SFReview

photo credit: Melissa Zink

Ancora review image
8.0

Ancora

$$$$

557 Valencia St, San Francisco
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If it’s been too long since you devoured a beautifully plated spread of food that came from the ocean, get to Ancora. This Mission spot emphasizing locally caught fish is home to tons of fancy seafood and wine. Dinner ultimately won’t exceed your expectations, but you’ll still easily have a great time. 

Fine dining touches (and prices) are on full display at Ancora. Divey seafood place where you put on a plastic bib and crack into a pile of crab legs, this is not. Your napkin is folded any time you leave your seat. And the space is aptly decorated with schools of fish on the walls, and lit by hanging lamps and a chandelier made of glass bubbles. The tables along the windows facing Valencia are perfect for people-watching, and the bar is usually filled with couples on dates or solo diners twirling caviar-studded pasta (because of course there’s caviar in the pasta).

Ancora review image

photo credit: Melissa Zink

When it comes to the food, the frequently changing, one-page menu features dishes ranging from anchovy toast and prawns soaked in uni butter to heartier entrées like strip loin and roasted halibut (there are also prix fixe options for $125 and $190). The smaller dishes are where to focus your attention. They’re all simply prepared, letting the fresh seafood have its moment, while still being creative enough to make an impression. The halibut crudo is bright and gets a salty punch from the clam vinaigrette. Silky salmon mousse gushes out of flaky gougeres when you take a bite. Grilled oysters soak up rich harissa butter like sponges, and the pappardelle is well-coated in an octopus sugo that melts in your mouth. 

The bigger dishes are perfectly nice, but snoozy. The roasted halibut ($52) presented like a rack of lamb or the crispy-skinned butterflied trout ($60) are missing the flavor punch we want in a restaurant with higher price points. And like everything else, the portions lean small, so it’s easy to spend a lot in order to fill up. 

Despite a couple of misses—and factoring in the quality of the seafood and extensive wine list—Ancora is a spot that works as well for coworker dinners on the company card as it does for anniversary celebrations over oysters. Essentially, keep Ancora in your back pocket for special occasions that call for great seafood. 

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Food Rundown

Ancora review image

photo credit: Melissa Zink

SF Anchovy

The whole anchovies on this pan con tomate are presented on the plate in a squiggly line, giving the effect that they’re mid-swim. How much this excites you depends on where you fall on the anchovy-fan-club spectrum. Regardless, the salty two-biters are a nice way to kick things off.

Ancora review image

photo credit: Melissa Zink

SF Halibut Crudo

This is one of our favorite small plates on the menu. The raw fish is decorated with Monterey seaweed and so soft you can cut through with a spoon.

Ancora review image

photo credit: Melissa Zink

Mussels Au Poivre

A foolproof dish to have in the center of the table. The mussels are rich and creamy. Pink peppercorns give them a slight bite.

Ancora review image

photo credit: Melissa Zink

Plankton Tagliolini

This plankton-tinted pasta is as decadent as it sounds. Caviar is mixed into the leek fondue sauce and bottarga is grated over the top. You won’t be mad if you order this.

Half Moon Bay Spot Prawns

There’s nothing outright wrong with these, but it's $38 for just two. You're better off spending that money on either of the pastas or half a dozen oysters.

SF Halibut Rack

This halibut gets creativity points, even if the flavors don't inspire us to shout about them from the top of Twin Peaks. It’s presented like a rack of lamb, with two tiny, delicate bones sticking out of the side. The fish is cooked nicely, and supported by an entourage of side dishes: chermoula, pepperonata, garlic bread, and smoky seafood sausage.

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