No. 20: Sardine and Avocado Toasts from Contigo

Categories: SFoodie's 92
Contigo_sardine_toasts.jpg
Christian Haas
Contigo's sardine and avocado toasts, $2.50 a piece.
SFoodie's countdown of our 92 favorite things to eat and drink in San Francisco, 2011 edition.

SF_92.jpg
Here in California, ingredients rule the table. Excellent, impeccable produce and proteins, minimally manipulated, almost always result in stunningly delicious dishes. California didn't invent this philosophy, though; Mediterranean cultures have always favored freshness over fussiness. Consequently, when Californian and Mediterranean influences collide, the result is all the more elevated.

Case in point is Cal-Catalan joint Contigo in Noe Valley. And perhaps the best example of this intersection is their wood oven roasted sardine and avocado toasts with pickled onions and smoked salt. Four simple things that together far exceed the sum of their parts.

The star player is the sardine itself. Always local and sometimes culled right from San Francisco Bay, these silvery swimmers are a world apart from the flabby slabs you drag out of pull-top cans. The flesh is oily and rich, and the delicate bones crumble between your teeth. (Side note: Chef Brett Emerson chronicled the opening of the restaurant in his blog In Praise of Sardines, where sardines were a metaphor for all underappreciated ingredients, farmers and artisans.) The bed of avocado puree underneath adds creaminess. Onion slices pickled to a pretty pink provide pop and acidity on top. All of this on a thin bread crisp, redolent of the smoke from the wood-fired oven, enhanced by a sprinkle of smoked salt.

The toasts are available from the tapas menu, which means you order them individually ($2.50 each). But we defy you to eat just one.

Contigo: 1320 Castro (at 24th Street), 285-0250.

Dishes in our series so far:

92: Goat tacos from El Norteño
91: Faux shark's fin soup at Benu
90: Esperpento's alcachofas a la plancha
89: Poco Dolce's olive oil chocolate bar
88: Decantr's chicken-liver mousseline
87: Outerlands' levain bread
86: Fraîche's frozen yogurt
85: Gyro King's spinach pie
84: Tandoori fish from Lahore Karahi
83: Braised oxtail and daikon from Namu
82: Golden Gate Bakery's custard tarts
81: Commonwealth's cured foie gras with umeboshi purée
80: Star Stream's Liège-style waffle
79: Mexican hot chocolate from La Oaxaqueña
78: Meatball sandwich from Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe
77: Cheesecake from Zanze's
76: Chicken pepian at San Miguel
75: Macau iced coffee at Vega/Special Xtra
74: Comstock Saloon's Pisco Punch
73: Hai Ky Mi Gia's duck leg noodle soup
72: Sauerbraten at Walzwerk
71: Boudin noir at Cafe Bastille
70: Blackstrap molasses gingerbread at Lotta's Bakery
69: Plow's crispy potatoes
68: Prospect's Catcher in the Rye
67: Pork banh mi from Little Vietnam Cafe
66: Nakaochi at Ippuku
65: Sidekick's chocolate spritzer
64: Farmhouse Culture's horseradish-leek sauerkraut
63: Destination Baking Co.'s challah
62: Cotogna's roasted carrots
61: Hard Knox Cafe's chicken and waffles
60: The Rebel Within from Tell Tale Preserve Co.
59: The Slanted Door's Whiskey Cocktail
58: Carnitas burrito from Taqueria San Francisco
57: Sakura mochi from Benkyodo
56: Birria at Gallardos
55: BBQ pork skewers at Fil-Am Cuisine
54: JapaCurry's katsu curry
53: Vegan flan at Gracias Madre
52: Cinderella Bakery's pelmeni
51: Locavore's maple andouille sausage
50: Lumpia from Hapa SF
49: Moonlight Brewing's Reality Czeck
48: Filetti pizza at Una Pizza Napoletana
47: Pupusas revueltas at La Santaneca
46: Khoresht ghaymeh at Maykadeh
45: Los Muertos at Gitane
44: Sandwich cookies from Sweet Constructions
43: Nicasio Valley Cheese Company's square
42: Nopalito's quesadilla roja
41: Croissant from Sandbox Bakery
40: Cultured's burdock kasu-zuke pickles
39: Sticky chewy chocolate ice cream at Swensen's
38: Maverick's warm Brussels sprouts with slow-cooked egg
37: Roast chicken from Limón Rotisserie
36: Seven Hills' raviolo uovo
35: Morning bun from Pinkie's Bakery
34: Kaw soi dok at Mandalay
33: Fatted Calf's meatloaf sandwich
32: Duck larb at Thai House Express
31: Lark Creek Steak's burger
30: Barbacco's chicken thighs with olives and almonds
29: Mow Lee's lap cheong
28: Dollar oysters at Bar Crudo
27: Fava greens from Tairwa'-Knoll Farms
26: Nopa's mussels with harissa
25: Salt-and-pepper crab at Kam Lok
24: Recchiuti Confections' caramels to the third power
23: Mandarin lamb from Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant
22: Tataki and Tataki South's faux-nagi
21: Blacksmith Cellars' chenin blanc

Sean Timberlake is the founder of Punk Domestics, a content and community site for DIY food enthusiasts. Follow SFoodie on Twitter: @SFoodie, and like us on Facebook.

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