Next to Christmas, Mother’s Day is the biggest retail bonanza of the year, a $14 billion industry according to the National Retail Federation, a group that has done its research on the consuming preferences of moms. Guess again if you thought mom wants a day at home with the family — 73 percent of moms like to dine out.
Pass on the white carnations and start speed dialing for a reservation right now. You might have to beg. Here are some places I always like to be taken. They all serve both brunch and dinner on Mother’s Day, which is coming up quickly, on May 8.
355 11th St., S.F., (415) 355-9400, www.baragricole.com
At Bar Agricole, the sleek SoMa gastropub with a sunny, fenced-in front patio and herb garden, chef Brandon Jew cooks directly from the market, so the menu changes daily. You can expect dewy fresh house-made charcuterie such as pate in aspic, ciccioli, headcheese and chopped liver toasts ($8-$10).
Recently he came up with crunchy deep-fried smelt ($13) and ethereal “gnudi,” little dumplings of sheep’s milk ricotta, nettles and green garlic ($20). Moist fish dishes ($29) incorporate greens like escarole, nutty farro and lively, deliciously salty olive oil-based salsas that unite all the components. At brunch, there will be real farm eggs.
Every Bar Agricole dish has been crafted to go with exquisite artisan cocktails, made with custom cut ice and served in paper thin glassware. Get all three light, pretty desserts even if there are only two of you. Mom will appreciate this.
3560 18th St., S.F. (415) 565-0360, www.farina-foods.com
Sit at a table on the warm, south-facing sidewalk in front of this Ligurian gem and order at least two plates of mandilli di seta ($18), silk “handkerchiefs” of pasta so thin you can almost see through them yet still resistant to the teeth, voluptuously coated with fragrant, creamy, sea green pesto. Do not make mom share this dish.
At dinner fete her with pansotti ($18), ricotta stuffed pasta draped in walnut sauce as extraordinary as the pesto. Focaccia di Recco ($18), tart stracchino cheese oozing out of two super-thin layers of oven blistered pizza crust, is a must here, a dish mom will remember.
Start with contorni ($10-$12), plates of perfectly cooked bitter broccoli or asparagus with nutty aged parmesan. Farina is a civilized place, very European, yet modern and breezy enough to make the young and the not so young feel at home.
308 Broderick St., S.F., (415) 437-0303, www.nopalitosf.com
If mom has a little salsa in her blood, she can start with a Nopalito margarita or Bloody Maria ($9), made with freshly squeezed juices and top-shelf spirits.
House-ground organic masa is the foundation of Nopalito’s divine, regional antojitos: tender turnover-style quesadillas filled with asparagus and spring greens ($9); totopos of crisp tortilla strips drizzled with chile de arbol salsa and crema ($6); thick rounds of masa roasted on the griddle called panuchos, piled with citrus marinated chicken and pickled onions ($4.50).
At brunch, poached eggs nestle into a bed of pureed black beans, cheese and salsa de cilantro ($9), but don’t miss carnitas ($15), served with those fragrant, toasty tortillas and tomatillo salsa, enough for the whole table. Put a house-made fresh strawberry or chocolate-cinnamon paleta ($3.50) in mom’s hand as she leaves — it’s the best Popsicle in the world.
Out the Door
2232 Bush St., S.F. (415) 923-9575, www.outthedoors.com
More intimate than Slanted Door, this Pacific Heights outpost of Charles Phan’s conscientiously sourced Vietnamese cooking makes me happy. Though I’ve had hundreds of crispy imperial rolls ($9), the shattering ones here are the best, as are banh cuon ($13), translucent steamed rice crepes filled with ground pork and mint.
The execution of Phan’s nontraditional dishes make me shake my head in wonder: slow-cooked eggs that run into a deep bowl of fork tender Niman brisket, caramelized onions and crispy potatoes ($14), at brunch, a smoky stir fry of Hodo organic yuba — soybean skin — tossed into a vibrant pasta with glass noodles and shaved asparagus ($12) literally seasoned by the wok.
Encourage mom to work her way through the menu, because everything can be shared. Finish with a bowl of shaved tangerine ice ($4). No one will feel overstuffed.
Patricia Unterman is the author or the second edition of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide.” Contact her at email@example.com