In the Mex

What to get at San Francisco's newest Mexican restaurant

"I feel free," Jose Ramos says of his new position as the chef of Sabrosa.

Free to experiment, that is. The former Nopalito co-chef is approaching his menu the way Frances or Cotogna do: making it seasonal and ever-changing.

The party vibe at the month-old restaurant in the Marina, whose dining room orbits a glowing gold bar, is strong. And though the kitchen is still finding its way, the best dishes already stand out from the Mexican fray.

We asked Ramos for the story behind three of them:

For the aguachile rojo campechana ($13), Ramos douses just-poached seafood, onions and crunchy jicama strips in an explosive chile-lime marinade inspired by his time consulting at Nido. "Most marisquerías here serve the same cocktails and ceviches. I want to keep changing this dish and give it new flavors."

Sabrosa's dining room in a rare moment of repose

An unusual open-faced tamal ($) is tinted with black beans and smothered in sautéed wild mushrooms. "When you steam vegetable tamales for a long time, you kill the vegetables," Ramos says. A charred-tomatillo salsa negra–black on black–finishes the dish.

The most unusual sauce may be the pipián rojo on the grilled chicken ($20). Most pipián sauces have a pumpkin seed base, but this astonishingly complex rendition takes its nuttiness from toasted chile and sesame seeds. Ramos says, "I found out that the traditional pumpkin seeds aren't necessary to get the same flavor."

Here's to taking liberties.