Esperpento Is Still the Happy Place
In 1992, Carlos Muela opened Esperpento, part of the great wave of tapas restaurants that ended up changing San Francisco dining forever. So-called authentic Spanish tapas begat global-fusion tapas begat "small plates," which some think have killed all that is sophisticated about fine dining in this city. If Esperpento has seen a slow night in its 18-year-history, SFoodie isn't aware of it. A friend who used to live in a nearby co-op always called the restaurant ― with a tinge of far-left disapproval ― "the happy place," because everyone inside was always smiling.
|Alcachofas a la plancha.|
No matter how long the cooks have been using the same recipes, the menu is still too big to control. There was a bland creamed spinach and a mayonnaise-soaked fried cauliflower, and the jamon serrano Esperpento imports tastes as cheap as it costs. But whole anchovies, lightly breaded, were good; so was the escalivada, a tangle of heavily caramelized onions, eggplant, and peppers. We mistakenly ordered a dish that had obsessed us in Spain ― pinchos morunos, or pork skewers rubbed in cumin and other Moorish spices; once we'd reminded ourselves that no dish should ever be compared to the version eaten on vacation in another country, we were able to appreciate Esperpento's pink-centered, wine-marinated pork for its own charms.
And then, after all that food, we looked at the check ― $22 dollars a person, including wine. We do believe we walked out happy.
Esperpento 3295 22nd St. (at Valencia), 282-8867.