I have a friend who once wistfully told me that if he had a superhero alter-ego, he would be Condiment Man. He then painted a laughable yet somehow heroic picture of himself wearing a utility belt full of squeeze bottles containing various aiolis, mustards and hot sauces.
Sadly, he lives on the other side of the country, because La Fusion would be the restaurant of Condiment Man's dreams.
La Fusion, a small and stylish self-described Nuevo Latino kitchen in the Financial District, is about so much more than the condiments and sauces that accompany its Peruvian-inspired food (although every single one of them is spectacular).
It's a magnificent amalgamation of spice, precision, tradition and innovation. Everything about this place, from the stellar service to the rainbow of sauces to each well-formed dish, is everything I want San Francisco dining to be.
I realize that I'm babbling in superlatives, but it's well-justified, I swear. I thought maybe I was overreacting when I had my first bite of crispy-golden seafood empanadas with a dollop of garlicky chimichurri, rolled my eyes and sputtered, "holy Lord." I could say nothing else.
But I realized I wasn't crazy when my friend, a longtime professional chef, said after trying the beef empanadas topped with a spoonful of huacatay (that's Peruvian black mint) aioli, "These are the best empanadas I've ever had." I nodded.
We spent much of the meal nodding. People will tell you that the rotisserie chicken here is great, and they're not wrong: the skin is crispy, the meat well-seasoned and moist.
The star here, however, is the warm bread salad that lies underneath. What makes it really special are the croutons, hunks of bread soaked in chicken drippings that lie beneath the piles of wilted greens and meat. I affectionately (though not so creatively) refer to these intensely flavorful bites as "chicken bread," and they haunt my thoughts daily.
Speaking of chicken, you'd do yourself a disservice if you didn't order and thoroughly enjoy the chicharron de pollo, which reminded me — in a good way, mind you — of my childhood love for chicken nuggets.
This is, of course, a souped-up, sophisticated version of that fast-food staple, served with two of La Fusion's many incredible saucy accompaniments. One creamy and spicy, one juicy and sweet, both citrusy sauces work together as bright complements to the rich, crispy-fried dark-meat pieces of poultry.
La Fusion also features a varied list of ceviches. My favorite was the Asian-inspired ceviche de atun, sharp and savory with soy sauce, mushrooms and meaty chunks of ahi.
I can be critical of sous-vide cooking, but it's done well here, particularly in the lomo saltado dish. Tender chunks of beef filet, cooked sous-vide, are then stir-fried with french fries, onion, peppers and tomato, all melded together in a deeply spiced sauce. The meat melts, yet still retains character and flavor.
The most surprising entree I tried was the warm, spicy seafood potpie. Crunchy puff pastry covered in a smokey, aromatic chipotle-guajillo cream sauce gives way to forkfuls of meaty prawns, mushrooms and potatoes. This is something I will crave in cold weather.
Is it French? Peruvian? Asian? American? Street food or haute cuisine? Who cares? La Fusion takes "fusion," that overused concept, and gives it thoughtful, vibrant new life.
Location: 475 Pine St., S.F.
Contact: (415) 781-0894, www.lafusion-sf.com
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 5 to 10 p.m. Saturdays
Price range: $4 to $26
Recommended dishes: Rotisserie chicken ($12.95-$26), crispy empanadas ($11), chicharron de pollo ($11), seafood potpie ($20), lomo saltado ($22.50), ceviche de atun ($15)
Credit cards: All major