06-09-2011

Sitting down to Mr. Pollo

Just a few steps down from the 24th Street Bart Station and a 1980’s era McDonald’s sits Mr. Pollo. It is one of those hidden-but-known dining gems in San Francisco that you’ll hear any local raving about. It’s small and unassuming, seating 15 people at any one time. Chef/owner Manny Torres Gimenez took over the spot about a year and a half ago to keep it from closing–initially running it all by himself. You can read more about the history and current struggles, keeping in mind that the tasting dinner is now $20, instead of the $15 listed in the article.

Getting a seat can be a hit and miss process as it’s gotten quite popular. Friends of ours have waited anywhere from five minutes to an hour or more. On our most recent visit, we lucked out and got the shorter of those times. If you have to wait, never fear, as they take down your mobile number and call you when a table is ready so that you can go to a neighboring bar to have a drink. And yes, they really do call.

Our fellow diners were surprisingly upscale (the Mission is ground zero for hipsters) and given that the interior is still the same brazen, dive-esque Mission District couture that it was before, it’s apparent that everyone comes for the food. The menus varies from night to night, with such staples as arepas and empanadas, but the real gold is in the tasting menu. The courses of which aren’t listed though and you place yourself in Manny’s able hands. For our visit, the lineup was:

Shark ceviche on a bed of spinach
Prawn w/heirloom vegetables
Pork loin on fried broccoli & cauliflower
Braised goat with cilantro/coconut rice and coconut foam

It was a well-orchestrated meal. If we were to have one of the dishes as a standalone, it would probably feel lacking. But, the introduction of the soft, light flavors in the ceviche opened up well in to the more defined elements of the large prawn. At this point we were prepared for the mild spiciness in the pork loin as well as the bolder elements of the fried vegetables. Closing with the goat then made complete sense as the coconut milk helped bring the palate back down as well as give a fullness to the meal that closed everything off.

We also opted to get all three desserts offered in a tasting platter which included: coconut banana split, strawberry shortcake, and a soufflé of dulce de leche. There really wasn’t one that was lacking among them, but the soufflé stood out as generally amazing, although you could probably deep fry a cockroach in dulce de leche and it’d be heavenly.

As we’re wine people, it’s important to note Mr. Pollo’s drink policy, which is that you buy it elsewhere and brown bag it inside. Naturally, it may be a bit hard to really pair a wine to the evening if you don’t know the dishes. But, given Manny’s approach to cooking, if you stick with a lighter European red with decent acidity, you’ll be quite happy, like the couple next to us that brought in some bottle from Côtes du Rhône.

We shall return in the near future, but in the meantime, enjoy some photos of our meal that are in the order of the dishes.