South Food & Wine Bar's Australian Food Overthought, Overwrought

Mixed messages from the first outpost of contemporary Aussie cooking in S.F.

The best main courses were the snapper and the lamb. The beautifully cooked Bay of Islands snapper's accompaniments, curried lentils and a thin sauce of coriander yogurt, made sense and enhanced each other and the fragile fish. The New Zealand lamb was again very tasty, although its garnishes seemed a trifle over-the-top: almonds, dates, pomelo, goat's-milk feta, and a beetroot purée that turned the plate into a bloody-looking mess. In this instance, however, most of the flavors worked well together.

After the fussy mains, we approached the dessert list with some trepidation, so we were surprised to discover that all four on offer were genius. The most unlikely one, Luke's licorice parfait with lime syrup, was completely divine: a shaky, delicate pudding in which the two main flavors meshed perfectly. ("If he puts his name on it, he must be proud of it," one of my companions sagely observed. I named it an early candidate for best dessert of 2008.) The pavlova (meringue with whipped cream and fresh fruit; in this case kiwis, strawberries, and citrus) was luscious, and the crunchy meringue, cream, and tart-sweet fruit played against each other in texture. The hot coconut pudding with caramelized pear and lime seduced us completely. "The desserts," I said, "are less sweet than the main courses." (And the presentation simpler.) We also adored the generous hunk of Roaring '40s blue cheese from King Island (near Tasmania), served with truffled honeycomb, a lovely combination.

At South, skip the entrées and go straight to the desserts.
Jen Siska
At South, skip the entrées and go straight to the desserts.

Details

974-5599, www.southfwb.com. Lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; dinner 5-11 p.m. Mon.-Sat.; brunch 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat. Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: street, difficult. Muni: 30, 45, 47. Noise level: high.

Grilled quail $14

Grilled snapper with curried lentils $23

Lamb with beet purée $24

Licorice parfait $10

Pavlova $9

Coconut rice pudding $9

330 Townsend #101 (at Fourth St.)

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And, as we hadn't earlier in the meal, we cleaned our plates.

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