Actually Pretty Awesome: Branzino at AQ

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Branzino with potato two ways, guanciale, chard, and sweet onion. Photo: J. Barmann/Grub Street

There has been no shortage of praise for three-and-a-half-month-old SoMa restaurant AQ (1085 Mission between 6th and 7th), which just yesterday got named to the "long list" for a possible James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant in the nation. But we're just going to pile it on today, via one specific dish that both wowed and comforted us on a recent visit, on a typically chilly San Francisco night.

The branzino dish is listed on the menu as coming with "soft & crunchy potato, chard, guanciale, and sweet onion." What arrives is a perfectly seared filet of fish, draped in a bit of tangy, braised Swiss chard, with a touch of lightly acidic jus on the plate that we believe had some vinegar in it. Tender pieces of sweet onion and salty guanciale hide beneath the fish, along with tender chunks of fingerling potato. But then comes the surprise: several perfectly fried, crispy croquettes which, as you bite one open, you swear that what comes oozing out is a rich, creamy mixture of melted cheese. It is, in fact, just an ultra-creamy potato purée that comes in stark contrast to the dense, buttery earthiness of the fingerlings, but bursting as it does out of that croquette shell, even knowing what it is, you'll still think it's cheese.

Even though we were slightly tricked, we'd be glad to be tricked like that again. It's a balanced, warming, and even thought-provoking dish, and easily the best fish dish we've had all winter. We can't wait to have it again before the spring menu arrives with the vernal equinox.

Earlier on Actually Pretty Awesome:
Dinner at Local Mission Eatery
Suckling Pig Sandwich at Sweet Woodruff
Crudités at Saison
The Roasted Broccoli Sandwich at Split Pea Seduction
George Mendes’s Partridge in a Pear Tree
The Buffalo Burger at Double Decker
A Preview of Dishes at Haven
Alicia's Tamales Los Mayas
The Cocktails at Outerlands
The Meatball Gigante and the Honey Pie at Tony’s Pizza
Three New Gins from St. George Spirits
The Date Night at Sneaky's BBQ
Crab and Dumplings at Pican
The Fried-Chicken Sliders at The Lookout
The Tripe and the Pickles at Bar Tartine
A Dinner of Small Plates at Frances
Fried Chicken and Cornmeal Doughnuts at Beast & the Hare
Aaron London’s Take on Vichyssoise at Ubuntu