I enjoy being able to see into the kitchen when I'm dining out, because sometimes I learn things, and also because what's going on in there is an indication of how good the Chef is. It takes guts to expose the behind the scenes stuff to diners, and it takes a prepared, coordinated, and skilled team to keep kitchen activities from resembling chaos.
You can see the small kitchen from just about every seat in the house at Limon, which gets my vote for the best new restaurant in San Francisco in the last year or so, and also gets my vote for the quietest kitchen I've seen in a while. The kitchen at Limon has enough space for 2 or 3 people to slide back and forth between the countertop and the stovetop and executive chef Martin Castillo does a great job of keeping it calm and keeping it clean, all the while churning out mouthwatering, classic Peruvian dishes and innovative latin-fusion creations.
I've been there a few times and I have to force myself not to keep getting the same things that I had the very first time I went. Even just thinking about their mixed seafood ceviche and the churrasco style rib eye with garlic and chive rub makes my mouth water. Fresh ingredients, fine spices, and an eclectic mix of different flavors, textures, and colors make for a delightful dining experience.
I suggest slurping your way through the Parihuela (Peruvian Bouillabaisse), which has mixed seafood cooked 'til just tender in a savory, transparent red broth of tomato and red pepper. Or if you're looking for something more substantial, try the Chuleton Carlitos, a Niman Ranch pork chop gently placed on a mix of grilled cabbage and potatoes with mushroom sauce.
The wine list is compact, like the restaurant, but creative in its selections, and it also includes a number of half-bottles which make dining alone or with just one other person easier on the budget. Their corkage fee is only $10 so I've gotten in the habit of bringing my own wine.
Limon is another perfect expression of the boutique restaurant style I recently wrote about. The scale of this restaurant is matched appropriately by its decor, which relies on modern, bright, solid colors and a repeated theme of squares, which are mirrored in the art on the walls as well as the tables. The dishes and the desserts -- they make a great creme caramel -- are delicately arranged without being too artsy (no architectural food here) yet they show a sensitivity to form and color.
Limon is tucked away in nowere-land-17th street in the Mission between Valencia and Mission street, which means that parking can be a challenge and some may not be comfortable walking alone later in the evening. As the restaurant is small, I recommend making reservations in advance, and be advised they do not take reservations for parties smaller than 4 on Fridays and Saturdays. So take 3 friends, a good bottle of Rioja and enjoy !
How much?: $30-40 per person depending on how much you can resist the temptation to order many of their appetizers and small plates.
3316 17th Street between Mission and Valencia
San Francisco, CA 94110
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