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Fresca

January 30, 2007

Fresca is a chainlet of three restaurants in San Francisco that bill themselves as nouveau (or, dare we say, nuevo) Peruvian cuisine. The three locations are in the Fillmore, Noe Valley, and West Portal. However, this review only covers the Fillmore location, since we have not ever visited the other two locations. On one of our recently sunny but briskly cold Saturday afternoons, Short Exact and a friend paid a lunch visit to the Fillmore location of Fresca. Fresca is one of those restaurants that gets a lot of hype, and so we thought it was about time to investigate just what was making everyone swoon. Our meal turned out to be decent, but by no means extraordinary, and so we are still at a loss to explain why Fresca receives so much hype. The fact that it is trendy — and that Peruvian seems to be all the rage these days — certainly helps to explain the hype, but is that really it? Maybe the word “ceviche” just sounds sophisticated and sexy? We’re not sure exactly what’s going on here.Of course, we would be remiss to go to a Peruvian restaurant and not order that cuisine’s signature dish, the ceviche. For those not familiar, ceviche is a dish in which seafood is marinated in a citrus juice, usually involving limes and/or lemons. The marinade essentially pickles the fish, and gives it a very bright citrus flavor. The process that occurs and the resulting product is reminiscent of what occurs to fish when it is cooked, and you often hear people refer to ceviche as being cooked, even though that is not, in fact, true. Ceviche is simply marinated raw fish. Although it is so often associated with Peruvian cuisine, ceviche actually appears all over Latin America, resulting in many interesting regional variations.

To start, we began with the traditional cincos elementos ceviche,

tb_fresca_fillmore_5elementos.JPG

where the five elements here are halibut, lime juice, red onion, sea salt, and Rocoto aji. Of course, the halibut chunks in the center of the dish are the heart of the action, but the sides — hominy, sweet potato, and corn nuts — were well chosen. The ceviche had the characteristic brightness coming from the lime juice marinade for the halibut. The sweet potato and the hominy (the larger kernels of corn on the top left of the above image) both added a subtle sweetness that was a much needed contrast to the lime juice marinade, while the corn nuts supplied the toasted crunch missing from the softer textures featured in the rest of the dish. The chunks of halibut were fresh and generously portioned, and the dish, as a whole, was quite spicy, courtesy of the Rocoto aji. Halibut is a fairly delicate white fish, and to our taste, the lime juice and Rocoto aji overpowered the flavor of the fish, especially after we had a few bites, and the Rocoto aji built up in our mouth. Still, all in all, we were quite pleased with this ceviche.

Unfortunately, our entree did not fare quite as well. We ordered the crispy fish tacos:

tb_fresca_fillmore_fish_tacos.JPG

The fish tacos, on soft corn tortillas, featured fried mahi mahi, along with avocado, cabbage, pickled onion, and a Peruvian chile aioli; a black bean salad was served on the side. This sounded good from the menu, but it was less tasty when we actually tried it. The fried fish strips were well-seasoned, but they featured very little mahi mahi, and there was too much batter for the amount of fish that was used. When we took a bite of all the ingredients at once, the flavor was decent, so these tacos weren’t bad, but for the price, we wanted to be more impressed, and as we mentioned above, the fish played a very minimal role in these so-called “fish tacos.” The whole entree was $10.50, and since there were two tacos, that basically means each taco was $5.25. However, we found ourselves noticeably less impressed with these tacos than we are with, say, tacos at the El Tonayense truck, which, at $1.50 per taco, cost less than 30% of the unit price of Fresca’s fish tacos. Perhaps it isn’t quite fair to compare these two taco experiences, since the ingredients are so different, and since Fresca has all sorts of costs to cover that a taco truck does not have. Still, the bottom line here is that Fresca missed out on an opportunity to make the fish tacos a really delicious entree.

The service was not up to par, either. We sat at the counter in the back, overlooking the kitchen. Not only was it fun to see the cooking, but it was also quite helpful in determining the pace at which dishes were cooked and timed. The ceviche came out fairly promptly, but the cooking process for our entrees did not even begin until about 40-45 minutes after we placed the order, so obviously there was a timing disconnect, and a very substantial gap between our finishing the ceviche and receiving the entrees. The counter where we sat is at the back of the restaurant, in the corner where the servers hang out, so you’d think that it wouldn’t be too hard to get decent service here. However, our empty ceviche plate was not removed until long after it was very clearly finished. Even a simple task such as getting a water refill required 15 minutes and a reminder, and after the reminder was given, it was clear he had simply forgotten about our original request. Our waiter was not rude, certainly, but he also was not especially friendly or particularly helpful about pointing out any special features of the menu, and quite frankly, we felt a bit as though he thought he was doing us a favor by granting the request of a water refill. So, the service was not horrible, but at this price point, it left much to be desired.

Would we return to Fresca? Well, yes: in fact, we would like to visit them again (perhaps at dinner), just to broaden our experiences with this restaurant, and to see if they do a better job with the execution of other dishes. After all, Peruvian cuisine is quite rich and interesting, featuring Latin American, European, and even Chinese and Japanese influences. Fresca’s menu does take into account these different influences, and we’re interested to see how effectively the restaurant exhibits these myriad flavors. One visit isn’t really enough to judge this accurately. We might also visit one or more of their other locations. When we do so, we will report back with another review that details our new experiences. However, our first experience at the Fillmore Fresca, both in terms of the preparation of the food and the service, while not bad, was disappointing given the tremendous hype.

RATING:

COST:

2114 Fillmore Street (between Sacramento St. and California St.)
San Francisco, CA 94115
Phone: 415.447.2668
Hours: Mon-Fri, 11:00 am – 3:00 pm, 5:00 pm – 10:00 pm; Sat-Sun, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm; 5:00 pm – 10:00 pm.

Cuisine: Peruvian
Neighborhood: Fillmore/Pacific Heights

How to get there: Muni bus lines 1, 2, 3, 4, 12, 22, and 24.

NOTE: This review only applies to the Fillmore location of Fresca. As of writing this review, we have never visited the Noe Valley or West Portal locations.

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4 comments

  1. Ugh … I’ve eaten at Fresca on 24th Street a few times. I’ve always found the food to be acceptably good, but the service has ranged from inadequate to the Worst Service Ever. I can’t imagine going back.


  2. Sean, thanks for the note. I’m sorry to hear that the 24th Street location gave you such a hard time in terms of service. The service at Fillmore wasn’t horrible, but it definitely wasn’t good, and Fillmore’s food was “acceptably good” as well.

    And thanks for the Noe scoop. Maybe I’ll just do a repeat visit of the Fillmore location and call it a day.


  3. Just found your blog – great stuff!

    I’ve been to the Fillmore Fresca once and the West Portal one a few times and enjoyed my meal every time (I didn’t have any of the dishes you had – lomo saltado and aji de gallina have been my favs).

    Service was a little distant at our dinner at the Fillmore location, but has always been fine, although not speedy, at the West Portal one, which, I might add, can be a very loud place to eat when they’re full or have large groups.


  4. Adam, thanks for weighing in with another viewpoint on Fresca. I still need to do that repeat visit I mentioned in the post — I’ll definitely consider your favorite dishes.

    Thanks, I’m glad you enjoy the blog. I see you have restaurant reviews on your blog too — I’m looking forward to reading your posts!



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