Anchor & Hope – San Francisco

Anchor & Hope had been high on my must-try list and being a predominantly seafood-based establishment, it makes perfect sense that I had to arrange the trip with my buddy, Gabe, a professional fish-monger. I made reservations early and as I arrived first, saw the restaurant was filling up quickly. I was offered a table but the bar looked far more inviting and it was only the two of us. Wanting to taste as many courses as possible, we ordered mostly Appetizers and advised our server to send out anything he though we couldn’t leave with out tasting. Gabe is sweet in letting me order the wine and I took a chance on an unknown Viognier from France, Domaine de Triennes, 2007. It ended up being the perfect wine for our multiple fish courses (as Rhone whites usually are); rich, complex, layered, with hints of lemon zest, dark integrated stone fruit, and an oily texture on the tongue.

First Course: “Fries With Eyes” – Smelts with Remoulade Sauce. Light and crispy, the remoulade was a perfect combination of creamy and slightly spicy to accompany the fresh smelts.

Second Course: Oysters on the Half Shell. I’m sorry I don’t recall the exact varieties. We simply instructed them to bring us two of each that they had that day. Served with the standard Mignonette and cocktail sauce, I was happy with just a splash of lemon juice.

Third Course: “Angels on Horseback” – Smoked Bacon-Wrapped Oysters with Remoulade Sauce. Of all our dishes, this was my least favorite. And not because it was bad by any means; I’m just realizing that 90% of the time, I prefer my oysters raw versus cooked, I had already tasted the remoulade, and — not too surprisingly — the fresh, applewood-smoked bacon’s distinct and strong flavors overwhelms the oysters. Gabe loved these and I could see others who greatly enjoyed the dish, it is just too many strong, disparate flavors for me.

Fourth Course: Warm Endive and Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Candied Walnuts. Okay, my bad… I had the delusion that we needed some form of a vegetable to counter all the fish we were about to eat. And it was not even that it was a bad salad or anything. It was a perfectly lovely beet and goat cheese salad and the twist of warming the greens and the lovely vinaigrette was a nice palate cleanser and all that, but the bottom line is that it took up valuable stomach space which is better suited to the great fish we were experiencing.

Fifth Course: Lobster “Pot Pie”. There was some debate on whether or not we were going to order anything off the entrée list but our server insisted that going through a self-made tasting menu would not be complete without trying this over-the-top dish. Presented like a soufflé, the server breaks open the top of the beautifully browned puff pastry to pour in a decadently rich brandy-lobster roe reduction. Once we broke through the crust, the interior was chock full of giant chunks of lobster, buttercup squash, and celery root. At $32, this is not an inexpensive dish, but is worth every damned penny.

Sixth Course: Braised Fresh Bacon and Seared Prawn with Creamy Grits and Red Wine Sauce. If you glance through the pictures, you will have seen a LOT of fish courses with dark, rich sauces. This tends to be a dichotomy as many fishes can’t hold up to the dark sauces. In this particular case, it is not an overstatement to say that the hunk of giant bacon could have easily been its very own course, sans prawn. But the sweetness of the GIANT prawn, coupled with the subtle, creamy grits and perfectly sautéed greens, brought the whole dish together in a very surprising fashion for me. Like the Angels on Horseback, I tend to think that the flavor of bacon is just plain too strong a flavor to pair with fish. In this case, I was way wrong.

Seventh Course: Warm Sea Urchin in the Shell. Well, we were so overwhelmed with the complex and redolently rich pot pie that we were going to quit. But our server wasn’t finished and the jewel of the crown arrived; a giant, whole, hollowed-out sea urchin. The interior provided one of the most amazing and memorable dishes I have ever tasted; the sea urchin coupled with potato purée, Dungeness crab, and a lemon beurre blanc. Truly astounding.

Overall, the restaurant is a little on the crowded side with bright lights and close tables. Acoustically, it can get on the loud side but we had no problem, being at the bar. There are so many other dishes I would love to order and hope to be able to make it back soon.
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