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[whitespace] Cafe Kati
David Fortin

Asian Appetizers: From spring rolls, potstickers to suchi-esque rolls, Cafe Kati has its fair share of yummy Asian appetizers.

Our reviewer gets a taste of Cafe Kati

By Paul Adams

Cafe Kati has about a dozen tables. It's a little place, dimly lit, on Sutter Street between Fillmore and Webster. The cuisine is sort of home-style American, but many of the flavors are borrowed creatively from Japan, Italy and elsewhere. By and large, the creation and execution of the dishes are quite skillful.

The crowd is about what you'd expect from the location: 35-year-olds and up, conservatively fashionable. It's almost always well populated, and reservations are a very good idea. The interior has a multicultural, pseudo-edgy, professional-designed look, with monochrome figures painted on the walls and metal fixtures. It's smoothly run, and the service is good. Portions are larger than average, which should please those hungry folks for whom San Francisco portion size is a chronic subject for complaint.

Start with a sweet-potato biscuit or two. These come to the table hot, fresh and crumbly, with a ramekin of honey and good-quality butter. They're delicious but don't really go with any of the other dishes (except possibly the soup), so eat them first. The house bread, which is brought to the table, is a huge stack of tasty and not-too-filling papadums. They come with a raita dip. The daily soup special, on a recent visit, was a corn-and-onion chowder. Less creamy than one might expect from a chowder, it was faintly smoky, vegetal and pleasingly complex.

Appetizers are evenly split between Asian and Western styles: spring rolls, potstickers and a sushi-esque roll on one hand, and on the other, a tomato tart, risotto and salmon cakes. The risotto is made with lobster and white-truffle oil and is dazzlingly rich and creamy. Even on the off chance that you're still hungry after finishing it, most subsequent dishes will seem too heavy to put on top of the risotto. The tart contains delicious dark, meaty plum tomatoes and is surrounded by greens and Kalamata olive fragments--the greens were overly oily, but the flaky, satisfying tart was gone in a flash.

The mango spring rolls were not as good as those you'd get at a good Vietnamese restaurant. They were a little rubbery and lacking in flavor, which the "dipthong" red-spicy dipping sauce made up for but not in a particularly exciting way. The mango was masked by basil. They are served topped with flexible/crispy strands of shrimp-chip material, as well as the coils of beet thread that accompany every item on the menu. The three-mushroom salad is highly recommended: meaty, crispy, complicated.

The entrees are all meat-centered dishes. The skirt steak is a delicious piece of meat and comes with amazing onion rings, but the port sauce that accompanies it is a little overly sweet and uncomplimentary to the meat. The Gorgonzola-stuffed chicken breast is a little cloying but has a delicious arrangement of textures and a wonderful sauce. The arbitrarily alliterative Cajun cornmeal-crusted catfish is flattered by the accompanying salsa, and the texture of the fish alone makes it worth having twice. There's also a Japanese-influenced Chilean sea bass salad, three "crusted" entrees and four mashed-potato sides.

Desserts are rich, large and crazy. They should give prizes for finishing them. Does anyone really love butterscotch? Hopefully, yes, because it's making a comeback. Cafe Kati offers it in a pudding, in a tall glass, with buttery cookies. A lineup of risotto, chicken breast and then this pudding will do in anyone, guaranteed--similarly, the banana/vanilla sundae with brandy-scented hot fudge and a caramelized banana. There are also raspberry crème brûlée, pear tart, chocolate cake. Sorbets: coconut, strawberry, blackberry-cabernet.

You can get a very satisfying meal at Cafe Kati. Maybe even too satisfying. It's unpretentious, but it seems as if maybe it wishes it were more pretentious, or something. On the whole, though, a very pleasant experience.

Cafe Kati, 1963 Sutter St.; dinner Tue.-Sun. 5:30-10pm; 415/775-7313.

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From the July 13-26, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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