvian restaurant?
Gingrass-Paik and her former husband, David Gingrass, were the original chefs at Postrio. They left to go out on their own to open Hawthorne Lane, which garnered glowing reviews. David Gingrass generally handled the front, while she was in charge of the kitchen, creating innovative East-West dishes. She even installed an aquarium with live prawns in the dining room. After the two divorced, she opened Desiree Cafe in the Presidio, which has since closed.
Now she's lending her name to Essencia in Hayes Valley at Hayes and Gough streets. The restaurant's Web site proclaims, "Essencia is a new and exciting Peruvian restaurant with an organic California twist," which sounds as innovative as her previous ventures. Yet the niggling question remains: Why?
The food, while pleasant, isn't particularly distinctive, especially for the price. I'd just as soon go to Limon or Destino, where the tab is lower and the food more interesting.
While I love the idea of giving cuisines an interpretive twist, in this case the twists take a wrong turn, beginning with the bread. The three or four irregular chunks of baguette tossed on a saucer look like leftovers. I first thought it was a mistake and cut the kitchen some slack, but after the third visit, I realized that was the way it was supposed to be. Why?
And why is the kampachi ceviche ($12) doused with so much mustard-yellow hot pepper sauce that it destroys everything but the texture? Dish after dish, I wondered why.
The interior has a modest, upscale look, using the same large plate-glass windows as when the space was the Pendragon bakery-cafe. The dozen or so tables are made of wood slabs with irregular edges; their small size might be the reason many main courses are served on rectangular plates that look as if they were last used in United's first-class cabin.
The brown color scheme helps warm the space, and the amoeba-shaped lights with printed fabric shades add interest to the ceiling. It's pleasant, but I'm not sure the cramped interior and somewhat disjointed service support the $26.75 price tag for lomo saltado, the classic Peruvian beef dish Gingrass-Paik updates with yucca fries and a sauce with too much vinegar.
The staff seems better suited to the casual interior than to the upscale prices. They place the flatware on the table helter-skelter, and often don't bother to put the right dish in front of the person who ordered it.
They also aren't well versed on the menu. When we had a question about the wine, the waiter couldn't answer it, although he offered us a taste of two other wines. When we were confused about why barbecued octopus with celery heart salad with black olive sauce ($11) was listed under the ceviche section, the waiter gave a convoluted explanation of how the sauce was put in the pan until crusty and then the seafood was added, but really wasn't cooked. He came back later and offered another unintelligible explanation.
The dish consisted of a few pieces of tentacles briefly sauteed and served over frisee and celery. It tasted fine, but it was more of a salad than anything else. Another one of the three selections in the category was the shrimp, sea bass and mussel ceviche with cucumbers ($11.50), which had too much acid to do the seafood justice.
With the chef having such a seemingly assertive seasoning hand, I was surprised by the lack of flavor of the sea bass ($12), served chilled on paprika onions, practically raw green beans, slices of avocado and cherry tomato halves. The flavors never integrated, and when I wanted to perk things up with salt, there was none on the table.
One of the best ways to counterbalance the assertive items is with the golf ball-size potato fritters and crisp yucca fries ($8.50); or the composed salad ($12). The salad includes artichoke hearts sliced and fanned around a lemon parsley sauce, and a quinoa salad in which each bead was separate, slightly firm and topped with strands of smoky marinated peppers.
My favorite appetizer was grilled beef hearts ($7), which has chunks of chewy meat marinated in Cabernet vinegar and served on a small plate of marinated bell peppers.
I also liked some of the riffs on the main courses, such as adding whole fried chickpeas to baked halibut nestled on garbanzo puree and accented with shrimp and clam sauce ($23.50). The best part of the lamb ($25) - chunks of leg meat simmered in a cilantro sauce studded with peas and green beans - was the accompanying bowl of saffron-yellow risotto with what looked like an egg on top. It was a tad mushy, but the flavors were so good, it didn't matter.
A side of rice came with the "chicken with pecans, Parmesan and hot yellow pepper sauce" ($23.50), although I wasn't sure because the waiter placed the bowl in the middle of the table between that dish and the chupe, a shrimp, sea bass and rice chowder ($21) with a harsh, one-dimensional broth. The chicken - a Latin version of creamed chicken without the toast - was nothing like what I had expected. Shreds of meat were blended with a brownish creamy sauce topped with toasted pecans. It was good in a homey, 1950s way, but the price was clearly planted in 2007.
The green risotto-like bamboo rice ($24) also had a homey appeal. It was mounded on the plate with garlicky shrimp and scallops flanked by knobs of spinach.
I was mildly disappointed with the dessert offerings. The moist vanilla cake with white chocolate and cherry sauce ($6.50) was the best. The lucuma fruit flan ($6.50) tasted more of condensed milk than anything else; the whipped cream on top was overprocessed and the papaya was underripe.
The flavor of the guanabana (soursop) mousse ($6) with strawberries was pleasant, but the texture was a bit grainy. Orange pisco madeleines ($7) were too sweet with orange syrup, and the alfajores ($4.50) - butter cookies with various fillings - were slightly soggy.
Still confused about what was going on at Essencia, I called Gingrass-Paik for an explanation. Turns out that Peruvian food is a newfound interest. The family of one of her former employees wanted to open the place and lacked the experience. She became the go-to person in helping Juan and Carmen Cespedes design and staff the place, plan the menu and cook. Eventually, she said, she plans to open another restaurant, but she's now spending most of her time getting Essencia in order.
Unfortunately, the Cespedes' passion and Gingrass-Paik's talent haven't translated very well to the place. I still wonder why.
New: For a 360-degree view of the restaurant, visit sfgate.com/food.
The Wine List
The high food prices are consistent with the wine prices at Essencia, where the 15-item list concentrates on international wines.
Most wines come from Spain, with a few from Argentina and France. There are no California wines, which is strange since part of the gestalt of the restaurant is to offer an organic, local (read California) twist to the menu.
Most people probably won't recognize many of the wine producers, and from our visits, it appears the staff isn't well versed in the selections. They did offer us tastes when we asked about two Tempranillos on the list; both are offered by the glass. In fact, nine of the 15 wines are offered by the glass, priced between $7 and $9.
The list also includes two sherries by the glass, a Port and one beer: Cristal ($4), from Peru.
If you bring wine, corkage is $15. - M.B.
Essencia
401 Gough St. (at Hayes), San Francisco; (415) 552-8485 or www.essenciarestaurant.com . Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, until 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Beer and wine. Reservations and credit cards accepted. Difficult street parking.
Overall: Rating: ONE AND A HALF STARS
Food: Rating: ONE AND A HALF STARS
Service: Rating: ONE AND A HALF STARS
Atmosphere: Rating: TWO STARS
Prices: $$$
Noise rating: THREE BELLS
Pluses: Some Peruvian combinations have interesting twists. Try the fritters, grilled beef hearts, baked halibut.
Minuses: Food, service and decor often don't justify the prices.
Michael Bauer is The Chronicle's restaurant critic. E-mail him at mbauer@sf chronicle.com. Read his Between Meals blog on SFGate.com and visit sfgate.com/food for comprehensive Bay Area restaurant reviews and listings.

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SF Mayor Gavin Newsom Opens Marina SF Library Branch

SAN FRANCISCO
Marina celebrates library's return
Hundreds check out newly renovated neighborhood branch, closed for 2 years
Michael Cabanatuan, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, August 5, 2007

=Saturday was not an ordinary day at San Francisco's Marina Branch Library.
Not only did nobody "shhhhhhhhh" the loud talkers, but the musicians accompanying the Chinese dragon dancers banged on drums and cymbals, and people had to shout above the din to be heard. Folks ate and drank. Mayor Gavin Newsom signed autographs and shook hands. And a clown twisted balloons into the shapes of animals.
The occasion was the grand reopening of the library, closed for two years for expansion and renovation. About 300 book lovers of all ages gathered early outside the library -- its shades drawn and doors covered -- to get their first peek.
"It's been a long two years, and we've all been pressing our noses to the windows and wondering what's going on inside,'' said Donna Bero, of Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, in one of several speeches.
Finally, after 40 minutes of speeches and ceremony from politicians and community leaders, the doors were flung open and the crowd surged inside. They found a thoroughly overhauled library with a bright new glass-enclosed reading and browsing area, revamped and separate children's and teen areas, new restrooms, more computers than the old library, free wireless Internet access and new furnishings.
And they raved about it all.
"This is really cool,'' said Pamela Fortino, 52, an author and acupuncturist. "It's nice to have it open again."
The bright, open feel of the building, its clean modern design and its roominess seemed to draw the most attention.
"It's wonderful,'' said Willa Sweeney, 15, whose mother is a librarian. "It's very light -- good for reading -- and it's airy."
Melissa Em, 16, said the remodeled library stacks up favorably against its old, darker and more crowded predecessor.
"I went here before the renovation and it was smaller, not as spacious,'' she said. "There's more places to put your stuff down and more computers.''
As people shook the mayor's hand and snacked on hors d'oeuvres, others lined up to check out books or sign up for library cards. Some carried huge piles of books to the checkout counter.
"This is their library,'' said Luis Herrera, the city librarian, who smiled as he watched the activity. "There's a tremendous sense of ownership. You can see it. Look at the different generations.''
The Marina Branch Library is the fourth renovated under a $105.9 million bond measure approved by voters in 2000. A new Glen Park library will open in October, followed by rejuvenated libraries in the Western Addition and Noe Valley.
The $3.9 million Marina library renovation was enhanced by a separate community fundraising campaign by Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, which raised $200,000 for new furniture and equipment.
Bea Krivetsky, who raised much of that money, said the neighborhood's generosity, and the resulting library, says a lot about the community.
"It says we appreciate the fact that you have to have community facilities -- everything can't just be you yourself sitting on a curb drinking a latte,'' she said. "You have to have a place where multi ages can come and everybody is welcome.''

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HR# 755 - Barry Bonds Ties Henry Aaron Today Vs. San Diego

Side by side with Aaron
Bonds' historic home run, dogged by controversy, is a big relief
Henry Schulman, SF Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, August 4, 2007

(08-04) 23:32 PDT San Diego -- Throughout the pursuit, Barry Bonds' world had become suffocating. He chased Henry Aaron while allegations of steroid abuse chased him. To his left, to his right, above and below, the media and fans crowded him, watched him, questioned him, cheered him and taunted him.
When he caught Aaron on Saturday night, hitting his 755th home run in the second inning of the Giants' 3-2, 12-inning loss to the San Diego Padres, Bonds finally got his reward -- a chance to run the bases in solitude, to breathe, to know that no man who ever wore a major-league uniform has hit more home runs than he has.
Thirty-three years, three months and 27 days after Aaron hit his 715th home run to surpass Babe Ruth, Bonds met Aaron with a 382-foot shot against San Diego right-hander Clay Hensley, a onetime Giants farmhand who two years ago drew a 15-game suspension in the minors for using performance-enhancing drugs.
Bonds' 755th homer went to left field, just like his first one in 1986. It clanged off the facing of the low second deck at Petco Park, a stadium that, legend holds, was built with deep dimensions to be "Bonds-proof."
A crowd of 42,497 reacted with more cheers then boos. It was fitting he tied Aaron's record against the Padres. Bonds' 87 home runs against them are his most against any opponent. Hensley became the 445th pitcher to surrender one.
After homering, Bonds walked three times. When he left in the eighth for pinch-runner Rajai Davis, Bonds received a standing ovation from a large segment of the crowd.
His next opportunity to pass Aaron is expected to be Monday, when the Giants open a seven-game homestand with the first of four games against the Washington Nationals. Even before Saturday's game, manager Bruce Bochy said Bonds probably will rest in today's series finale.
At 7:29 PDT, four hours after completing an unusual, 40-minute round of early batting practice, Bonds came to the plate on a warm evening, with plenty of sunlight still bathing the office buildings and hotels that compose the skyline beyond the 3-year-old stadium. As usual, flashbulbs popped incessantly as soon as he made his way to the batter's box, although their effect was muted in the dusk.
Bonds took the first three pitches, a strike and two balls, before slamming the 2-1 pitch to the opposite field. He had no doubt he made history.
Bonds stood and watched the record-tying home run sail away. Left fielder Scott Hairston retreated as far as he could, stuck his back against the left-field wall and did not bother to look up and watch the baseball sail over the fence. A scrum for the ball ensued among the bleacher fans. It was retrieved by Adam Hughes, 33, of nearby La Jolla -- a city whose Spanish name translates to "The Jewel."
Bonds dropped his bat, punched his palm and clapped his hands as he started to run. There were no histrionics, only a satisfied 360-foot trot.
The fans, already on their feet, provided a mixed reaction that stood as a fitting symbol of the divisiveness Bonds has engendered during his chase for the record.
The cheers, many from Giants fans in a hostile house, reflected their appreciation for Bonds' feat, matching a record that had stood for 33 years. The boos reflected the anger of many baseball fans who believe Bonds achieved this milestone only because he took performance-enhancing drugs.
Bonds' son and batboy, Nikolai, charged out of the dugout on the third-base side of the field as the ball cleared the fence. When Bonds reached the plate he lifted Nikolai with one arm and continually slammed him on the back with the other, walking several steps along the way.
Commissioner Bud Selig was present, a reluctant spectator. As Bonds rounded the bases, ESPN cameras showed Selig standing in his box, looking indifferent, his hands appearing to be in his pants pockets.
Selig later issued a statement that read, "Congratulations to Barry Bonds as he ties Major League Baseball's home run record. No matter what anybody thinks of the controversy surrounding this event, Mr. Bonds' achievement is noteworthy and remarkable."
Bonds hugged on-deck hitter Ryan Klesko then greeted the rest of his teammates, who emerged from the dugout. They stood on the field only a short time before Bonds walked to his wife, Elizabeth, and daughter Aisha, who were seated in a box behind the plate. Bonds kissed both through the protective netting of the foul-ball screen.
Bonds then hugged Sue Burns, the Giants' principal investor, tipped his helmet to the crowd, walked into the dugout, sat down and smiled, knowing that his next home run will leave him atop the all-time list.
Bonds hit his 754th home run against Florida at home on July 27. Since then he was 2-for-18 with a pair of singles. Frustrated by his slump, he spent 40 minutes on the field Saturday afternoon, from 2:50 to 3:30, taking early batting practice, a rarity for Bonds. Bochy himself threw to Bonds for half an hour and batting coach Joe Lefebvre the other 10 minutes.
Bonds took 113 swings over 11 rounds, alternating in the cage with rookies Fred Lewis and Davis and hitting 17 balls out.
"He wanted some early hitting," Bochy said. "Joe wanted to work on some things, he and Joe. He got a lot of swings in. Barry's got a lot of pride. He wasn't happy with some things. I thought he swung good. He was pleased. He thought he found something."
Bonds did find something a few hours later, what it feels like to share baseball's all-time home-run record. In one respect, Bochy can say he helped Bonds achieve it.
"I had some good stuff today," he joked before the game.
No. 755 tied the game 1-1 after Scott Hairston homered against rookie Pat Misch, making his first career start for the Giants. It was Hairston's third homer in four innings against the Giants. He tied Friday's game with a three-run homer in the eighth and won the game with a homer in the 10th.
Bonds walked to start the fourth inning and scored on an infield out by Bengie Molina, which followed a Klesko double. The Padres tied the game 2-2 in the fifth on an RBI triple by Mike Cameron.

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