Nopa is a neighborhood restaurant. One that gathers locals around its communal table and attracts people from all around town who brave the parking-deprived neighborhood for a chance to feel right at home. “A San Francisco gathering place” is its official tagline. A bright spot in the arguably shady North of Panhandle–or Nopa.
As you leave the cheap liquor stores behind and walk into the restaurant, you’ll be surprised by what you find inside. An ample space, with a mix of industrial and welcoming materials not unlike the interiors of Zuni and Serpentine. But the enviable high ceilings and imposing windows give the room a much more impressive look.
In the dining room, there’s seating for all tastes. Diner booths, a communal table, 2 and 4-tops with banquettes or chairs, bar counter, kitchen counter and even a mezzanine with a view. The majority of them are good but a few of the freestanding tables are arranged too close together, so much so your neighbors may inadvertently share your appetizers.
But despite the large number of people inside–including the often packed bar, the noise level is surprisingly bearable. Thank the high ceilings.
The informally dressed wait staff is attentive and friendly. In that sense, Nopa is a casual, welcoming restaurant much like Beretta and Delfina. On the tables, country-style kitchen towels take the place of starched linen napkins, a homey touch that doesn’t go unnoticed. And that’s exactly the point; to make you feel at home. And the restaurant takes the idea to heart.
Beyond using local ingredients, Nopa promotes local happenings and talents–the interior design and mural paintings were created by nearby neighbors. Locavores, rejoice.
“Simple food created with seasonal ingredients sourced from local purveyors.” The phrase sums up what you’ll find at Nopa. A philosophy that has become a trademark of Bay Area cooking. Thank Alice Waters. The menu features some restaurant staples like the rotisserie chicken and an ever-changing selection of market-fresh appetizers, entrées and desserts. Even though nothing is said about it, a few dishes I tried had a clear Mediterranean influence.
To amuse la bouche, green garlic and capers crostini; fleur de sel to taste.
To start, Shaved asparagus salad, bacon, poached egg and kumquats. Mandoline-cut like long ribbons, fresh, crunchy asparagus. A sign that spring is upon us. Perfectly poached eggs and breadcrumbs on top.
Another appetizer worth trying is the Oven roasted sardines, grilled bread, hummus and salsa verde. The star here is not the sardines–although they are pretty good too; but the “fine dining hummus”. A luscious, creamy rendition of the classic Mediterranean spread.
As a bonus course–timely comped by our waiter as he noticed our entrées being late; Lamb and toasted farro soup, cumin yogurt. Tasty and hearty, with a hint of fresh mint, this soup is delicious. Ironically, what I didn’t order was the best thing I had.
For entrée, Braised duck legs, English pea risotto, Parmesan and mizuna. Generously portioned and tasty. Also with a hint of mint in the risotto.
A dish that got my attention on the menu was the Housemade pappardelle, nine hour Bolognese, kale flowers and pecorino. The sauce is made with pork and lamb, slowly cooked for the promised 9 hours. A hearty dish, but not as flavorful as I was hoping for. You know, after 9 hours of anticipation.
For dessert, the most popular item on the menu is the Sopaipillas with burnt orange caramel. Like hollow beignets shaped like inflated raviolis, by themselves these New Mexico deep-fried treats aren’t as good as their American or French counterparts. Enter the sauce. Bite off the corner and pour in the thick caramel. Satisfaction guaranteed.
The ample dining room by itself makes it worth the trip. The attentive service and unfussy atmosphere will make you feel right at home. And most importantly, you will eat well. Generous portions of seasonally-inspired comfort food. Nopa is a restaurant definitely worth trying; it probably won’t blow you away but it will certainly not disappoint. Think of it as another fine option in Bay Area cuisine.
Nopa is at 560 Divisadero St.
Reservations by phone, 415.864.8643