Pasión Is for Passionate Gourmands
Pasión Restaurant in San Francisco defines itself as “modern Latin cuisine,” but it’s so much more than that. Stylish, eclectic, and magnetically attractive, this place lures passersby from the lively streets of the Inner Sunset District and makes its regulars plan ahead to assure a reservation to indulge in its many food, wine, and art delights.
Executive chef and owner Jose Calvo-Perez grew up working in the kitchen of the famed San Francisco restaurant Fresca, founded by his father. Now, he makes his father proud with his endless creativity and passionate devotion to the family trade.
Pasión’s Latino and Caribbean cuisine with South and Central American influences is prepared with traditional ingredients and modern techniques. It is paired with the most enticing wine list, brimming with exclusive small production labels from Spain, Portugal, Argentina, and California.
On the night we dined, the first sign of excellence came from our highly knowledgeable and attentive server, Christopher. We thoroughly enjoyed his recommended reds and our plates. My glass of smoky, almost leathery Dacalier 2009—a grenache, carignan, and syrah blend from the Lake County, Calif.—was perfect with everything as well as on its own. My dining companion preferred Bueyes 2010, a soft-tannic malbec from Mendoza, Argentina.
Christopher also kept us well-supplied with warm rosemary bread from the Fresca bakery and his own dipping sauce made of olive oil, balsamic, sea salt, pepper, and loads of fresh, coarsely chopped garlic.
Whatever came from the kitchen that night seemed especially delectable in the cozy, romantically low-lit dining space with a playful mural by Michael Brannan, mirrors, crystals, and dark wood and leather tables and booths.
All six options from the ceviche bar menu are original and unique to the house. We were happily nibbling on the bright yellow dried plantain chips arranged in a little toy bucket on the table when our ceviche arrived, studded with Peruvian corn kernels. Our ceviche campechano was made with local halibut, ahi tuna, and salmon; soaked in the traditional Peruvian leche de tigre fused with white truffle oil; and spiked with red onion, cilantro, and pickled jalapeno.
Another signature item came from a dozen of entradas (appetizers). Albondigas, lamb meatballs in a black truffle sherry cream with shaved Manchego cheese from Spain, came decorated with green peas and red rings of Fresno peppers and were so irresistible that they steadily appeared on every table.
Our platos fuertes (entrees) also presented some creative twists and fusions of multicultural ingredients. My salmon was pan-roasted to medium-rare—a preference I shared with the chef—and garnished with squid-ink-colored jasmine rice and crispy calamari salad in a distinctive passion fruit escabeche sauce.
My dining companion’s vaca a caballo steak of grass-fed, Estancia Farms beef came neatly surrounded by plantain-chorizo hash that contained every vegetables from the kitchen (even giant, white corn kernels), bright green chimichurri, and a Peruvian-style egg served sunny-side up.
For dessert, we shared a beautiful, round, house-made cheesecake infused with fresh mango, complimented by fresh berries and raspberry-mango coulis.
Then, we moved on to chocolate coconut bread pudding with lucuma ice cream and passion fruit sabayon, which I had to officially proclaim my favorite dessert of all time. At least I honestly thought so while enjoying it, right after declaring I could not eat another bite.
Thankfully, Pasión is now serving lunch and weekend brunch with bottomless mimosas in addition to dinner, so there is hope to try everything on its menu in multiple smaller installments, so to speak. The bar at Pasión, besides its international selection of wines and beers, offers specialty cocktails. There are also weekday Happy Hours from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. with drink specials, half off the Bar Bites menu, and $1 oysters; half-price sangria pitchers on Mondays; and half-price Wine Night on Tuesdays.
Pasión is located at 737 Irving Street in San Francisco. The restaurant is open nightly for dinner beginning at 5:00 p.m., for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and for Saturday and Sunday brunch from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Call for reservations at (415) 742-5727 or visit them online.