It’s not every day that a chef threatens to come kidnap you if you don’t make it to his restaurant soon.
But that’s just what Chef-Owner Hoss Zaré of Zare at Fly Trap in San Francisco did to me.
In the nicest of ways, of course.
Fiercely proud of his South of Market establishment that he returned to cook at last year, after having been the chef there also in the early 1990s, Zaré invited me to come taste his punchy Mediterranean cuisine.
Born in Iran of Turkish heritage, Zaré is a self-trained chef with a big personality and playful sense of humor (both de facto requirements needed to kidnap a food writer, after all). Previously, he’s cooked at Restaurant Ecco in San Francisco, and Aromi in San Francisco. He also ran his own restaurants, Zaré in the mid-1990s in San Francisco, Bistro Zaré in the late-1990s in San Francisco, and Zaré Napa in Wine Country, from 2005-2007.
Zaré at Fly Trap is as colorful as the chef. Deep red walls, a pressed tin ceiling, and a profusion of old botanical prints hanging everywhere, lend a casual, artsy warmth.
The innovative cocktails ($10 each) are hard to resist. I sipped a “Minted Memory,” a highball filled with gin, Pimm’s No. 1, lemon, and Iranian minted vinegar syrup. It was tangy, citrusy, refreshing, and yes, quite memorable. My hubby opted for the “Absinthe Frappé,” made with Kubler Absinthe, Orgeat, and lemon. One sip was enough to wake the dead, but then if you’ve ever had absinthe, you know how powerful the anise-flavored liquor can be. Sip it slowly and bask in the powerful warmth it envelopes you in.
Dinner started with pistachio meatballs ($12), so tender, and floating in a pool of harissa-honey-pomegranate glaze. The flavor of the meatballs, themselves, got lost in the sauce. But if you love big, big flavors, you’ll enjoy the earthy, fruity, tart, syrupy sauce that is definitely a mouth-full.
Smoked trout ($11) gets a twist with a bed of “lingunini” that are really thin, delicate strands of cucumber tossed with dill creme fraiche and topped with glistening orange trout roe. Truly, a lovely dish.
“Ménage a Foie” ($15) features three different seared liver preparations: foie gras, sheep’s liver, and chicken liver. The foie gras was unmistakable with its rich, luxurious texture. I’d never had sheep’s liver before. With the densest texture of the three, it was a tad gamier than the chicken liver, but I wouldn’t say it was necessarily distinctive.
My husband’s entree of mahi mahi ($19) came atop a brothy pile of tender, wonderfully nutty tasting chickpeas that hid little pieces of eggplant and capers. I could barely restrain myself from taking spoonful after spoonful of chickpeas off his plate.
My grilled Moroccan-spiced wild salmon ($24), crusted on the outside and moist inside, was surrounded by wonderful toasted fregola (tiny balls of semolina flour pasta).
Former Bravo TV “Top Chef” contestant, Marisa Churchill was the consulting pastry chef for the desserts. Silky panna cotta ($9) made with Greek yogurt gets drizzled with a sweet, loamy truffle honey in a new sweet-savory take on a cheese course. Order this to end your meal on a light note.
But if you have any room left, do order the “Fried Milk Torrijas” ($9). As our server aptly described them, they’re a cross between American donuts and Spanish churros, and shaped like tiny Twinkies. The crunchy-coated fritters give way to an almost custardy interior. Dunk the torrijas into the tiny cup of hot chocolate that comes topped with a teeny, melty, rose-flavored marshmallow. It’s kid’s play taken to new heights.
Nope, it’s not every day that a chef threatens to come kidnap me to get me into his restaurant.
But it’s defintely a good day when one does.