Look at that, will you?
That beautifully draped pile of pink and white, the layers of fat and meat, the bit at the end of the cutting board where you can almost see through because the slice is so thin.
Heck with my words. Just look at the picture. Doesn't that make you hungry?
That, my friends, is one of the best bites of pork we had during one of the most extraordinary meals of our lives.
Contigo is the passion-child of Brett Emerson, a chef turned food blogger turned restaurateur this year. For years, Brett dreamed of opening his own place, based on his food, a kind of elevated comfort food, with the best ingredients. He wanted his restaurant to feel as though you were a guest in the home of a really talented chef who was making dinner specifically for you. (He would never have said the part about the really talented chef. But we can tell you. He is.) Over time, the concept changed, again, and again. Life led him down different paths than he expected to take.
Contigo became a Catalan restaurant. And it's one you need to visit if you are in San Francisco.
Don't just listen to us. Food and Wine just named Contigo one of the places you have to go in San Francisco. So did Gourmet. And the Boston Globe. Plus more, and more. Really, it's clear. People love Contigo.
We would have loved the place even if Brett wasn't a friend of ours. That's why we want you to know we're not alone in our high praise. You really must go to Contigo.
And look at that. The symbol for Contigo — emblazoned on the t-shirts — is a pig. In fact, when you receive your bill, you'll get a tiny paper clip in the shape of a pig, just like the one you see above.
That made us love the place even more.
Contigo is an easy place to love. You can stand at the bar in front of the open kitchen and watch earnest young men make flatbreads in the wood oven, while you nibble on various Spanish cheeses or fried Marcona almonds.
Or sit at a table in the back, near the patio with the cords of wood for the oven stacked up neatly against the green wall, and talk as you eat green beans cooked with jamon iberico and its fat (one of the items available on the menu right now). Sure, there are sardine toasts and patatas bravas and so many other little dishes made with good ingredients and cooked attentively that you will be a little dizzy thinking of all the possibilities.
But just do us a favor. When you go, make sure you order some of the jamon to begin, which is what you see above. We got some of the acorn-fed jamon from Salmanaca, aged 36 months. Each bite had a savory depth, yet melted like butter on the tongue. There was a little dry bite of the aging in there, which only gave it clarity.
And on the cutting board above, you'll also see the La Quercia organic heirloom Berkshire prosciutto. Why were we excited? Because this was our first taste of a now-famous prosciutto. Made in Iowa, by artisan salumi makers determined to create Italian taste in the States, this prosciutto wowed Jeffrey Steingarten so much that he called it, “the best American or imported prosciutto [he's] ever tasted.” With praise like that, we couldn't wait.
And we weren't disappointed. There's a sweetness to this one that we had never tasted in prosciutto before, a slight kiss of it, along with the salt, and something a tiny bit nutty in there. We were transported by both kinds of pork. Side by side, they blew our minds.
That's Contigo: quiet and unassuming at first, humble and homey inside, and full of surprises. Every bite we ate was impeccably done. But this platter of pork, on its own, would have brought us back.
1320 Castro Street
San Francisco, CA 94114