For as long as I can think back, there are food memories that have made a lasting impact on my palate and life. During my adult years there were dishes such as the pork belly bao at Momofuku, crispy fish tacos in SF, a bowl of potato soup with huge shavings of truffle in Dubai, Bucatini Carbonara from an outdoor Italian restaurant in downtown Vienna (which solidified it as my favorite pasta dish ever). These adult food memories were close to life-changing epiphanies on flavors and textures.
I have one more to add to the list, and it’s one that’s on virtually every foodie and traveler’s list as well: ZUNI CAFÉ’s Roast Chicken for Two.
There’s nothing more that I could possibly say about this dish that hasn’t already been said. It is as epic, delicious and worth it as everyone says. It’s long been on my bucket list of dishes to try, and thankfully got to check it off that list over this past 4th of July weekend. The boyfriend and I got a 9pm reservation, which we barely made it to after a very long day of sight-seeing in the cold. After a quick nap and hot showers, we got ourselves together and checked in at the host stand. The space is already SO cozy, and everyone on the menu just screams ‘cozy’ too. The menu is sustainable and changes daily. The mainstays like the chicken are always on it, but most of the starters and sides change on a daily basis based on what’s at the farmers’ markets. This was our menu for the evening.
As soon as we got seated – at an awesome 2-top facing the kitchen! – we put in our order for the roast chicken. This view couldn’t have been more perfect.
The server quickly called it in to the kitchen, then returned to get the rest of our order. I chose a glass (3 to be exact) of Pinot Noir because it was that kind of day, and we chose the Ricotta Gnocchi to hold us over until the chicken was done (about 45mins, FYI).
The Gnocchi were more like Gnudi, in my opinion, in that they were super light. It was the perfect starter, really, because the star of the meal was coming up. While we patiently waited for our chicken, we watched the kitchen work like clockwork! Every person has their station, and they work that station impeccably. Clean, efficient, undeniably talent. The chef at the chicken station cuts up those chickens with such precision, that you forget he’s taking about 20 seconds to do each one. It’s mesmerizing. THEN… we realize he’s cutting up our chicken, and we’re practically drooling at this point.
The chicken is super tender, moist, succulent.. the skin is just crispy enough. What’s under that chicken, though, really pulls this entire meal together. Underneath you’ll find a warm bread salad – huge chunks of crispy bread cubes, mustard greens (yum), some currents, all bathed in a vinegary dressing. The combo of everything together is nothing short of PERFECTION. I mean it. Add on the cozy, warm ambience of the restaurant, the desserts we ended our meal with, the friendly service, and it is easily on my top 5 meals ever. Also in my top 3 meals to enjoy before I die.
That said, if you’re in San Francisco, please go and eat this every single visit. This meal is worth a flight to San Francisco, and the $60 the dish costs. It’s cliché maybe, but it’s amazing. And I vouch for it wholeheartedly.
NYTimes Cooking has a bread salad recipe that I tried out and it’s pretty damn close to the one at Zuni Café. The chicken is barely a recipe, and was shared with me by the chef staff. All they do is salt the chickens, and keep them refrigerated for 2 days like that. Upon order, they’re then put into a wood oven and roasted for about 45-50mins. THAT’S IT. You’ll never believe the flavor that this simple technique can impart. I have yet to try the technique out, but it’s on my list of Fall food adventures in my own kitchen. 🙂
CLOSING NOTE: Outstanding. Every part of the experience shows the dedication that Zuni Cafe has for serving the best quality food. IN LOVE.
ZUNI CAFE | 1658 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94102