Paul Reidinger

The last supper



DINE “I’ve had a good run,” Harry Morant tells a young friend near the end of one of my favorite movies, Breaker Morant. Soon after, he is set before a military firing squad and shot dead. My own circumstances are, I hope, less dire — certainly they’re less cinematic — though I too have had a good run. But all journeys come to an end sooner or later, and so now does this one.

If you’ve read these columns through the years, then you’ve read quite a few columns, and you’ve counted quite a few years passing by. In a better world, you would get a rebate check for all your trouble. Reading is, if not trouble, at least effort; it is a form of work that requires exertion, and it also — unfortunately — reminds too many people of school, with syllabi, assigned texts, pop quizzes, and other such outrages. “Required reading” has always seemed to me to be one of life’s great oxymorons, along with “military intelligence.”

Nonetheless I have always posited the existence of readers, people who would take the time to sit down and concentrate for a few minutes on a piece about a restaurant in a free alt-weekly so that they might discern, and maybe even pleased by, the texture of the piece, the flavors of the language, the sense of a place conveyed, the images and jokes. And I have tried to write for those people, even if (to judge by the occasional appreciative notes I received) they seemed largely to be members of the UC Berkeley faculty.

Readers, as I imagined them, would take pleasure in what they had just read, and they would also have been expanded by it, however slightly. Their effort would have been repaid. As I writer, I have always tried to keep this transaction, the basic transaction of all literary life, in mind.

Never was I an awarder of stars, nor, as I understood things, a recommender. Those tasks fell to others, and in a city stuffed like a fat sausage with people keen to write about food and restaurants, leaving tasks for others struck me as an essential survival skill. The greater good is not served by everyone descending on the same place to write more or less the same thing, as quickly as possible. That is simply hype, and we are dying of hype. I meant to write about places others weren’t writing about. Sometimes I managed this and sometimes I didn’t, but the idea was always in my mind, and when I found myself in the midst of a 10-car pile-up anyway, as happened from time to time, I deducted five points from my account.

For me the model, or ideal, of this gig resembled a travelogue, a running account of places visited, impressions received and relayed. Of course journalism tilts strongly and inevitably to what is new. But I thought it was important to tack against those powerful winds when possible, to go occasionally to places that were not new or were even old, or to places that could be found on roads less travelled. I tried to keep the varieties of cuisines in mind, and of price points. You can spend tons of money and be disappointed, or spend very little and be elated — and it can also be exactly the other way around.

My basic philosophical orientation was that of a cook, setting forth to look for ideas and even a sort of instruction. I’ve been the cook of my little household for more than a quarter-century, and someone in that position naturally is going to be looking for ideas, twists and wrinkles that can politely, or at least discreetly, be taken home and used. Often, when looking at menus, I would find myself wondering: have I made that, or could I, should I try to? And when this or that dish reached the table, I would wonder how it compared to my own version.

One of the big issues with restaurant kitchens is that you never know for sure what they’re putting in your food, but a lot of butter is probably a safe bet. If you believe, as I do, that health is a personal responsibility and that the connection between diet and well-being is as basic as it gets, then there is no substitute for buying and cooking your own food rather than paying somebody else to do it. Restaurant meals should be treats, not staples.

Restaurants are about more than food, of course. They are social fora, gathering places full of talk and clothes and interior design; they are cultural statements, business endeavors, entertainment venues, and labors of love. They are, above all, sensual experiences — great outings for the senses — and describing sensual experience is one of the trickiest and most absorbing operations any writer will ever undertake. The difference between doing it well and doing it badly is often fine and very often involves the presence or absence of cliché. Rote expressions and tired imagery are lethal to sensual description — it seems particularly and bitterly ironic to find the freshness of food being written about in language as stale as month-old bread — and in my small way I have been a committed warrior against these toxins of banality. Down the weeks, months, and years, I have tried to summon language as lively, exact, and unexpected as I could think to make it, so that it might delight the reader and, not coincidentally, stick in the mind.

There is nothing more powerful in language than a phrase, sometimes a single word, that helps you see something you hadn’t seen before, or helps you see something you had seen before, even if it’s just a burrito, in a surprising new way. These glints of words kindle the imagination, and imagination, I would say, is basic to our prospects as a species. This is why good writing, whatever its subject, will always be not just important but central, even when, as now, its value is eclipsed by a rising culture of gadgets and gizmos, of YouTube clips played on smartphones. The heart of human intelligence, of human knowing, is and will remain language, and writing is language’s most potent distillate. What we feed our minds is as important as what we feed our bodies — or at least that is what I believe, since I am a writer and couldn’t possibly believe otherwise.

But enough! I must run.



DINE On a recent midsummer’s eve, I found myself gazing down the Valencia Street corridor and (with a slight squint of the eye) though: this is just like the Strip! This is like Vegas for hipst — but no. No more H-bombs from me. The question does remain, however, whether a neighborhood can be as utterly transformed as this part of the Mission has been and still remain a neighborhood. One sunny bit of proof that the answer might be yes is the recent opening of Radish, one of those small, slightly-off-the-beaten path, homemade-with-style places that have long made this city such an appealing place to eat.

Just as some of the better restaurants in Las Vegas are off the Strip, so Radish is a few but important steps off the parade route. It occupies a classic corner spot, an L of windows (including transom windows that have been carefully cleaned — not something you see every day), at 19th Street and Lexington. It feels rather far from the madding crowd — Lexington is a lovely, leafy lane — but it is central. There are some impressive oil paintings on the walls, something else you don’t see every day.

The radish as a foodstuff has won mixed reviews down the ages. It is a crucifer and is therefore believed by some to have anti-cancer properties. But Pliny the Elder (the Roman writer and admiral who perished at Pompeii 1932 years ago last month) found the little root to be “vulgar” and a cause of “flatulence and eructation.” Oh dear. Luckily, the menu at Radish doesn’t emphasize radishes. In fact I spotted just one, a lone coin lurking in a side salad amid a swarm of halved pear tomatoes. Maybe it was a stray. Otherwise, the food is a cheerful mélange that moves winningly between all-American and new American — new-all American, if one is permitted to put it that way, with a slight Southern twist — n’all? — since the chef, Adam Hornbeck, grew up in Tennesee.

But someone in the kitchen has been to the north, all the way to Canada, judging by the poutine ($8) we found chalked onto the specials board one evening. Poutine is the dubious but wildly exciting friend your mother always wanted you to stay away from. Radish’s version was a huge plate of French fries doused with gravy (almost a béchamel sauce, it seemed to me) and topped with shreds of crisp bacon and plenty of ripe avocado slices.

“There are 10,000 calories on this plate,” came the complaint from across the table. Yes. And that was not too high a price to pay. If I were a budget-cutter, I might have dealt away the avocado, which brought some pretty color but otherwise was too subtle for such a muscle-y mess of a dish.

Mac ‘n’ cheese ($4.50) seemed to be nearly as calorie-dense as the poutine, but because it was served in a much more modest portion, in a small crock, it didn’t send the needle on our calorimeter spinning. A nice alternate home for the poutine’s avocado slices, incidentally, would have been the boldly tangy old world salad ($9), a neatly arranged English garden of sliced heirloom and cherry tomatoes, rounds of summer squash, smears of goat cheese, arugula leaves, and a full-throated balsamic vinaigrette that, like a compelling speaker, brought the constituents together and held them rapt.

Hornbeck’s baby back ribs ($14) are really first in show. We found them to be spicy, smoky, and — most important — juicy. It was as if the meat were oozing liquid smoke. It doesn’t matter how tasty your sauce or marinade is if you dry the ribs out when roasting them, and it is awfully easy to dry them out. To find them beautifully cooked and smartly seasoned, as here, was a real treat. The accompanying potato salad was, like its partner (a lone cob of grilled corn), very much a sidekick, but it had been carefully made with big, irregular chunks of new potato and plenty of paprika for color and kick.

A steak sandwich ($13) was served on focaccia, and the flaps of meat were tucked in with strips of orange bell pepper and melted cheddar cheese. The side salad of arugula and spinach turned out to be the home of the fugitive radish coin; finding it was like the culmination of an Easter egg hunt.

One of the desserts deserves a special mention, the shortbread ($6), festooned with strawberry meringue and whipped cream. The shortbread had some of the sublime crispy-spongy quality of a cinnamon bun, and I wondered if it might be some version of brioche. No, we were told, it was a biscuit, the same kind the kitchen uses for its breakfast dishes. This is frugal and prudent — also brilliant, or, as the h-folk sometimes put it, rad. 


Dinner: Tues.-Thurs., 5-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 5-11 p.m.; Sun., 5-9 p.m.

Breakfast: Tues.-Fri., 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 9 a.m.-2 p.m.

Lunch: Tues.-Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

3465 19th St., SF

(415) 834-5441

Beer and wine



Wheelchair accessible

Boxing Room


DINE It does make a difference, I must say, when you step into a restaurant and find the people at the host’s station smiling and nodding at you, riffling their stack of menus before showing you to your table — instead of not. The last time I made an attempt on Citizen Cake, a few years ago, at lunchtime, I found myself confronted by a rather steely-eyed maitre d’ who advised me, in a spirit of what I took to be barely suppressed glee, that there was no possibility of seating my party of two even though the restaurant was all but empty. I left and did not look back.

If only for a marked change in tone, the Boxing Room, which opened recently in Citizen Cake’s old haunt at the corner of Gough and Grove, is a welcome turning of the page. Just as welcome is the remodel of what was once a shirt factory into a wonder of woodiness, from the ceiling of exposed joists to the impressive swaths of sauna-like blond paneling along the rear wall. Best of all is the long, sinuous bar in place of Citizen Cake’s boxy, glass-and-steel dessert cases; the bar’s reassuring jiggle, like a well-banked S-curve on a freeway, softens the hard, high angles of the space. And while the floor (of poured concrete) is of a cold hardness that usually means reverberant noise, that isn’t the case here. Even when the restaurant is nearly full, it’s possible to have a pleasant conversation without having to raise your voice.

Are there bitter cold nights in New Orleans? The Boxing Room is one of the latest entrants in what seems to be spate of bayou-themed spots in our chilly city. As at Roy’s, I felt a slight dissonance in eating the food of some faraway warm place while awaiting the little tongues of clamminess that would slither into the dining room every time somebody came in the front door. (The front door is gorgeous, incidentally, a masterwork of glass and iron, but very heavy and unwieldy.) The restaurant belongs to the Absinthe group, and the chef is Justin Simoneaux, whose name speaks for itself, at least if you speak French.

The obvious question is how Boxing Room’s food stacks up against that of Criolla Kitchen, the new, Louisiana-accented successor to Baghdad Cafe in the Castro. As we might expect, there is considerable overlap, including red beans, handlings of mirliton (the cucumber relative), various versions of the po’boy, and fried chicken. The cooking of the Mississippi Delta is well-defined and has, for North America, deep historical roots. If there’s a meaningful difference between the two menus, it’s probably Boxing Room’s upmarketiness; a couple of the main dishes pop the $20 boundary.

But most of them don’t, and the tapas-like nibbles called lagniappe are just $5 each. (This might be a small joke, since the word supposedly means, more or less, “gift.” Maybe the modest charge is the equivalent of shipping and handling.) Of these, the one that particularly caught our eye was the small cast-iron pot of Cajun boiled peanuts. We were expecting something flamingly spicy — Cajun is one of those words — and were surprised to find the legumes mildly seasoned and rather soggy, like the bits of wood that splinter from old decks in rainy weather. At first this was disappointing, but in true bar-food fashion, the peanuts built up a subtle momentum and, by the end, were nearly addictive.

You may have had grilled Monterey Bay squid ($9) before, but you probably haven’t had it like this — with tasso (a form of spicy cured pork), fried okra, and aioli made with roasted garlic, all of it brought together into a voluptuous faux-stew. Just as good, if more conventional, was a little cast-iron pot of red beans and sausage ($6) — all the cast-iron pots, incidentally, amount to a small detail that makes a big impression — while a green-tomato ratatouille ($5) seemed underpowered, though beautifully diced.

Apart from the occasional small smear of foie gras, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a savory item as rich as the fried-oyster po’boy ($18). The quite-large oysters had been battered with corn meal and slathered with mayonnaise before being snuggled between slices of fabulously fresh baguette — a kingly sandwich. The throw weight was increased slightly by a small litter of hushpuppies on the side.

“Gumbo” is derived from the West African word for “okra,” and there was okra aplenty in the gumbo ($9), along with andouille coins and shreds of chicken in a thick, smoky broth. Okra is like cilantro: You either love or hate its unmistakable flavor. As I happen to love it, I loved this gumbo. But it isn’t for doubters.

The dessert menu includes beignets ($7), and they’re fine — shaped like hamantaschen here. A livelier choice would be the pralines and cream ($7), a sundae of vanilla ice cream embellished with chunks of praline, candied almonds, and little squares of blondie bar — a ghost of pastries past? 


Continuous service: Mon.-Wed., 11:30 a.m.-midnight; Thurs.-Fri., 11:30-1 a.m.; Sat., 5 p.m.-1 a.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.-midnight

399 Grove, SF

(415) 430-6590

Beer and wine



Wheelchair accessible





DINE Among the reasons to regret the passing of Enrico’s and its replacement by Txoko is that “Enrico’s” was pretty straightforward to pronounce, whereas the new endeavor, with its impossible juxtaposition of t and x — the spelling equivalent of dividing by zero — does not seem to be. Txoko, despite its modest five letters, has the look of what Sam (having heard Dwarvish spoken for the first time) called “a fair jaw-cracker” in The Lord of the Rings. The good news is that “tx” is pronounced “ch,” so the restaurant’s name is “choke-o,” which sounds like the stage name of a particularly menacing rapper.

As a cultural signifier, “tx” tells us that we’re in or near the Basque country, and I know this mainly because I love the wonderful white wines produced in Spain’s Basque provinces from the Txakoli grape. (The same grape is now grown in Chile and spelled, mercifully, chacoli. ) The wine — Txoko offers a lovely example from Uriondo for $9 a glass — is sharp, bright, minerally, and sour, about as close as a white wine could be to lemon juice passed through a gravel filter. This could be an acquired taste, and if so, I’ve acquired it. The Basques, incidentally, are a singular people; their language is not known to be related to any other in the world, and their Iberian origins are believed to run back 40,000 years or more, to a time when early homo sapiens sapiens and the people we know as Neanderthal might have coexisted and perhaps, as judge advocate general types like to put it, fraternized.

Enrico’s always had a slightly fraternal air for me, and the new regime doesn’t seem to have changed much about the space’s appearance. It’s still a dark, stage-like vault, with a concave face of window glass that looks south, soaking up all the available sunlight like a snowbird in Florida on a weeklong January holiday. All the daylight streaming in makes the interior seem that much darker and lounge-like; it’s as though you’re looking right at a flashbulb as it goes off.

Chef Ian Begg’s menu deals mainly in small plates, among them pintxos, the Basque edition of tapas. There’s only one main dish offered: a $65 ribeye steak for two, which might be a sort of oblique answer to Zuni Cafe’s roast chicken for two. A giant steak sounds pretty all-American, and indeed the tone of much of the rest of the food is mainly Cal-Med: grilled Delta asparagus ($9), for instance, topped with a fried egg and a marvelously cheesy green garlic hollandaise sauce. There are various ways of dealing with asparagus’s grassiness if, like me, you’re not wild about it; Begg’s pincer movement — grilling plus a heavy wash of fat — was most effective.

A wild mushroom empanada ($5), rather pastry-ish, did have an Iberian flair, along with intense fungal flavor. Equally fungal was the wild mushroom arroz ($10), similar to a risotto but with a powerfully concentrated reduction (from chanterelles, baby shiitake, and hen-of-the-wood) that hinted at soup. A batter-fried squash blossom ($3) seemed rather Italian; this version was stuffed with herbed ricotta and presented on a toasted levain spear, with a smear of goat cheese nearby.

One of the more striking items turned out by the kitchen wasn’t even a headliner on the menu card. It was the summer squash and tomato tartlet that accompanied a tiny fist of grilled lamb loin chop ($11). The lamb itself was flavorful and juicy, though slightly complex to eat, despite its size, because a bit of bone that had to be carved around. But the tartlet was a small masterpiece, a kind of ratatouille napoleon reminiscent of the pièce de resistance in the Pixar movie Ratatouille. It looked like a tomato-slathered disk, but under the tomato cap was the summer squash, thin coins carefully arranged into coiling strands, like DNA. The bean salad accompanying a small filet of butter-braised halibut ($12), by contrast, was much more free-form, in fact totally free-form, though several of the players were notable, among them fava beans, fresh chickpeas, and sea beans, an unusual edible that could pass as a cross between kelp and asparagus.

In keeping with a strong recent trend, desserts are excellent. We warmed to a date bread pudding ($8), which had the velvet-sponge consistency of angelfood cake and was finished with a pair of mock-savory witticisms: a sail (stuck into the top) of latticed chorizo crisped like a tuile, and a smear of black-olive caramel sauce, a clever recasting of that current vogue item, sea-salt caramel. The gâteau Basque ($8) also made imaginative use of an herb, thyme, we usually associate with the savory; here it was combined with peaches into what amounted to a fabulously moist clafoutis, capped with crottin of Straus frozen yogurt. Easy on the jaws.


Dinner: Tues.-Sat. from 5 p.m.

504 Broadway, SF

(415) 500-2744

Full bar



Wheelchair accessible

Bluestem Brasserie



DINE In Bizarro world, dinner would begin with dessert — I know someone who truly hopes this particular sun will indeed rise in the west one day. And if your pastry chef happened to be James Ormsby, you not only would probably not get around to your savory courses, you might very well not be able to get up from the table. Ormsby, interestingly, is the pastry chef at the newly opened Bluestem, and he does not disappoint, though his confections are right where convention says they should be, at the end of the meal.

Bluestem occupies a spot at the Market Street head of the block-long Yerba Buena pedestrian mall, which has become a mini-restaurant row, with Amber and Tropisueño just steps away. But the new place does bring a distinctive identity, as a kind of New American brasserie, with steakhouse-y overtones, to the ménage. Also, the floor is striking: a mosaic of wood tiles cut from a single tropical tree. Each looks like a giant version of a cell being examined on a slide under a microscope.

Ormsby, who ran the kitchens at PlumpJack Cafe and Jack Falstaff, is probably better-known than the man in charge of Bluestem’s savory operation. That would be Sean Canavan, whose pedigree is not unimpressive; he’s cooked at La Folie and Jeanty at Jack’s, among other places. His Gallic background is perhaps most apparent in the restaurant’s charcuterie service, which has a build-your-own angle. The base price ($8.75) brings you sweet mustard pickles, several spears of grilled bread, smears of fruit chutney and stone-ground mustard, and a choice of meat — from rustic country paté with pistachios to duck rillettes and pig’s head terrine — and you can add others for $2.50 each. Although refrigeration is a basic aspect of food safety in our time, it turns out that charcuterie, like wine, can be served overchilled, and if it is served that way, a certain creaminess is lost. If you’re going to eat all that fat, you should at least have the sinful sensation of it on your tongue.

In the more temperate latitudes we turned up a corn and fava-bean succotash ($5), a marvelous, deeply American dish deeply influenced here, in color and flavor, by strips of roasted red pepper. At first I wondered why the menu made no mention of the dominant ingredient, but I came to suppose that corn and beans mean succotash, while red pepper doesn’t — plus, fava beans are rather glamorous, if any bean can be said to be glamorous. Still, red-pepper succotash would have given a clearer sense of this elegantly composed dish.

A great virtue of brasserie-style cooking is that it isn’t overwrought, and Canavan’s main dishes are exercises in well-controlled forcefulness. He allows ingredients to speak in their own way. This can be a tricky path when dealing with seafood, which so often needs a deft touch or two. Halibut is one of the rare fish (tuna is another) that can largely stand on its own, like beef, and Bluestem’s version ($24) consisted of a brick-like filet, topped with brown butter and set on a broad, flat pediment of cheddar grits (substituted for the succotash). The fish was firm, moist, and flaky — perfect — and the accompanying elements boosted it rather than trying to compete.

Calf’s liver ($21) I just don’t like and never will, but there are those who take to it almost as if it were a dessert. Here the flaps of sautéed meat were embedded in mashed potatoes, topped with ribbons of caramelized onion, and — nice touch — given a bit of smoky-sweet harmony by grilled-peach quarters.

A few housekeeping odds and ends: You get bread only if you ask for it. There is much to recommend this policy as a matter of reducing waste and the eating of needless starch calories, but it does seem stingy. Your server will also set one more bottles (still or fizzy or both) of complimentary water on your table; but then, annoyingly, some member of the staff will pop by every few minutes to see if you’ve had a sip, whereupon your glass will be topped up. I found this attention to be slightly maniacal — a restaurant version of hovering helicopter parents.

Ormsby’s desserts: well, they’re worth the wait and all the water refills. A Bing cherry sundae ($8), served in a parfait glass, could have sprung from 1950s soda fountains. It consisted of cherry gelée, fresh cherries, cherry sorbet, vanilla ice cream, and a couple of chocolate-chip cookes. There also seemed to be something crumbly inside. My only criticism would be that because Bings are sweet and mild, their delicate flavor suffered in the cold. A shot of Kirsch might have bucked them up a bit.

The Honolulu hangover ($8) had the layered, slightly boozy look of tiramisù but carried the flavors of chocolate and coconut: a chocolate-coconut layer cake amended with puffs of marshmallow cream dotted with bits of toasted coconut. It seemed to combine, somehow, a tropical flair and the memory of many backyard cookouts on the Fourth of July, with something shamelessly creamy for dessert. The end.


Daily, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

One Yerba Buena Lane, SF

(415) 547-1111

Full bar


Moderate noise

Wheelchair accessible

Una Pizza Napoletana


DINE If food is art (probably not, by the way), then Una Pizza Napoletana is probably the closest thing we have to a food-art installation.

This phrase, “art installation,” isn’t exactly euphonious. You install mufflers and software, and (if you’re the new head coach of the 49ers) the West Coast offense. You install a new dishwasher. Art, whatever it may or may not be, deserves a more supple verb.

Picture a white cube with high walls, mostly bare except for white tile wainscoting (rather restroom-y, I thought, but most likely practical). At the center behind the glass podium, a pizza oven of turquoise tiles like a huge Navajo artifact recovered from an archaeological dig. The space, on a nondescript SoMa corner, looks like one of the art galleries you might find in the western reaches of Chelsea, in the part of New York City where the avenues are a little wider, the buildings less tall, and the city feels not quite so breathlessly compacted.

Una Pizza Napoletana’s crowd fits the space: it’s youthful and knowing, ritualistically peering into smart phones, willing to wait for a table at a place that is so plainly and peculiarly happening. Young people don’t want to miss out, it’s their greatest fear.

What they will find missing here is anything other than pizza. That is the menu: pizza in five versions, no substitutions, no polluting table-side condiments like oregano or chili flakes (but salt and pepper, in demure shakers). That is all. No side dishes, soups or salads, no fritti misti, no pastas or roasts. The pizza isn’t sliced for you either; it’s uncut, we might say. Seinfeld had the Soup Nazi (not to mention that lunatic mohel), and we have this.

The maestro of this remarkable production, Antonio Mangieri, can be observed behind the podium manning the oven, wielding his long-handled peel like a medieval knight with a lance. He could be a mime, a figure of soundless kinesis: he stretches, he thrusts, in goes a pie, out comes another, on goes a drizzle of olive oil from his copper urn and a handful of fresh arugula.

It’s hard not to watch his act, because he’s at the very center of things. Also, you’re likely to be quite hungry and wondering if the pizza he’s lifting from the oven might be headed for your table. If it is, you’ll be happy, because the pies, despite their stark lack of trappings are worth waiting for and even suffering (a little) for.

The heart of any pizza is the crust, and UPN’s crusts deserve the ultimate compliment: they could stand on their own, without any toppings at all. They have a slight thickness and focaccia-like sponginess that cuts against current cracker-crust vogue, and they taste quite distinctly of sourdough. It is rare in my experience that pizza crust, even in good pizzerias contributes flavor. Mostly one is attentive to, and grateful for, texture (chewy? crispy?) and the structural question of whether or not the points droop. UPN’s did droop for us a little, but that was probably because we were hacking our way through them haphazardly, so the pieces weren’t symmetric.

Another factor in the droopiness would likely be that the pies are generously laden with toppings. You don’t get a dusting of this and a few gratings of that. These pizzas are loaded. The bianca ($20) for instance, was fitted out with extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, sea salt, at least a dozen thumbs of buffalo mozzarella, and plenty of basil leaves which interestingly accompanied the rest of the pie into the oven rather than being put on after the pie had baked — and were accordingly blistered. Basil’s flavor can withstand rougher handling than that of most other herbs (you can keep pesto made from your summer surplus frozen for months without having it go flat), but I did think that in this case the high heat had diminished the leaves’ fragrant, peppery bite.

The Ilaria pie ($22) by contrast was strewn with fresh arugula leaves, but these were aftermarket add-ons and had not been asked to face a 900-degree Fahrenheit oven. As a result they retained their fresh, nutty flavor, but they also were not well-integrated with the rest of the toppings. Instead they amounted to a mat laid over their accompaniments — a kind of roof to the crust’s floor. Those other toppings included extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt, cherry tomatoes, and smoked mozzarella. I thought the last would be the dominant flavor — smoked anything often asserts itself over other ingredients in the vicinity — but it was mild and muted here.

Service is excellent, and a brief wine list offers several unusual, pizza-friendly Italian bottlings in both red and white by the glass. But I noticed quite a few bottles of Moretti beer on nearby tables, too. If beer matches up with almost any food, then pizza — more than almost any other food — matches up with practically any drink euphoric in nature.


Dinner: Wed.-Sat., from 5 p.m.

210 11th St., SF

(415) 861-3444

Beer and wine



Wheelchair accessible



We don’t typically use the expression “start-up” when talking about restaurants — the phrase belongs to Techtopia and implies, at least to me, oceans of venture capital and huge salaries for people who run companies that don’t make money. But if we did, Straw would be an ideal one. It’s the sort of place one saw quite a few of in the early to mid 1990s, in that interval between the disasters of stock-market-crash-earthquake-war-fire and the start of the first tech boom. In that moment, people seemed to feel a renewed sense of optimism but didn’t have pots of money. The result was a sequence of new restaurants offering superior food, high value, and modest (sometimes DIY) décor. If you couldn’t afford to have Cass Calder Smith design your dining room, you could still somehow let it be known, through the medium of unprepossessingness, that you were reserving your best efforts for the food and service.

Straw, in this important sense, feels like a throwback from 1995. The restaurant (which opened in January) is small and slightly scruffy and is in an old building — a small oddity along Octavia Boulevard, which is newness itself and has been the occasion for all sorts of fresh construction in the past few years. The white walls, slightly scuffed, are hung with carnival posters, and some of the window seating seems to have been salvaged from a ride at a state fair somewhere. We haven’t had a place like this in more than a decade, I don’t think, not since the days when 3 Ring tried to make its circus theme fly in the old Val 21 space (now Dosa) on Valencia.

What kind of food would you expect to find at a carnival? Straw does provide some witty answers to this question, but the menu ranges gracefully beyond the obvious, which is to say the fried. Still, the fried stuff is good — a basket of little corn dogs ($7.75) made of Niman Ranch beef and looking like batter-fried musket balls. These were wonderfully crisp and juicy, and the trio of dipping sauces — nacho cheese, spicy ketchup, and ranch dressing — each had a strong enough personality to make them distinct, one from the others. The prawn ceviche ($7.75), boldly seasoned with habanero, lime, cilantro, and red pepper was presented in a fried tortilla cup, the kind tortilla salads come in, along with some tortilla chips on the side. These turned out to be good for dispensing with the last of the corndog sauces.

But not everything is fried, and the kitchen helps itself to a wide variety of influences. Grilled cobs of corn ($4) sprinkled with feta cheese, cayenne, and chili powder and presented with fresh lime and what the menu calls, with charming redundancy, “garlic aioli,” seemed to have Mexican roots, while the mac ‘n’ cheese ($5), fortified with bacon and slices of apple (an excellent idea) was a nice little crock of Americana.

The menu is also vegetarian-friendly — and not just in the small dishes, though quite a few of those are meatless, among them the tomato soup, pretzel bites, and several of the salads. An entrée called samba on subuco ($12), festively joined chunks of butternut squash and eggplant in a slightly sweet (but not cloying) coconut-milk curry broth reminiscent of many a hormak talay in Thai restaurants. This dish succeeded for me, despite the eggplant, which managed to be both rubbery and mushy.

Places are found for flesh too, often cleverly. We were particularly impressed by the satchemo ($15), a bed of creamy white grits carefully inlaid with sautéed prawns, leaves of linguiça, and green filet beans. Apart from being flavorful and well-balanced, the dish was beautiful to look at: like a tile taken from the palace of an Ottoman pasha.

I was a little less impressed with the picadilly ($14.75), if only because I wonder if a fish as marvelous as ahi tuna needs to be turned into fish sticks. Ahi, like beef, can stand on its own and is generally best when standing on its own. It doesn’t take all that kindly to elaborate treatments and back-room, hardball techniques like breading and frying. Doing that to a nice piece of ahi is a little like getting out your best lead crystal to serve some Diet Coke. The accompanying mayonnaise was astounding, however.

No carnival would be complete without a root beer float, and Straw offers a nice one ($5.50), made with root beer gelato and served with a straw (!)— not exactly radical ideas but sound ones. The more radical idea was laying little sticks of candied bacon atop an almost impossibly creamy peanut butter pie ($6) in a chocolate crust. Peanut butter and chocolate are one of sweetdom’s divine combinations (also totally New World), and I’d never heard the pair were looking for a third, certainly not pork. The truth is that the pie would have been fine without it. But the meat brought a bit of salty-sweet chewiness for contrast, and the result was better than fair.


Dinner: Mon.-Sat., 5-10 p.m.; Sun., 5-9 p.m.

Brunch: Sat.-Sun., 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

203 Octavia, SF

(415) 431-3663

Full bar



Wheelchair accessible




DINE In the little gathering of restaurants on the 200 block of California Street deep in the Financial District, Perbacco is one of the middle children, at least physically. Mid-block positions can be awkward for restaurants, since your would-be customers are likely to have to do a bit of searching for you instead of finding you in mighty command of some conspicuous corner. On the other hand, if your nearest neighbors are Michael Mina (née Aqua) and Tadich Grill, the foot-traffic factor could tilt in your favor.

Perbacco, which turns five later this year, is relatively narrow and deep, which is not atypical of mid-block spaces. Within those friendly confines it does offer a few points of topographical interest, including a mezzanine and, at the very rear, an open kitchen that redefines “open kitchen”: a kitchen so open that it has no physical barrier or marker to separate it from the rest of the restaurant. It reminded me in an odd way of those federal prisons without fences — the so-called Club Feds — where Michael Millken and the other high-finance hucksters of the 1980s did their time. It was odd to glance back there and see young chefs just milling around. Even in a star-struck culture like ours, there can be such a thing as overexposure.

It would also be fair to say that the design scheme emphasizes earth tones.

“It’s brown in here” was a pithy observation that reached me from the pithy observer across the table. Some cream tones too, yes, but still. One imagines that the grand men’s clubs of old London, White’s, and the Atheneum, among others, must look something like this inside, not that I’ve ever managed a peek.

If you’ve been to Italy, particularly in the north, you’ll probably agree that Italians eat more meat than is generally supposed, and in this sense, chef-owner Staffan Terje’s menu does reflect a profound Italian aesthetic. (Its principal influences are from the northern regions of Piemonte and Liguria.) The kitchen turns out its own salumi, and an $18 plate of it (the small version) is most impressive in range, flavor, and sheer heft. If you open with this, you should plan accordingly for what you want to follow, because you don’t just get a couple of crostini smeared with paté and some cornichons. You get, instead, a sizable plate dizzyingly arrayed with such treats as testa in cassetta di Gavi, pancetta, several types each of lardo and salame, and — for a bit of crunchy acid — a bouquet of pickled cauliflower florets.

The passion for meat, in particular for cured meat, even insinuated itself into the salads, where we found a witty reimagining of the classic cantaloupe with prosciutto in the form of ripe peach slices ($12) set amid baby lettuces with flaps of smoked goose breast that could easily have passed for speck or pancetta affogata except for their color, which was more of a telltale red. The salad was dressed with a stone-fruit vinaigrette, but this salad was that rare thing, a salad that, laden with juicy ripe fruit and pungent flesh, would have been fine with no dressing at all.

Yet more meat turned up in the pasta courses (many interesting and unusual shapes here), in the form of short-rib ragu ladled over pappardelle ($17), the wide ribbons that look like fledgling lasagne. The ragu was intensely earthy, and horseradish shavings brought some bite, but I did question the addition of a roasted cipolline confit, whose almost jelly-like texture and sweetness seemed to me to disrupt the harmony of the dish. So much of the brilliance of Italian cooking has to do with simplicity — i.e., resisting the temptation to add ingredients and omitting them instead — and this dish would have been better with no onion confit.

Actual short ribs ($24) were also available, cooked long and slow (stracotto is the Italian word), given a bone-marrow crust (rich!), and plated with pea tendrils, chanterelle mushrooms, and more cipolline onions, which for some reason did not wreak the havoc here they did with the pasta and actually might have helped balance the richness of the bone marrow.

The dessert menu, like its savory counterpart, reflects a surprisingly friendly pricing scheme. Everything is $8, except for the sorbetti ($7) and the panforte ($3). And the preparations are complex enough so that you feel you’re actually getting more than one thing. For example, a strawberry semifreddo (a flat pink disk with the consistency of sherbet kept in a too-cold freezer) was festooned with crumbles of pistachio cake and tumbles of zabaglione, the marvelous — and marvelously simple — concoction of egg yolks whipped in a bain marie with sugar and some kind of sweet wine, usually marsala, but flat champagne works well, too. The zabaglione had a faint green sheen; had it been doctored with pistachios, like the cake? Pink plus green beats brown every time.


Dinner: Mon.-Sat., 5:30-10 p.m.

Lunch: Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

230 California, SF

(415) 955-0663

Full bar



Wheelchair accessible

Los Yaquis


DINE Los Yaquis is easy to find: It’s just steps from los Audis, those gleaming iron horses sitting in their well-lighted lots at the corner of 14th and South Van Ness streets, waiting for people with sacksful of cash to come along and buy them. Window-shopping for cars that cost $40,000 used — and up, plus tax — does make one hungry and slightly value sensitive. In this sense, Los Yaquis couldn’t be better-situated. The restaurant serves quite a few Salvadoran dishes (it was a Salvadoran spot before changing hands two years ago), but its name refers (paradoxically, I thought) to an ancient Indian tribe of the Sonora desert in northern Mexico. The owners, the brothers Sammy and Chava Aguirre, are from Jalisco, in southwest Mexico, and the restaurant’s name turns out to be a family reference to their father.

As a reminder that this part of the city has not always been absolutely fabulous, the windows are lined with iron bars, which give a certain jailhouse cast if you happen to glance toward the street. I haven’t seen fortifications of this sort since I was last at Pauline’s Pizza, a few blocks west on 14th. But that was years ago, along a Valencia Street that has ceased to exist several times over. These days Valencia seems increasingly done over with plate glass. I wonder if this trend will migrate east.

Inside, the ruddy good cheer of a beer hall obtains. And speaking of that: the restaurant offers Corona beer brewed in and imported from Mexico, which is different from the brewed-under-license stuff you typically find around here. The bottle is of brown glass, opaque and etched, and is available in a near-liter size ($12) that looks like a piece of ordnance ready to be loaded into the magazine of a warship. Beer is not usually presented in shareable form, but in this case, sharing should be given careful consideration — if you actually reached bottom, you would want to hand off the Audi keys to someone else.

In homey little spots, one looks for the unusual amid a raft of familiar faces. I had never before come across loroco, for instance, an edible flower that figures in Salvadoran cooking. When I think of edible flowers, I think first of nasturtiums, which are really more edible colors than flavors, or of perfumy lavender. Loroco resembles neither of these; even worked into an expansive pupusa ($2) with cheese, it revealed a peppery, slightly acidic bite. It also wasn’t much to look at — a muddy green, like okra. The spinach-filled pupusa ($2) also had a theme of green, but it was a more luxurious, creamy, liquid sort. And for no green at all, how about good old beans and cheese ($2)? The pupusas are made from white masa and are about as big around as a hamburger bun. Two or three would make a real meal.

The kitchen is also proud of its fried tacos ($7), which come bundled in groups of five, like a litter of puppies. They’re filled with shredded beef, topped with shredded green cabbage, sour cream, and your choice of delicacies, among them head cheese, pig skin, pig’s ears, cactus, and carrot. Quail’s eggs were an elegant thumbnail size, and a kind of ivory white stippled with blue; they looked like bits that had dropped from an example of gorgonzola statuary. To me they tasted like hard-boiled eggs, with the advantage that, because they were bite-sized, they were gone quickly. It was like doing egg shots. A couple of the other finishers, white cheese and avocado, were testament to the limits of adventurousness, but there is a reason these foods are perennially popular.

One of the most striking dishes on the menu is the fish soup ($12.95). Fish definitely means fish in this instance; we turned up a dorsal fin and a tail, each still sheathed in glossy black skin, along with several steaks — i.e. pieces of the creature cut crosswise. There was, thankfully, no head. The flesh had the look and texture of halibut, but the skin was wrong. According to our voluble server, it was catfish, which in my experience tends to turn up as filets, like its farmed river-fish relation, tilapia.

The broth was intense (and housemade), and floating in it, amid the dramatic piscine debris, were bits of tomato and carrot and, for extra color, shreds of spinach. The soup was presented with fresh-made tortillas, still warm in their little plastic flying saucer. Of course they were sublime, but also useless with respect to soup. We dunked, with unimpressive results. A bowl of rice — Spanish rice, plain rice — would have had a better sop factor. As for the tortillas: they would have been better with butter. What isn’t?


Mon.–Thurs., 9 a.m.–8 p.m.; Fri., 8 a.m.–9 p.m.;

Sat.–Sun., 7 a.m.–9 p.m.

324 South Van Ness, SF

(415) 252-8204

Beer and wine


Somewhat noisy

Wheelchair accessible


Criolla Kitchen


DINE The soft bigotry of low expectations — one of those marvelous phrases dreamed up by George W. Bush’s hardworking speechwriters, who fed him their words the way you would put junk mail through a shredder — was on my mind recently when I walked into Criolla Kitchen, which earlier this spring replaced Bagdad Cafe at the corner of Market and Sanchez streets. My expectations were low. Why? Because Bagdad Cafe was the last titan of mediocre 24-hour gay diners in the Castro. Oh, it had its charms, and it had been there forever, but people weren’t piling in for the food.

Still, when the old soldier mustered out at the end of March, I felt a pang, because it was one of the last memories of what the Castro once had been — for that matter of what this city had once been. And when I learned that it was to be replaced by a restaurant serving Creole food, I thought: eh. Bagdad Cafe, for all its winsome qualities, did leave the premises with the bar set on the low side food-wise, and Louisiana cooking has never been particularly well-represented here.

But: the man behind Criolla Kitchen is Randy Lewis, late of Mecca, Le Club, and other distinguished kitchens, so more optimism might have been warranted. Lewis’ food is brightly seasoned, full of life, and reasonably priced, while the setting — a triangle of light, a slice of glass pie with a flower stall on the sidewalk outside for color — recalls an early edition of Zuni Cafe.

It’s always seemed right to me, in a wistful sort of way, that we don’t have particularly distinguished Louisiana food here. This isn’t Louisiana, after all; if you want good Louisiana cooking, you should go there. The Cajun and Creole culinary traditions of the Mississippi delta are an authentic cuisine, a blend of French, Spanish, Caribbean, and African influences quite different from those that make up our own, also authentic — and distinctive — style.

The delta style is a little brighter and more pointed than ours — more Matisse than Monet — and because I am personally fond of extroverted food rendered in primary colors, I found myself bewitched by Criolla Kitchen. There is a lot of fried stuff on the menu, and why Southerners like to fry things so much remains a mystery to me. But they do it well, and it does taste good. I’ve heard people fret endlessly about eating too much of it, but I’ve never heard them say they don’t like it.

Besides, if you want hush puppies ($5.90), like little fried corn dogs except with shrimp inside, you can balance your account with the likes of the mirliton salad ($5.90). Mirliton is a cross between a cucumber and a pepper, and has a cool crunch and refreshing quality you might associate with sorbet. The salad was enriched with slices of ripe, creamy avocado, then lighted up with a well-balanced vinaigrette of lemon and cumin. As for the hush puppies, you dip them in a pickle rémoulade, a modified mayonnaise that’s a lot like what the French call sauce gribiche. It’s rich, but with enough acidity to make at least a slight dent in the hush puppy fattiness.

The ribs ($18.90), we were told, were slow-barbecued at an undisclosed location in the East Bay. I found them flavorful but slightly dry. The barbecue sauce on the side, on the other hand, had a pepperiness far more assertive than is typical of the commercially available stuff, which tends to be sweet and thick even if with some kick. This sauce was taut and lean, with low body fat. We also admired the accompanying sides of coleslaw (tangy, not sweet, and with long threads of green cabbage) and potato salad, made from smashed new potatoes and sober, direct mayonnaise. The importance of good mayonnaise in this kind of cooking can’t be overstated; it also made the difference (along with a tangy-fresh baguette) in the shrimp po’boy ($10.90).

All the juiciness absent from the ribs turned up in the fried chicken ($12.90), a full half-bird served with red beans and rice. Even the breast meat was juicy, while the skin and the artfully seasoned batter had fused into a shell that was an experience unto itself — almost like shards of savory candy.

Dessert could only be pecan pie ($3.90), which was not at all cloying and for that matter didn’t even really resemble a slice of pie — more a kind of crumble, with chunks and bits of pastry everywhere. We didn’t mind, but … is there such a thing as a pie shredder?


Dinner: Sun..–Thurs., 6–11 p.m.;

Fri.–Sat., 6 p.m.–midnight

Brunch: Sat.–Sun., 10:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.

2295 Market, SF

(415) 552-5811

Beer and wine



Wheelchair accessible


Zero Zero


DINE Our recent bout of pizza chic was bound to reach some sort of apex sooner or later, like all fevers, and it now appears to have done so at Zero Zero, the Bruce Hill endeavor that opened last summer in the old Azie space adjoining LuLu. The name refers to a vaunted Neapolitan flour used to make pizza dough, but it also seems to suggest the turn of the millennium, with its near-5,000 Nasdaq and the reinvention of SoMa as the urban version of Silicon Valley. If you’d gone to sleep about 10 years ago and were just now waking up, you probably wouldn’t think much had changed, except that pizza had become very grand indeed during your little nap.

As a pizza master, Hill has a formidable pedigree. He was the longtime chef at Oritalia, one of the city’s most interesting and innovative restaurants of the 1980s and 1990s before moving on to reinvigorate the cooking at both the Waterfront and Bix. The Zero Zero gamble is to open a pizzentric restaurant in the heart of the city’s new restaurantland instead of at its fringes, in the lower Haight (Ragazza), Dogpatch (Piccino), or Glen Park (Gialina). A major plus of the location is that a rich lode of clientele is near at hand; being upstairs at Zero Zero on a busy weekend night is a little like trying to work your way through the break room of the Abercrombie and Fitch catalog. Clearly pizza is familiar and reassuring to people who aren’t too many years past their college graduations and who are now living in SoMa’s innumerable new luxury lofts. But is pizza enough to carry a serious restaurant?

Hill has gracefully hedged his bets by laying out a menu that’s considerably broader and more sophisticated than a few tomato-red pies to be washed down with steinfuls of brew. The kitchen turns out an assortment of crudo, antipasti, and pasta plates to keep things interesting. And if you don’t want pizza at all, you can certainly get by — although you won’t find so much as a single conventional large dish. It’s little dishes, with or without pizza. Or bupkes.

We found the food beautifully conceived and presented, although several dishes struck me as being on the verge of too salty. This is odd, considering that so much restaurant food has struck me as underseasoned over the years. Whenever I come upon oversalted food in a restaurant, I find myself thinking of the young chefs-in-waiting who can often be seen in clusters on the sidewalks in front of culinary academies, puffing away at their ciggies. It is well known that smoking cigarettes dulls the sense of taste and affects the way a chef is seasoning things.

A crudo of California halibut flaps ($12.95) was presented on a narrow sushi platter, as if subtly to enhance our sense of its freshness. And it was glisteningly tender, its butteriness deepened by Fiordolio EVOO. But the promised “panzanella” was just golden-crisp croutons with salt sprinkled over the top. It is surprising how much damage even a little salt can do to delicate food. I also found too salty an otherwise marvelous salad of wild arugula ($9.50) with quarters of ultra-ripe yellow nectarine and marcona almonds. The greens, with their almost prickly freshness, could have been picked five minutes before. But the lemon vinaigrette tended toward briny. One dish we did find in good tune was expertly braised octopus ($13.95), cubed and tender and plated with Sicilian chickpea fritters that could have passed for polenta triangles, along with the wondrous weed purslane and an agrodolce (sweet-sour) sauce. There was an important clue in this dish — that saltiness is a relative phenomenon. It can be balanced.

The pizzas buck the local trend by using a slightly thicker, puffier crust. One nice feature of puffs: they blister well. Blisters suggest that the pie has been rushed to you straight from the oven, like a popover. The topping combinations are elegant and restrained; even a relatively lavish pie, the Fillmore ($15.95), with leeks, mozzarella, hen-of-the-wood mushrooms, garlic, thyme, and three cheeses (parmesan, pecorino, fontina), remained coherent, with fresh herb breath.

But Zero Zero’s best feature is probably its build-your-own-dessert option. You choose your base ($4), your ice cream ($4.95) — simple flavors but housemade — and your toppings ($1 each). Olive oil and sea salt are among them, but so is chocolate hazelnut crunch. Which would you rather have? 


Dinner: Sun.–Thurs., 5:30-10 p.m.;

Fri.–Sat., 5:30–11 p.m.

Lunch: Mon.–-Fri., noon–-2:30 p.m.

Brunch: Sat.–Sun., 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.

826 Folsom, SF

(415) 348-8800

Full bar



Wheelchair accessible




DINE Amid the restaurant babble of Ninth and Irving streets (UCSF’s answer to Harvard Square), there is one restaurant that stands out as a spot for people who already have all the degrees they’re ever going to get, and that is Pasión. The name suggests both the high energy of the place and the style of its cooking, which draws many of its influences from Latin America and, in particular, Peru. The young chef and owner José Calvo-Perez, a native San Franciscan whose father Julio launched what was to become the highly successful Fresca enterprise, describes the style as “modern Latin.”

The space was the longtime home of P.J.’s Oyster Bed (Pasión moved in late last year), and because it’s in the middle of a cluttered block, it doesn’t stand out as a physical fact as much as it does as an idea. You could walk right by without noticing it, or you might notice it but think it’s just another one of the sort of food emporia you so often find near large university campuses. But once you’re inside, you find that Pasión feels a little like Miami: twinkles and gleams here and there in the suggestively dark lighting, a sense of human warmth, a dramatic open kitchen with two faces at right angles, and a main dining area doubled around the back of the bar like a horseshoe. The restaurant is on the loud side, and no doubt that’s in large part because it’s busy. Clearly there was an unmet demand for this kind of destination in the neighborhood.

Pasión might not be that innovative — pan-Latin cooking was unexpected 10 years ago; it is less so now. Still, it can’t be a bad thing to claim descent from Fresca. Some of the more prominent signifiers of that lineage on the menu are the pollo a la brasa ($18), a beautifully roasted half-chicken with Peruvian-style spices and fine french fries, and a broad selection of ceviches.

As someone who likes ceviche without loving it, I was pleasantly surprised by the exquisiteness of the Pasión version ($10), which brought together cubes of ahi tuna and salmon, kernels of purple corn, and bits of cilantro, red onion, and yellow pepper — I haven’t seen so much color in one place since looking into a box of Crayola crayons — in a marinade softened and deepened by passion-fruit purée. Too many ceviches seem to me to be joltingly salty-sour, salt and lime being a pair of alpha ingredients that will fight if there is no mediator. (Morty Seinfeld: “You’ve gotta have a buffer zone!”) A little sugar, a little sweetness, brings a necessary balance, and all the better if the sweetness comes, as here, from a natural source, a sweet fruit, instead of a sack of C&H.

But, even in America, land of the sweet, sweetness isn’t always a good thing. The aioli that served as a dipping sauce for salt-cod fritters ($10) had been enhanced with lemon and honey (honeioli?), but for me it was too sweet and reminded me of Miracle Whip. The fritters themselves, presented in a small basket, were right at the edge of being too crisp. And yes, that is a kind of euphemism.

The duck empanadas ($10) were better, though of course they were very rich, made as they were with shreds of duck confit and smoked duck. Here the richness of the meat and the frying was moderated by a clever combination of currants and a sherry reduction — fruit to the rescue again.

Is there a good way to serve paella in a restaurant? Calvo-Perez was probably bound to try to figure one out, since he apprenticed in Spain. My thought would be to make a big, proper one every hour or so and serve portions of it, but Pasión appears to follow a made-to-order model. The kitchen’s vegetarian version, called arroz verde ($18), was made with cilantro rice and did have a green sheen, but it was as much gray as green, and this wasn’t reassuring. The dish, although presented in a small, cast-iron paella pan, lacked the crust of caramelized rice you hope will form on the bottom. It was also afflicted by a bitterness we finally traced to large chunks of celery, lurking in the murk like alligators in a bog among the green peas, shiitake mushrooms, pickled carrots, and green beans. It also featured an abundance of red onion slivers, which were methodically plucked out (not by me), like bits of shrapnel being removed from a wounded soldier. Obviously some people feel passionately about raw red onions.


Dinner: Sun.–Thurs., 5–10 p.m.;

Fri.–Sat., 5–11 p.m.

Brunch: Sat.–Sun., 10 a.m.–3 p.m.

737 Irving, SF

(415) 742-5727

Full bar



Wheelchair accessible


Alexander’s Steakhouse


DINE “This doesn’t really look like a steakhouse,” a friend said recently while scanning the ambience of Alexander’s Steakhouse, which opened last fall in the fabulous Bacar space. Since Alexander’s isn’t an ordinary steakhouse, it’s probably okay that it doesn’t look like one. It’s probably additionally okay that it still looks more or less like Bacar: old brick, gleaming copper and chrome, a vault-like spaciousness, the wall of translucent glass cells in which bottles of wine are stored as if by giant oenophile bees. Even the lounge below decks is still there; it’s is a peaceful haven from the tumult upstairs, with its noticeable Hooters atmospherics.

The central novelty of Alexander’s (the original is in San Jose) is the sensibility of the chef, Jeffrey Stout, whose culinary poles are Japan and France. In this respect the kitchen’s nearest relation in town is probably 5A5, the splendid Asian-inflected steakhouse in the Barbary Coast. Stout’s wrinkle is to swirl some Gallic seasoning into the pot. And while most of the food’s cues seem to be taken from east Asia, the kitchen does turn out such sly treats as truffled french fries ($12 for a good-sized stack). As someone who’s not wild about truffles, despite or because of their expensive exclusivity, I was surprised to find this was an effective idea, with the earthy taste and scent of the truffles neatly nested in the crunchy, all-American bonhomie of the potatoes. Americanness isn’t a neglected theme here, either, incidentally, from Maine lobster to a credible salad of iceberg lettuce ($10), with Point Reyes blue cheese, a fine dice of smoked bacon, and a tangy buttermilk dressing I thought to describe as “ranch.”

“Please don’t call it ranch,” a voice across the table implored. Well, okay, but that’s what it was. Next to the lettuce wedge sat cubes of candied applewood smoked bacon ($5), like a stack of miniature bricks. In their meatiness they could easily have passed for Canadian bacon.

For a steakhouse, there’s a surprising amount of seafood, including Kusshi oysters ($4 each) and hamachi shots ($4 each), cubes of fish served like ceviche in martini glasses with an electric ensemble of chile coins, ginger, and truffled ponzu sauce. There was also, one evening, a main dish of halibut ($34), a perfectly nice filet that had a length of chicken skin roasted onto it. This wasn’t quite a bad idea, but it wasn’t a good one, either. Chicken skin would in theory provide some chicken fat, which is full of flavor and moistness, important considerations when dealing with fish. But halibut is a hardy fish that stands up well to chefly handling, and the chicken skin turned ornery in the roasting, like gum stuck to the bottom of a shoe. Worst of all, the fish seemed to have dried out a bit during its time in the kitchen — not fatally, but still.

Well, you’re thinking, what fool orders fish at a steakhouse? The point of such a place must be the beef, and what grander beef is there than prime rib? Alexander’s offers it in two sizes: 14 ounces ($38) or 20 ounces ($42), the 20-ouncer seeming almost big enough to have been pulled from its own Cryovac pack. The meat, we were told, had been slow-roasted for hours and were presented with jus and a trio of horseradish creams.

(The service, incidentally, must be the among the wordiest in the city. Each item is described at length, with the particulars flying at you like buckshot. Complicating matters is the noisiness of the place, which is like being in the pit of the New York Stock Exchange when full and can make some of the servers hard to understand. I saw lips moving, I heard sounds, but I could not piece together a narrative. Like Woody Allen in Annie Hall, I nodded, smiled, and hoped for the best.)

The beef looked splendid — rather on the purplish, rare side, but that was fine. It was also tough. This was a new prime-rib experience for me; in the past it’s always been tender, if not quite butter-like. Alexander’s meat had a good, rich flavor, but it was hard to separate flavor from texture when texture was calling attention to itself. I’ve often roasted my own prime rib at the holidays, but I’ve never had it show this kind of obstinacy.

Pastry chef Dan Huynh’s dessert menu is littered with French terms (financier, crème brûlée), along with something called “dark dimensions” ($12) that sounded like an episode of The Twilight Zone but turned out to be a miniature playground of chocolate, including logs of malted chocolate ice cream and a small bowl of popcorn. All was tender.


Dinner: Mon.–Sat., 5:30–10 p.m.;

Sun., 5:30–9 p.m.

448 Brannan, SF

(415) 495-1111

Full bar



Wheelchair accessible




DINE It’s a competitive era in restaurant light fixtures, and this must be in part because light fixtures are one of the few levers designers can push to create a flourish. As with men’s clothing (blue suit, gray suit, white shirt, blue shirt, brown shoes, black shoes?), restaurant design is largely a function of restraints and requirements, with few chances to have a bit of fun. Light fixtures, like neckties, offer a chance to add some pizzazz and style while also being useful.

Of all the amusing and witty light fixtures I’ve seen in the past few years, none compare with those at Morph, a pan-Asian spot that opened about a year ago in the outer Richmond. Dangling from long cords under a high ceiling is a line of what look a lot like iPhones, each with a glowing screen that displays a skeletal image of … a light bulb.

The restaurant’s other design cues are similarly up-to-date and clever (Chef/owner, Thiti Tanrapan, is also an architect). High on the rear wall hang several flat panels displaying electronic art, along with an innovative calendar that gives the exact date and time, down to the second, in shifting red words. Other walls are lined with patterns of wafer-like tiles that resemble bits of a Roman ruin reimagined as computer animation. There is an elegant chill to this look, as to a well-made martini; it’s fun without quite being friendly.

Luckily, the food provides considerable cheer. The menu seems to have accepted suggestions from wide swaths of east and south Asia, but its heart lies somewhere along the Bay of Bengal. To emphasize this point, a pair of lovely coconut-milk curries, yellow and green, pop up here and there, in full-fledge main dishes (with salmon, chicken, and tofu) and as dipping sauces for paratha ($6). The yellow is the sweeter and milder-tempered of the two, while the green packs more of a salty heat kick.

Hand rolls are something you often see in sushi bars, but here ($7 for three) the colorful cones (of soy sheets, pink, yellow, and green) enclose cubes of pork, along with beets, carrots, lettuce, mint, egg, and tamarind sauce. They’re like reinvented spring rolls.

Although I’ve long maintained that lobster is overrated and crab gives better value (and might even be preferable), I think soft-shell crab is as overrated in its way as lobster. And it isn’t local, being mainly a product of the Atlantic and gulf coasts. Still, it can be good, especially when, as here ($10), it was given a tempura batter and deep-fried so that, like a french fry, it was golden-crisp on the outside and meltingly tender within. The accompanying salad turned out to be far livelier than it appeared at first glance; beneath a bale of spring mix, we found a colorful trove of cashews, avocado chunks, and a dice of mango and red beets with a spicy vinaigrette. I wished that a little more of that vinaigrette had penetrated to this complex substratum.

A salad called 2-NA ($10) — a vanity license plate name — brought together slats of yellowfin and albacore tuna and arranged them into a disk, like a napoleon except with lateral rather than vertical layers. Eating it was a little like peeling a flattened onion. The dish’s most distinctive supplementary flavor came from rice powder, though there was also fresh mint and a lemon dressing.

Among the larger dishes, one we found especially arresting was the crispy fried rainbow trout ($16), a whole fish split open, lightly crusted, and filled like a piñata with scallops, prawns, and calamari. I hadn’t eaten anything like this since working my way through a plate of acqua pazza at the Beverly Hills Spago at least a decade ago. Morph’s version was far tastier at a fraction of the price. A whole fish often presents a small-bone problem, but here we turned up just a few splinters. To one side of the fish sat a puck of coconut-fried rice, while underneath it lay a heap of baby spinach leaves dressed with a lime vinaigrette.

The dessert menu is less distinctive, though a construction like hazelnut mousse ($6) sandwiched between rounds of chocolate sponge cake didn’t need to be a novelty to be satisfying. And, in a subtle way, struck me as a near relation, of tiramisù, the alcoholic Italian warhorse. There was no detectable alcohol in either the mousse or the sponge cake, and the dessert was the better for it.

Morph sits in the middle of a busy, cluttered block of Geary Street just west of Park Presidio, which means you might have to do some light searching for it. But once inside, you can safely set your watch.


Dinner: Mon.–Sat., 5:30–10 p.m.

Lunch: Fri.–Sun., 11:30 a.m.–4 p.m.

5344 Geary, SF

(415) 742-5093

Beer and wine

Can get noisy


Wheelchair accessible


Sushi Hunter


If there are farms in Berkeley, there’s no reason there shouldn’t be sushi in North Beach, and there is, at Sushi Hunter. And it’s not only pretty wonderful, but right near the heart of things, on the corner of the block that used to host the Washington Square Bar and Grill, or the Washbag, for any Herbalists who might still linger out there nursing their vodka gimlets and memories of the good old days.

Some years ago, while wandering around Rome, I noticed signage announcing “ristorante Giapponese” — near Trajan’s Market, no less — and wondered what that might portend. Flaps of raw carp pulled from the Tiber? Hamachi in marinara sauce? A Trajan’s Roll? Thank you, but no. When in Rome, eat as the Romans eat — and when in North Beach, do the same.

But the comparison isn’t apt. We’re much closer to Japan than the Romans are. Also, we have a cold, fresh sea practically right out the front door, and we live in a city that mixes food cultures with abandon and whose populace expects a wide variety of choices and combinations. Sushi Hunter regularly packs them in, and if you run a restaurant, that’s all the proof you need that your neighborhood likes what you’re doing.

The interior design isn’t at all what you might expect. It certainly isn’t traditional Japanese; the influences seem to be more from the 1930s and the 1960s — a kind of mod Art Deco. If you’ve ever seen period footage of the Queen Elizabeth 2 — the Cunard liner made from aluminum, launched in the late 1960s and, at least in her early years, fitted out as if for a shoot for an Austin Powers movie — you’ll have a sense of Sushi Hunter. The deep blue walls make the space seem slightly like a drained swimming pool, except for the cream-colored, padded banquettes along the bottom edges (as if certain enthusiasts, undeterred by the lack of water — and maybe tanked up a bit on vodka gimlets — might dive in anyway). A small complaint: I caught chemical whiff in the dining room one cool evening — Lysol? I love a clean swimming pool, but there are some smells, no matter how reassuring in certain contexts, that don’t belong in others, such as dining rooms.

At the heart of the menu we find a variety of wonderful rolls, as inventively named as the fanciest cocktails and richly adulterated with such deli-style delights as avocado and cream cheese. Indeed, if you swapped in a couple of slices of rye bread for the sushi rice, you would wind up with some impressive sandwiches. Double KO roll ($11), for instance, found hamachi and cucumber in a passionate embrace under a double-deck roof of salmon and strings of fried onion. At last, a deployment of fried onion (and a witty one) that didn’t result in indigestion.

Another faux-sandwich would be the 360-degree roll ($12), with hamachi reprising its role as paramour, this time to avocado, and under another double-deck roof, this one of salmon and tuna slices. That’s a lot of protein punch.

I was pleased to find albacore, or tombo tuna, turning up in the sashimi passion platter ($9), with ponzu sauce and wasabi aioli — albacore being somewhat underrated, in my view, because of its putative dearth of fattiness. It’s often taken locally, which improves the quality of any fish, and I’ve never found it to lack a sublime creaminess.

More tuna turned up in the hunter salad ($8.50), basically a seaweed salad fortified with tuna cubes and enhanced with a sweet chili dressing; and still more in the half and half ($9), a spicy tuna roll fried to a delicate crunch, topped with tuna sashimi and finished with some well-balanced ponzu.

One of the most distinctive rolls was the white tuxedo ($12), a lavish assembly — worthy of a White Party somewhere — of albacore, cream cheese, and avocado, topped by flaps of butterfish and dabs of imitation crab (i.e. surimi, an industrial purée of Alaskan pollock). Mostly I noticed the cream cheese, as a flavor and sticky texture; it engulfed and smothered everything else the way a blizzard might.

Caterpillar roll ($11) joined barbecued eel and imitation crab meat under avocado slices scattered with flying-fish eggs, but the nice touch, the distinctive touch, was laying out the roll with a gentle squiggle. In my experience, they’ve always been laid out flat, as if for an autopsy. The Alaska king roll ($11), of salmon and avocado under a tasty hail of flying-fish and salmon roe, was unsquiggled. I pictured a scepter instead, something a pope might hold. 


Mon.–Thurs., 5–10 p.m.; Fri., 5–11 p.m.

Sat. 1:30–11 p.m.; Sun. 1:30–9 p.m.

1701 Powell, SF

(415) 291-9268

Beer and wine


Noisy when busy

Wheelchair accessible


Straits Restaurant


If the archetypal American success story is, or was, the move to the bigger house in the better neighborhood, then Straits Restaurant (né Straits Cafe) is an archetypal American success. The restaurant, born late in the Reagan years in a modest corner spot in the inner Richmond, moved about five years ago to massive new digs in the Westfield Center, right in the heart of shoppers’ city. It also became a small chain, with outposts on the Peninsula and as far afield as Houston and Atlanta.

Clearly, Chris Yeo, the impresario behind Straits, does not lack for ambition. The question is what is gained at what cost in a transformation of such magnitude. Recently I stepped into Straits full of skepticism, having first had to overcome a slight wave of mallphobia. and found myself in what could have been a dimly lit soundstage where the Sex and the City folk might have been shooting one of their downtown-club scenes. There was a huge bar and an array of dramatic light fixtures dangling from the soaring ceiling as tubes of crinkled paper.

My only qualm about this handsome setting was that the homemade, slightly kitschy flavor of the original place — the lengths of corrugated iron roofing, the false façade of palm fronds — has been lost. Would you rather have a slightly out-of-round cookie that plainly has been shaped by hand, or a perfectly round one from a machine? I favor the handmade, since in our ever-more mechanized world, the hand-finished or homemade article is both a rarity and a reminder that our connections to this earth need not be mediated by machines.

What about the food? Straits for years was a great beacon of Singaporean cooking, itself an attractive blend of influences from east, south, and southeast Asia as well as Europe. And, considering that it served some of the best food in the city — and by best I mean interestingly tasty — it was very reasonably priced. A move to a huge (and surely pricey) space in a mall in the city center would have to be a dim augury.

But no! The food remains recognizable; it is vivid and it is excellent, and while prices have tended up from a decade ago, here as everywhere, they are surprisingly restrained. While some of the beef and seafood dishes do reach dizzying heights (the crab and lobster main dishes push near $40), the chicken dishes are all $14 or less — and let’s remember that because the chicken is native to southeast Asia, the region’s cuisines grew up with and around it and are tuned for it. And I was glad to see the menu still listed an old favorite, roti prata ($7), shreds of griddled Indian flatbread with a rich yellow-curry dipping sauce that had just enough fire to be interesting.

The spiciness of the food is, overall, expertly controlled. Some of the dishes supplied a strong chili kick, in particular the beef rendang ($14), cubes of stringy meat (brisket?) braised with Kaffir lime and served with a wedge of polenta whose pandan flavoring gave it a green worthy of Star Trek‘s food synthesizers. But spicy basil chicken ($12), with shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and Thai basil, was milder, almost cooling — and of a natural color — despite its red-flag name. And the wonderful mee goreng ($14), a bowl of fat egg noodles tossed with tiger prawns, tofu, cabbage, potatoes, and tomato, brought a whiff of fragrant sweetness despite, again, use of the word “spicy” on the menu card.

If you want to be absolutely sure about fire management, a salad would do the trick, maybe the lovely spinach salad ($10), a heap of baby leaves tossed with tiger prawns, crunchy toasted coconut and peanuts, lime, and a deeply fruity tamarind dressing. For striking visuals, there is no topping the Indonesian corn croquettes ($9). The fritters were less flavorful than they looked, so the matter of condiment assistance wasn’t a trivial one. With a more deeply imagined sauce, this could be an unforgettable dish, a signature.

As someone who has been to Las Vegas and lived to tell, I left Straits thinking that it could easily be in Vegas. It has the necessary scale and generic glamour; it’s affordable and good. There’s nothing not to like except that I don’t like Las Vegas, and I did like the old place in its glorified shack, where the touch of the human hand was still palpable. 



Sun.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–9 p.m.;

Fri.–Sat., 11 a.m.–10 p.m.

Westfield Center,

845 Market, Fourth Floor, SF

(415) 668-1783

Full bar



Wheelchair accessible




Grant Street is so strongly associated with Chinatown that it’s easy to forget there’s a segment of it north of Columbus. There, running along the west shoulder of Telegraph Hill, it becomes a part of — and maybe the heart of — Little Italy. In its narrowness and festive congestion, the street does come to seem Roman, and, as in Rome, it has better restaurants than the bigger, gaudier boulevard nearby. American tourists in Rome, it is said, will not leave the well-lighted thoroughfares to investigate dimmer side streets, so those thoroughfares are where you’re most likely to find rip-off joints with “turistica” menus in English.

Our own Columbus Avenue, while splendid in its way, is a kind of Fisherman’s Wharf of Italian cooking, so it’s no surprise that a restaurant like Ideale would situate itself on nearby Grant, out of sight of the hoi polloi, who are attracted to neon and other manifestations of brightness the way moths are to porch lamps. Ideale, which opened in late in the 1990s, is the kind of place you would seek out if you were in Rome; it draws the locals, and it is a curious fact of even the most touristy neighborhoods that they’re filled with locals. Locals are the fourth dimension in such one-dimensional universes.

The restaurant is bigger than it appears, because its second dining room, in the adjoining storefront, is fully separated from the main one and the entryway. And (huzzah!) its walls are hung with splendid paintings, which we supposed to be oil on stretched canvas, with impasto visible even from distant tables, like the little nubs you see in linen. There are few spectacles more discouraging to me than bare restaurant walls. The sweeps of emptiness make me think of prison, or foreclosure.

Chef Maurizio Bruschi is said to have learned to cook from his grandmother, and his style accordingly emphasizes the Italian classics, at least as those are understood in this country. Your first clue about the cooking can be found in the house-baked bread, which in true Italian fashion we found to be adequately salted. Salt makes an enormous difference in most foods, but particularly in bread, which is almost impossible to season after the fact. And Italian chefs, in my experience, aren’t afraid to salt their food. We took Bruschi’s bread to be a good omen. (Is he any relation of Tedy Bruschi? Probably not.)

Good bread implies good pizza, and Ideale’s pies are intense. (Naples is said to be the birthplace of Italian pizza, but Roman pies are reliably sensational.) We were particularly smitten with the funghi e salsiccia version ($14), which combined a crispy thin crust, a judicious ladling of well-seasoned and garlicky tomato sauce, enough mozzarella to glue things together, and a tossing of mushroom slices and bits of sausage that didn’t taste overwhelmingly of fennel — a frequent fault of Italian-style sausage as made in this country, in my view.

We noticed several effusions of fresh arugula. One thatch appeared beside the eggplant parmigiana ($11), which was baked in a crock like a little lasagna — not remarkable, but any halfway decent handling of eggplant gets at least one gold star from me. More arugula turned up with the grilled local calamari ($12), mostly tubes, nicely charred but still tender and lemony.

Risotto alla pescatore has to be, at $17.75, one of the better buys on this or any comparable menu. For one thing, it was just choked with seafood, including black mussels, clams, calamari, and prawns. For another, the rice was cooked in flavorful liquid. The menu card mentioned pinot grigio and garlic, but I suspected the presence, too, of some kind of seafood stock, whether shrimp, clam, or fish. Makers of risotto tend to be obsessed with the complex mechanics, in particular the need to stir the rice constantly for 18 minutes, and to keep the stock at a simmer as you add it cupful by cupful, so you produce the characteristic creaminess. You can make perfectly creamy risotto with plain water, then tart it up Milanese-style with butter, pepper, and parmesan. But there is nothing like cooking rice, whether arborio or some other kind, in flavorful stock or broth, as here.

The flaps of veal in saltimbocca ($23) were generously overlaid with flaps of prosciutto,, whose saltiness helped balance the sauce, a frascati wine reduction infused with rosemary. Frascati is the wonderfully fruity white wine produced in Lazio, the region around Rome — highly drinkable, but if it isn’t on the wine list, having it as a sauce isn’t a bad fallback position. The plate was finished with coins of roasted potato and asparagus tips, the pinnacle of adequacy.

Dessert: how about profiteroles ($7)? With a twist: the pastry balls were filled with pastry cream, while the vanilla ice cream (as a scoop) had to wait outside. Lots of chocolate sauce. too, just the way Nonna used to do it.


Dinner: Mon.–Thurs., 5:30–10:30 p.m.;

Fri.–Sat., 5:30–11 p.m.; Sun., 5–10 p.m.

1315 Grant, SF

(415) 391-4129

Beer and wine



Wheelchair accessible




DINE When Globe opened nearly a decade and a half ago, it almost instantly developed a reputation as the place where you could find chefs having dinner at 1 a.m., after their own places had closed. The heart of the Barbary Coast restaurant (opened by Joseph Manzare and Mary Klingbell and still run by them) was a wood-burning oven that glared out over the dining room like the Eye of Sauron, and there was a wonderful perfume of woodsmoke in the air. (I think smokiness should be added as a flavor, incidentally, to make six. For years we were stuck with sweet, salty, sour, and bitter, and than umami, or meatiness, was added. Smokiness is distinct from those five, and also quite real.)

The march of time is often cruel to restaurants, and, as someone who last stepped into Globe before Bill Clinton got himself impeached, I wondered what I would find in these later days. An insider friend, discussing a famous San Francisco restaurant with me recently at a dinner party, ended up gently dismissing it by saying, “Well, it is a 30-year-old restaurant,” as if to say that loss of freshness is inevitable. But restaurants aren’t heads of iceberg lettuce in a refrigerator, de-freshening with every tick of the clock, and Globe isn’t even 15 yet.

My first impression, on stepping inside recently, was that the place is still recognizable. The walls are of exposed brick, the floors are simple wood plank stained dark; the stairs to the private dining room and restrooms downstairs are made from plain, workmanlike steel; and the dangling light fixtures over the small bar, of glass in several colors and elongated shapes, are mildly ornamental but not garish. The look is spare, muscular, and elegant, like that of an athlete in an ancient Olympic Games, clad only in a loincloth. (Actually such an athlete would probably have been naked, but put such thoughts from your mind.)

The menu is as pared-down and purposeful as the décor. I am heartened by brief menus, even though brevity is a kind of heresy in this gassy culture, where more is always better and is preferred without question or argument. Brief means: these are the dishes the kitchen believes in. And Globe’s kitchen obviously believes in its succinct list.

The restaurant’s wood-burning oven made it an important precursor of the current pizza chic, and pizza remains a significant element of the menu. The crusts, though thin, retain a distinctive elasticity and chewiness — which means that once you get some into your mouth, it’s a complex, satisfying experience. The downsides are that such crusts can be more difficult to cut, with slices sticking together, and the points can suffer from droopiness. Drooping pizza points remind me of the ears of a dog who’s just been chastised for some offense he doesn’t quite understand. We found the gambori mushroom pie ($16), boosted by white truffle oil, to be powerfully earthy, although the tomato sauce could have used a bit more salt.

Tuna tartare ($15) combined coarsely chopped fish with scallions, wonderfully peppery Genovese basil, and olive oil. The tartare was served with oily levain toasts and an Easter egg of black-olive tapenade, which provided a necessary correction of salt (and umami). We did think the macaroni and cheese ($8), made with Tillamook cheese — is that a selling point? — was good but not up to snuff, the bar having been raised sharply in the past few years. The best versions of mac ‘n’ cheese now use unusual pasta shapes, more intricate blends of cheeses, additions of fortifying and flavor-enhancing ingredients, and often a bread-crumb gratin. A gratin alone here would have made a big difference.

Several of the main courses offered an attractive char. A filet of wild coho salmon ($22) was laid atop a bed of boccacino pasta, with braised rapini, aglio e olio, and salsa verde — a Globe classic. One small niggle: the pasta, long fat tubes like bucatini on steroids, was awkward to eat gracefully. More user-friendly was the Cornish game hen ($21). The little bird seemed to have been largely boned out, and was plated atop a marvelous green garlic risotto that was not only beautifully cooked and seasoned but as bright a green as spring itself.

Only in the desserts did I detect any sign of fatigue and disengagement. A slice of amaretto cheesecake ($8) was quite good, very intense with almond and just sweet enough to win the day, but the apple tart ($8) could have used a serious rethink. The idea seemed to have been to deconstruct it, with apple slices laid on what looked like a napkin of pastry and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The glory of apple tarts is the melding of caramelized apple with nicely crisped pastry; here the pastry was sepulchral, the apples not caramelized. It was the flat-earth version, in need of some roundedness. 


Dinner: Mon.–Sat., 6 p.m.–1 a.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.–midnight

Lunch: Mon.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.

290 Pacific, SF

(415) 391-4132

Full bar



Wheelchair accessible




DINE In my whizzings past Laurel Village over the years, I did notice that Miz Brown’s Feed Bag, so conspicuous and inviting at the far northeastern corner of the complex that I never went there, vanished at some point. (In 2004, to be precise.) It became Cafe Lo Cubano, which I also never got to — you can’t go home again, said Thomas Wolfe, and you also can’t go to every place, though some do try — and then that too vanished. For the past two years the space has been occupied by Beautifull, a venture in tasty-healthy food that is, in its way, a feed bag for our time. (There’s a second location in the inner Sunset, with a third opening soon in the Castro.)

The transition from Lo Cubano to Beautifull seems to have been a good deal less eventful. The space is shiny and modern, with handsome chairs that combine brushed steel and butterscotchy, Scandinavian-looking wood. We are a long way from Miz Brown’s famous orange vinyl, and the question is, Who is going to pay for all these splendid aesthetics?

Beautifull assumes (as does Whole Foods) that modern urban people are interested in flavorful, healthful, and varied food that can be got in a hurry and either taken away or eaten in non-kitschy surroundings, and that they are willing to pay for these benefits. This is not the place to be pining for your Jumbo Jack with curly fries for $3.99. For that kind of money, you’ll have to settle for the polenta fries, which are better for you anyway. They’re $4.99, with chipotle ketchup.

The food takes cues from a variety of the world’s cuisines — quinoa, spaghetti and meat balls, chocolate-chip cookies, a Moroccan chicken bowl — but the heart of the menu is Asian. There is a selection of Vietnamese-style bowls, a variety of curries, and salads of Thai, Chinese, and Vietnamese provenance, along with a good old caesar. What was more heartening, to me, was the clever use of turkey. Turkey is a true native American food whose greatest misfortune was to be typecast as Thanksgiving dinner. People have a hard time seeing around that, just as they had a hard time seeing William Shatner as anything but Captain Kirk, at least until he started doing those Priceline spots.

Turkey is flexible and wonderful. It’s used in a turkey burger, in the meatballs for the spaghetti and meatballs, and — rather unexpectedly — in a mild but solid red curry ($11.99/lb.) The great issue with the flesh, particularly from the breast, is its tendency to dry out, but when it was bathed in a luxurious coconut-milk broth (and cut into small pieces for faster cooking), it was fine.

We thought it was better than the slightly pricier beef red curry ($12.99). The beef was tougher, and its flavor fought more against the curry. Beef needs little to no help in the matter of flavor and isn’t always gracious about accepting such help. Neither red curry looked especially red, incidentally; the color was more ochre, almost yellow, and indeed these could have been passed off as yellow curries.

Roast chicken ($11.99 including two sides) was wonderful, with nicely crisped skin and juicy flesh. But we ended up with a single piece, a whole leg, which might have counted as two pieces if the thigh and drumstick had been separated, but they would have been small. The black quinoa salad on the side was striking to look at, with a gloss reminiscent of beluga lentils, and the “zesty” citrus vinaigrette was serviceable. Mildness rules the day here. You could serve the zesty salad dressing to your grandmother, and the curries are tame enough to feed to a baby. This is fine. But if, like me, you like food with a measurable flame factor, you should adjust your expectations accordingly.

The mac ‘n’ cheese was served cold, though it was still creamy and hadn’t congealed. It’s the kind of thing you’d eat with a deep sense of gratitude if, brutally hung over, you found it in the refrigerator one Sunday morning. You’d thank the Almighty for remembering you at all, and you wouldn’t quibble about a small matter like temperature. Still, it would be better warm. The pasta is whole-grain: a plus.

Ordering is complex, with a murk of choices, options, and pricing plans. It’s like struggling at the podium of a budget airline — check this, carry that, headphones? By the time you’re done, you need a glass of sauvignon blanc ($5), to settle down. It wasn’t Sancerre but it wasn’t bad, either. Getting anything here for $5 is beautiful. But that’s our brave new world.


Daily: 10 a.m.–8:30 p.m.

3401 California, SF

(415) 728-9080

Wine and beer


Somewhat noisy

Wheelchair accessible


Fondue Cowboy


The word “cowboy” has carried its share of evocative adjectives over the years — midnight, urban, lonesome (yet do we really believe that an urban cowboy would be lonesome at midnight?) — but fondue is unexpected. In part this must be because fondue itself is slightly unexpected in these parts. Our best-known fondue restaurant, Matterhorn, is something of a Swiss period piece, and whatever else Fondue Cowboy might be, it certainly isn’t that. The place, which opened early last summer in a SoMa spot that had been an Extreme Pizza outlet, is surprisingly light on the Wild West kitsch you might expect to find inside. Indeed, there is virtually none, other than the black-and-white cowboy movies playing silently on the flat-screen behind the bar. The crowd is interestingly mixed, if not quite emulsified: groups of shrieking (and apparently heterosexual) 30-ish people, along with dottings of young gay men, heavy of bicep, who look as if they might have just stepped off the set of Cruising, William Friedkin’s dark cinematic ode to life in Manhattan’s meatpacking district circa 1980.

What binds these disparate elements is fondue, whether melted cheese or chocolate. Fondue should probably be more popular than it is; for shareability and participation, it’s hard to beat. And because the dunkables are brought to you almost in mis en place form, you get a good, close look at what you’re about to eat. In these respects, Fondue Cowboy shares some ancestry with Matterhorn — but in the execution, the new place goes its own way. A lot of its distinctiveness has to do with the cheese blends in the savory fondues (all $20 for two). They’re given atmospheric names — Desperado, Quick Draw, Rawhide — and are seasoned accordingly, with real Southwestern verve. For traditionalists, there is the Traditional, of Gruyère and Emmenthaler cheeses, white wine, roasted garlic, and nutmeg. More typical of the Fondue Cowboy experience is the Outlaw, which begins with cheddar cheese and adds beer, roasted tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, and jalapeños.

The presentation turned out to be not entirely unlike that of a queso fundido, with the seasoned cheese bubbling in its little cast-iron chafing pot above a blue Sterno flame. But whereas queso fundido is generally accompanied just by tortillas, the Outlaw turned up with an impressive ensemble of bite-sized items ready for dipping: baguette squares, roasted fingerling potato, broccoli florets, black grapes, black olives, cornichons, and green apple. A modest surcharge of $8 brought a sizable plate of sausage coins, spicy Louisiana edition. The coins were delicious, whether dipped in the melted cheese or eaten straight, and they compared favorably with chorizo, the Mexican sausage that has made many a queso fundido memorable.

The brief menu does offer a few other items, mostly salads, such as white bean ($8), a jumble of mixed baby greens, pickled red onions, red and orange pepper julienne, shredded black olives, and plenty of the advertised white beans. The dressing: an extroverted red-wine vinaigrette that glistened like morning dew on the greens. I would have liked a little more sugar for balance in the dressing, since sourness and saltiness were already strongly represented by the onions and olives. A vinaigrette is a bar stool, and a bar stool needs three legs, the third — and sometimes neglected — leg being sugar in some form.

Speaking of sugar: the marvelous Happy Trails ($18 for two), the dark-chocolate dessert fondue, was notable at least as much for its cayenne kick as for its sweetness. Of sweetness, it had just enough, and of kick, it had .. just enough. I have eaten chili-infused chocolate before, but never did I find it sublime, as I did here. Maybe this had to do with the chocolate being molten. Or maybe it had to do with the supporting cast, a rich array of fruit (kiwi, strawberries, banana), along with baked goods (pieces of madeleine and squares of chocolate-cherry cake) from nearby Pinkie’s, and — for the final festive touch — slivers of marshmallow. Roasting marshmallows over embers in a Weber kettle was one of the great treats of childhood — maybe something that actual cowboys might have done — but dipping them in pepper-charged melted dark chocolate, in a handsome urban restaurant far from midnight, turned out to be a fine alternative.


Dinner: Tues.–Sun., 5–10 p.m.

1052 Folsom, SF

(415) 431-5100

Beer and wine



Wheelchair accessible


A Beirut festival


DINE Mazzat used to be a deli, and some of the badges and incidents of deli-hood remain — mostly the glass cases, full of delectables, that run deep into the restaurant like a half-wall. The neighborhood setting is unusual. The old Central Freeway used to run almost directly overhead as a kind of hellish roof of concrete, but it’s gone now, leaving — across the street — a large gap with an improvised garden: an open wound that’s slowly healing. The setting reminds me of Prenzlauer Berg, an area of what was once East Berlin, with weedy emptiness and the memory of damage just steps away from gleaming renewal.

Mazzat (which opened in December in the old Apollo Market & Deli space) does gleam. With its rather formal look — of polished dark wood and taupe paint, inverted tulip lamps, white linen tablecloths, and a handsome wooden wine rack at the rear of the narrow dining room — it belongs in spirit to the renewed heart of Hayes Valley rather than to the whitewater river of traffic surging along Fell Street past the restaurant’s front door. It also implies much higher prices than those you actually find, with the majority of items — the menu is Lebanese — under $10, and in many cases well under $10. You can enjoy a brilliant feast at Mazzat and still find yourself looking at surprisingly reasonable number at the end.

The menu includes quite a few choices you would expect to find throughout the eastern Mediterranean, including dolma, tabbouleh, and baba ghanoush. The hummus ($5), served in a slanted oval bowl, was wonderful, with its potentially overbearing constituents, including garlic, lemon, and tahini (which can be quite bitter) held in a proper balance. On the side came warm pita triangles in a bottomless basket. Even better was the yogurt-cucumber dish known in Greece as tzatziki ($5); it tasted as if it had been made with whole-milk yogurt, which has a velvety quality its more gelatinous low-fat cousins can’t match.

The Lebanese salad fattoush ($8) is something of an analog to the Italian bread salad panzanella, in that each is a way of making use of stale bread. In fattoush, the bread is pita, and at Mazzat, the toasted pita chunks were tossed with shreds of romaine, chopped red pepper, and bits of cucumber. It was as if a panzanella had collided with a caesar salad and the result given a tangy-sweet dressing.

Also slightly sweet were the meat pies ($6 for four), pastry rosettes filled with chopped beef that had been simmered with onion and tomato. I would have liked the filling a little better if it had been a bit less sweet and more savory (onion has surprising sweetening power, almost like carrot, when cooked enough), but it was easy to balance the sweetness with a hit of tzatziki.

On the savory-verging-on-salty part of the spectrum, there is the halloumi cheese ($4), presented as a quartet of fried chips with a slight softness and rubberiness inside. Halloumi is a Cypriot cheese, typically made with blend of cow and sheep milk, and this halloumi did indeed seem like a well-trained feta, with some of the pungency and saltiness nicely muted by the cow milk. If you like saganaki (the Greek cheese that gets doused with brandy and set on fire tableside) and can live with less theatrics, you’ll like the halloumi.

There was a divergence of views on the chicken shawerma wrap ($8), a burrito-sized cylinder of lavash stuffed with chicken that smelled and tasted of clove. The party of the second part didn’t care for the clove, and I understood the objection — clove has a strong personality — without joining it. The discordant association, for me, had to do with Christmas, since clove, with its penetrating perfume, is a key ingredient of mulled cider, a holiday favorite. On the other hand, the presence of clove meant that the wrap (with its flatbread skin nicely pressed and warm like a freshly ironed shirt) would never be mistaken for a burrito.

The desserts were of a proportion I would call ideal. They were bigger than petits fours, but several degrees of magnitude smaller than what you usually find at restaurants — and pay $9 or $10 for now. Nammura ($2.50), a kind of semolina cake that looked like a rectangle of corn bread, was nicely moist and just sweet enough to qualify as a dessert, although it did look lonely and naked on its plate. Almost anything would have helped: a scattering of berries, a sifting of powdered sugar, a splash of liqueur — maybe some arak, the Lebanese answer to pastis? More complete was the baklava ($3), intense with honey and fresh chopped pistachio, which also lent a lovely sheen of pale green, a hint of spring inside Mazzat as in the garden across the way.


Mon.–Thurs., 4–10 p.m. Fri.–Sun., 11 a.m.–10 p.m.

501 Fell, SF

(415) 525-3901

Wine and beer


Not noisy

Wheelchair accessible


Loco for Locavore


DINE In a better world than this one — a world of locavores — there would be no need for a restaurant like Locavore. President Kennedy would have gone to the Berlin Wall and declared, “Ich bein ein locavore!” — and been greeted with applause from the other side. In related news, the dictatorship of the proletariat would have peaceably dissolved itself.

In the world we have, Locavore is a rather lovely place. It’s been some time since I found so much poured concrete so full of charm. The floors and walls are concrete, curving into a low ceiling so that you feel a little as if you’re inside one of the sections of BART’s transbay tube before they sank it for installation. Considering all the hard surfaces and the exuberance of the crowd, the place is surprisingly not too noisy. There is a definite roar, low and sustained, but it doesn’t interfere with conversation or require cross-table shouting and the use of signal flags. How the sound damping was achieved must be a trade secret, because none of the usual suspects (including that quilted baffling material) are visible.

The restaurant, which opened near Halloween, procures all its ingredients (including beer, wine, and cider) from within a radius of 100 miles — and since, as we know, there’s a lot of agricultural action within 100 miles of this city, year-round, the question presented is whether you would know you were in a restaurant committed to this philosophical and moral principle if you didn’t know beforehand. My guess is no. It would be different if Locavore was, say, in Burlington, Vt., where the land and climate would pose serious challenges to locavoricity for a chef composing a late-winter menu (or any winter menu). But in our land of plenty, with its rich tilth and kindly climate, such stresses are muted. The result is that Locavore’s cooking doesn’t seem very different from that of a host of other places.

But this isn’t a bad thing. Chef/owner Jason Moniz’s food is excellent, reasonably priced, and the vegetarian angle seems to have been considered with some imagination. We were most impressed with the spicy yuba soy roll ($17), a trio of chubbies made from yuba (tofu skin), stuffed with chopped, spiced yuba, gift-wrapped with ribbons of wilted red-mustard greens and finished with an emulsion of soy and puréed baby leeks that assumed the form of a foam the pale green color of spring. The plate also included a small bundle of whole baby leeks, which added their subtle, sublime oniony-ness to the proceedings and were only slightly hard to handle.

But flesh-lovers need not despair. There is plenty of animal protein on the menu, from mussels ($9) in an herbed broth made faintly bittersweet by grapefruit, to ham hock ravioli ($10), smoky and adrift in a buttery broth of so intensely meaty as to be kind of pork liqueur. A little lighter, but still substantial, was a pair of chicken croquettes ($10) served with baby chicories, spiced hazelnuts, and ghostly splinters of apple slaw — almost like a salad, with a set of crisp golden disks thrown in.

It’s hard for me to resist halibut, which is one of the most user-friendly fish, is taken from well-managed fisheries, and has a nice weight. Locavore’s version ($19) did right by this indispensable seafood, pan-frying a filet to a crispy gold without drying it out and serving it with lovely little crisp-gold gnocchi (a clever echo — were these browned alongside the fish?) and a jumble of chard and green garlic that captured the passage from winter to spring. No one would ever say the halibut was undersalted, incidentally, but because most seafood has a faint sweetness, balance was maintained.

To the charge that I have perhaps too often described this or that dessert as resembling a cloud, or clouds, I would have to plead guilty. But now I must do it again, because Locavore’s honey semifreddo ($7), a puff of creamy gold, was the most cloud-like apparition I have ever seen descend to a dessert plate. And its sweetness was elusive and complex, no doubt in large part because of the presence of kiwi slices and chunks of oro blanco, the mild white grapefruit that nonetheless packs a real grapefruit charge of sourness and bitter bite. In symphony, these ingredients made a beautiful, balanced mouth music unlike any other I’ve ever enjoyed. This dessert did not ask to be liked, and for that reason alone, — how many desserts show that kind of resolve? — this intermittently lapsed locavore had to like it.


Dinner: Mon.–Thurs., 5–-9:30 p.m.;

Fri.-Sat., 5–10:30 p.m.

Lunch: Tues.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–4 p.m.

3215 Mission, SF

(415) 821-1918

Wine and beer


Lively, not quite noisy

Wheelchair accessible


25 Lusk


DINE If you don’t know where Lusk Street is or have never even heard of it, please take a number and step to the back of the line. The name isn’t a joke, although it does sound as if the words “lust” and “luxe” collided on some drunken voluptuary’s lips. The street itself (right off Townsend between Third and Fourth streets) isn’t even a street, exactly; more like an alley. In an odd way it reminded me of Downing Street, in Whitehall, central London (home of the PM): a stub of pavement with no through traffic, lots of shiny black cars, and a strong sense of occasion. The occasion here would be the new restaurant 25 Lusk, whose big white neon signage glows brightly into the night. Nothing like it at Number 10.

Not since the advent of Bix, more than 20 years ago, has a restaurant brought such panache to an urban alley. And the resemblances run deeper: both restaurants have a strong vertical dimension inside: Bix its aerie-like mezzanine and soaring ceiling, 25 Lusk its main dining floor floating over a lounge that feels like a cross between Studio 54 and a ski lodge. (The building was once a meat-packing plant.) And both seem to attract high rollers. Indeed, my mole assured me that 25 Lusk was full of VC (venture capitalists) having expensive bottles of wine decanted while they sat around discussing what to do with the pots of money he’s sure they’ve been sitting on for the past three years.

I didn’t notice any obvious VC. The crowd reminded me of Boulevard’s, maybe slightly younger and hipper — except for the downstairs lounge, which was raucous with a definite whiff of pick-up scene with people laughing too loud and the odd shriek). All this is as it should be, because the restaurant is in the middle of a rising neighborhood, run by an in-their-prime duo (Chad Bourdon and Matthew Dolan) who are taking their first crack at running their own place on a theory of “approachable fine dining” — nice phrase, with an implicit condemnation of the other, stuffy kind.

Dolan’s food conforms to the familiar tropes of “seasonally driven” and “new American,” but mostly it struck me as intensely plated, meaning, a good deal of thought and energy got spent on presenting things. One advantage of this, apart from the aesthetic pleasure, is transparency: you can see everything. The disadvantage is that dishes are apt to be deconstructed to a greater or lesser degree, which can leave the bringing-together of flavors and effects in the diner’s hands.

The Sonoma foie gras torchon ($16), for instance, looked like a contemporary art display, with its block of paté, heap of spiced peanuts, stack of toast squares, scattering of roasted grapes, and dramatic smear of blueberry banyuls sauce across a quarter of the rectangular white plate. But … how to eat it gracefully? The toasts were of little use; they were like people who couldn’t bend their knees. The asparagus terrine ($14) too, was underconstructed, with a stack of beet-cured gravlax slices sitting at the side of the plate like gawkers.

Potato gnocchi ($14), nicely browned cylinders about the size of thumbnails, were a little easier to handle. They came in a shallow dish and were bolstered by braised, boneless short rib, which (with manchego cheese shavings) provided a nice glueyness. You do need binders for this kind of style. The grilled prawns ($26) — four sizable prawns neatly lined up like soldiers being reviewed — benefited from a berm of carrot puree as well as a thick bed of fabulously fragrant Japanese pepper grits, like lemony polenta.

The roasted quail ($26) was substantial and bolstered by a sauté of arugula and haricots verts that looked like a neglected garden being overrun by trailing vines. And Oregon steelhead ($26) featured a lovely slaw of shredded fennel root marinated in citrus along with lobster beignets, mysterious little fritters with no detectable taste of lobster. I add them to my growing dossier of proofs that lobster is overrated.

One item on the dessert menu neatly reprised, for me, my sense of 25 Lusk: the medjool date cake ($10) served with a pat of apricot ice cream and small thatch of candied ginger. The cake itself was splendid and datey, the ice cream intensely apricoty and not very sweet, and the candied ginger sublime. But they each stood apart on the plate, like young teenagers at a party, segregated by sex. “Go forth and mingle!” I longed to cry, before giving a lusty shove with my fork.


Dinner: Sun.–Thurs., 5:30–10 p.m.;

Fri.–Sat., 5:30–11 p.m.

Brunch: Sun., 11 a.m.–2 p.m.

25 Lusk, SF

(415) 495-5875

Full bar



Wheelchair accessible (elevator)




DINE Charanga, which will celebrate its 13th birthday this summer (and restaurant years are Hobbesian, i.e. nasty, brutish, and short), is not only a survivor but a pioneer in what is pretty routinely called today “pan-Latin” or “nuevo Latino” cooking. When chef/owner Gabriela Salas opened the restaurant in 1998, Fresca was a single small joint in West Portal selling Peruvian roast chicken and burritos and Limon didn’t exist. These days Fresca and Limon are a pair of colossi bestriding the city. But Charanga abides, having managed to remain fresh without changing itself much.

The restaurant offers a faceful of iron gate to the street. Behind is a shallow patio set with a couple of tables for those with a taste for al fresco or who fear the noise of the dining room. For, yes, Charanga is pretty noisy, as befits a place named after a kind of Cuban dance-music ensemble. On one chilly evening, we were chatted up by a man strumming a short-necked, 12-string Cuban guitar at the next table. He was not named Leo Kottke, and, noise-wise, he wasn’t the half of it. There was loud thump-thump music blaring from the sound system, and the crowd (which dramatically swelled by mid-evening) was young and boisterous. The ceilings of the deep, narrow space are high, but not enough to overcome the echo-chamber effect created by the tile floors.

But enough carping. The interior is nice-looking in a relaxed way, and the food is wonderful . This is not surprising, given the chef’s pedigree, and, with roots in the Caribbean islands, the cooking is different enough from the that of the Peruvian-inflected colossi to make it a worthy variation on what has become a semi-familiar theme. Salas put in stints at Cha Cha Cha and Firefly, and from there seems to have carried away a sense of the value of having the chef/proprietor on the premises much if not all the time, undistracted by issues at other imperial possessions or having to tape a cooking show or peddle branded convenience foods to supermarkets. Nothing can adequately replace this presence; as with butter, there are work-arounds but no real substitutes.

Some of the dishes have been on the menu a long time. One is the picadillo Cubano ($14.50), a huge plateful of ground beef seasoned with olives and raisins (giving a salty sweetness that make one think of Sicily or the Middle East), along with black beans and ripe bananas. As peasant food goes, this could hardly be more satisfying, though it was a nick sweeter than I would have preferred. A small historical note: this dish cost less than $7 in 1998.

The menu includes other powerfully peasanty choices, but none is more earthy than the chifrijo ($9), a stew of rice and beans mixed with crackling pork, which, with its juicy crispness, reminded me a little of duck confit with properly crisped skin. The stew was topped with pico de gallo, whose acidity helped balance the pork fat, and the whole thing was presented in a nifty little Dutch oven of brushed aluminum.

The other major influence on the food is vaguely Asiatic. The camarones Puerto Viejo ($13), a half-dozen plump shrimp, were sautéed in a thick, glossy sauce of chilis and ginger. The sauce was quite chili-hot and might have been thickened with cornstarch (as in Chinese cooking), but most of all there was the preponderance of ginger. A sprinkling of flash-fried ginger threads, almost like bits of broken-up tempura batter, were scattered over the top for emphasis.

And the pachanga ($19.50), a seafood stew that is one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, could nearly have passed as something from Thailand or south India, with its broth of lemongrass-infused coconut milk, not to mention an SRO crowd of shrimp, mussels, calamari, and chunks of whitefish. Representing the western hemisphere were those tropical staples yucca and plantain, along with chayote squash.

Two other longtime fixtures can be found on the dessert menu. One is Mexican chocolate ice cream torte ($8), which is largely as described: a cake of Mexican (i.e. cinnamon-breath) chocolate, with a layer of vanilla ice cream stowed below decks and drippings of dulce de leche on top. The other is the more elaborate Charanga foster ($8), a quartet of caramelized maduro slices laid pinwheel-fashion on a bed of buko (young coconut) ice cream and topped with a shower of toasted coconut shreds glued in place by dulce de leche. Postscript: the ice creams come from Mitchell’s, a nice period touch.


Dinner: Tues.–Wed., 4–10 p.m.;

Thurs.–Sat, 4–11 p.m.; Sun., 4–9 p.m.

Brunch: Sat.–Sun., 10 a.m.–3 p.m.

2351 Mission, SF

(415) 282-1813

Beer and wine