[by john]

i've been reading line cook religiously since i found it. i love the candid style, the cursing, and the peeks into one of california's up and coming kitchens, nopa. so naturally, i had to take my guy when i came to town.

the word from my sf friends is that it's a damn hard reservation to get. and i'd believe it. i made one a couple of weeks ahead for 10 pm (they serve dinner 6 to 1...) and there wasn't a lull for the entire two hours we were there. it's been accruing mad press, so no wonder.

we sat at the 'chef's counter' overlooking the open kitchen, right in front of the wood fired oven. the decor was fresh and hip. enormously high ceiling with windows and mirrors to match. good noise level from the spirited conversations all around.

i had read good things about their bar, so went straight to their cocktail menu. for me: a sloe samba (cacha├ža, sloe gin, ardbeg [an islay whiskey], lemon juice, egg white), and for him, a last word*. i was actually disappointed by both. the samba had a bad tequila smell going on - maybe the islay ardbeg vapors mixing with citrus. and the last word - while a pleasure to see on a menu - was...off. bad lime wedge garnish, and a gin that competed too much with the green chartreuse.

but those false starts were soon forgiven. we got the calamari salad, which was made right in front of us in the wood oven. perfectly roasted calamari, greens, jerusalem couscous, spicy dried chickpeas, and a sort of middle eastern spice 'vinaigrette'. we could not stop gushing long enough to get two consecutive tasty bites in.

next, the sausage and kale floret (what!) flatbread (or 'pizza' as we so uncouthly termed it). perfection. crispy crust, sweet fennel flavor, and wonderful texture on the florets. also made right in front of us.

and then the pork chop. oh my, the pork chop. obscenely delicious. sweet seared crust, juicy meat, and just the right amount of bitter zing from the whole mustard sauce. simply plated, with a handful of roasted vegetables. a life-changing dish, as far as the pork part of my life is concerned.

i pounced on the skillet bread/whiskey-praline ice cream dessert because it had (wait for it) bacon brittle. like peanut brittle, but with bacon. the savory flavors worked well together, though in the end everything was distractingly sweet.

a fantastic experience, reminding me, as naveen has noted, why restaurants are still pertinent to at-home-foodies. i just can't make these dishes. i should mention, finally, that the service was impeccable, always charming and never obtrusive enough to keep my smile of content from fading.

(the view from the counter.)

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