AUGUST 1 FIVE (San Francisco, CA) – When you hear that a chef from Rasika is cooking out in the Bay, you gotta get over there to eat Indian fine dining, stat. After visiting D.C. and spending a summer there, I came back missing Rasika’s fantastic food. My whole family is a big fan, so when they came up to the Bay during New Years, we knew we had to make a reservation at August 1 Five.
The name August 1 Five comes from the date that India became independent from the British Empire. Just as that ushered a new era for Indians, the food at August 1 Five is approached in a modern way. It combines street food and home cooking into a fine dining experience. The restaurant is tucked away in a quiet alley in the Civic Center, but it’s a surprisingly large restaurant. The bar is front and center, and a have a variety of creative cocktails with Indian flavors such as the turmeric lassi. I ordered a refreshing mint lemonade that worked well with all the rich flavors I had that evening.
Our waitress was really friendly and gave us honest recommendations when we asked, which we greatly appreciated. There are small plates, which are a little bigger than appetizers and then the larger entrees. We ordered a bunch of small plates because we were curious to see what the restaurant came up with. The first small plate we ordered was the Palaak Chaat, with baby spinach, garbanzo, rock salt, tamarind, and yogurt. This is what made everyone a fan of Rasika, and I’m so glad it’s a part of August 1 Five’s menu. The spinach is fried until crispy and then slathered with the salty and tangy tamarind yogurt. It’s surprisingly addicting!
Next up is the Gol Guppa flight! This consisted of wheat shells, chaat masala, potatoes and five different flavored waters: grape, tamarind, mint-cilantro, mango, and fruit punch. I was super excited to try these as I’ve grown up eating Gol Guppas. It’s a little flaky wheat puff, which you then poke a hole in and put in the potatoes and masala. After that, it’s topped up with a flavored water, traditionally slightly spicy one with tamarind. I liked the contrast of the sweet flavors (grape, mango) with the spicier ones (mint-cilantro and tamarind).
When we saw “Keema” on the menu, we knew we were going to order it. I have never seen Keema (ground meat, usually beef) in a restaurant. This is another dish I’ve grown up eating at home – and one of my comfort foods – so this was cool to see on a fine dining menu! August 1 Five had a Bison Kemma Pao, made of ground bison, a quail egg, onions, and tomatoes. What the menu didn’t say at the time (it has since been revised on their website) was that it had bacon on it, which none of us eat, and I’m pretty sure the staff just took the bacon off versus bringing us a brand new dish. =/ The bison keema was delicious though. I just thought this was a pretty big thing to overlook, especially considering there is no beef on this menu with respect to the Hindu religion.
We also ordered the Chicken Kebabs, which were made of chicken, cardamom, cashew paste, cheese, and cilantro. They were really nice and juicy with the perfect blend of spices. The red sauce that the plate Is decorated with was fantastic. And, lastly, we ordered the Arancini, which had rice, lentils, goat cheese, and seasonal Indian pickle. These felt like a lighter version of traditional Arancini, which are essentially cheesy risotto balls. The cheese sauce at the bottom needed to be on all of the things.
The entrées are just as good, if not better, than the small plates. It’s stiff competition, tbh. Hands down, my favorite entrée was the Tandoori Sea Bass, with lemon zest, yogurt, dill, and buckwheat. The yogurt was foamed up with the tangy flavors of lemon and dill. This fish was SO GOOD. It was so buttery it melted in your mouth and the tangy foam and herbs really brought out the flavors of the fish. I’m pretty sure I ate half of this by myself, and this was meant to be shared between five people. Sorry, not sorry.
The Chicken Biryani was very tasty, but I didn’t feel like it was anything special. It’s your usual basmati rice, saffron, yogurt, with an aromatic spice blend. The rice was cooked perfectly so that they were soft and fluffy. I would personally pass in favor of trying a new, unique entrée since I’ve personally had biryani so many times.
The Paneer was a dish I didn’t think we needed, initially. I’m very glad that our waitress recommended it, because this was honestly the best Paneer I’ve had. Paneer, which is South Asian cheese with a texture like tofu, consisted of mint, pistachio, and fenugreek. The paneer came with a gravy sauce, which had all those complex flavors described. The Paneer was soft and not too chewy and had a great cheesy consistency. I’m so glad there was some leftover so I could eat it the next day for lunch!
I will say the one entrée that I did not enjoy at all was the Lamb Shank, with red chili, cloves, tomato, and caramelized onion. The lamb was too tough, it didn’t have much flavor, and honestly it felt like it was cooked a while ago. Nothing about it tasted like it was freshly cooked, which is unfortunate, because lamb can be amazing when it’s cooked well. I would not order this dish again.
If I come again, which I hope to, I would focus on getting more of the small bites/plates since there’s such a wide variety of ingredients and flavors, and pick a two to three large/Patiala plates, choosing from dishes that have unique takes on them. I also really loved the decor of this place, the vibrant colors with minimalist furniture and this large focal mural were stunning. Overall, it was a great experience at August 1 Five, and I totally raved about it to all my friends! Seriously, I think they got annoyed with me.