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Epic Dining: February 2003

Piperade and Bacchanal

We've hit upon some fine and delicious dining of late, so read up and eat up, pilgrims!

Combine sauteed Monterey squid, grapes, foie gras, raisins, and heirloom potatoes. Sounds strange, but when my best Brooklyn girlfriend came to town recently, we had our minds blown by this dish ($16), as well as the rest of the relatively inexpensive fare at Gerald Hirigoyen's Piperade. The somewhat-celeb chef of Fringale has reopened his Pastis as a rustic Basque bistro, servicing the same casual uppercrust crowd with a truly standout menu.

The proof is not only in the creamy, caramel custard "koka" dessert ($6.50). The charming, heavy oak-driven space is scented with fabulous dishes like sauteed sea scallops with chorizo, apple and arugula (divine! $8!), crepe-like crab "txangurro" sauteed in a brick leaf with mango and red pepper salsa (magical! $8!), and of course, gateau Basque and piperade stew. Hirigoyen and Co. find all sorts of cool uses for standard Pays Basque accents like Serrano ham, sheep's milk cheese, and quince, mixing up the Bay Area bounty in a way that most chefs can't touch.

Bacchanal is waaaay down in South San Francisco, but it's also on super adorable Grand Avenue, a throwback to the old days if ever there were one. Grab a cocktail at Bertolucci's or The Topper (or both), then head to Bacchanal for a bottle of wine and some fancy dinner. Perhaps the food's a little too fancy for SSF diners, both in price and prep, because there were only two tables dining both nights we went, a Sunday and a Thursday. However, the food is very good, thanks to Chef Brandon Peacock, of Qi, Xanadu, La Bodeguita del Medio, Betelnut and Chapeau!

It's worth a trip just for the foie gras with prunes over brioche, but factor in a gorgeous pair of crab cakes ($11), super savory, well-sauced grilled meats (a pork chop comes to mind), and a great special, olive-encrusted sea bass with potato puree and fancy miniature vegetables. The problem is that entrees range from $16 to $30, putting prices on par with downtown SF. Certainly it's pricier than Bertolucci's, which already isn't cheap but at least has a following of early dining elders to keep it going on a weeknight. Bacchanal serves lunch and offers a great happy hour deal on drinks and apps.