Typically eating at two more or places a day, I dine at far more places than I can write about. Often, there are high points but not enough to warrant a full review or in the case of a casual hole-in-the-wall, there might be a noteworthy dish but not a list of reasons to visit. From time to time, it helps to highlight dishes from recent excursions. Here I cover noteworthy dishes from one restaurant just reaching its second birthday (Boxing Room), the other two just open within the last couple month.
BOXING ROOM, Hayes Valley (399 Grove St. at Gough, 415-430-6590)
Being on board with Boxing Room’s authentic New Orleans cuisine since day one, it’s their jambalaya that has me rhapsodizing akin to glorious meals in the one-and-only Big Easy. The biggest compliment I could give is that it’s distantly reminiscent of Coop’s Place, the best jambalaya I’ve ever had in a classic New Orleans’ dive bar. In reality, it is a pretty different dish. But unlike most mediocre jambalaya we’re typically subjected to (often more like a basic rice dish), Chef Justin Simoneaux’s jambalaya ($11/$21 with duck confit) is appropriately moist, dark with shredded duck meat and sausage, bright with tomatoes. Officially my favorite jambalaya outside of New Orleans, I’m grateful to get my fix at Boxing Room. Bonus dish: Tender cornbread-stuffed quail ($23) over dirty rice and pumpkin puree… I’m craving this divine cornbread stuffing for Thanksgiving.
HILLSIDE SUPPER CLUB, Outer Mission (300 Precita Ave. at Folsom, 415-285-6005)
Beloved pop-up Hillside Supper Club, formed by two college classmates and young chefs Tony Ferrari and Jonathan Sutton, is now a brick-and-mortar restaurant on the corner of Precita Park (the street where I first lived in SF 12 years ago). Hillside is still sorting out its identity as a restaurant: the space is drafty and cold, there are pacing issues with dishes, and food runs about 50/50 with only half the dishes leaving an impression.
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But a friendly, neighborhood welcome is intact from the host and stronger dishes intimate possibility. While a hamachi crudo ($10) is fresh, with lively accents of blood orange, hearts of palm and Fresno chilies, it’s drowning in yuzu sauce, and a dessert of English chocolate pudding ($8), though brilliantly weaving Baileys Irish Cream with subtle smoke in a smoked whipped cream, was quite dry. The shining dish was Mount Lassen trout ($22), with crispy skin, the fish is tender and flavor-packed. Over Israeli couscous, marinated beets and smears of horseradish yogurt, it hits hoped-for flavor, texture, and technique.
MISSION STREET OYSTER BAR, Mission (2282 Mission St. between 18th & 19th, 415-621-6987)
Bright and cheery in aquamarine and blues, Mission Street Oyster Bar is a welcoming neighborhood seafood joint that feels like the old Mission I knew over a decade ago: decidedly not hipster, it’s fresh and friendly, if a bit unremarkable.
While it hurts to pay $28.95 for one dish at a casual joint, it’s for a whole roasted crab – a solid price for a whole local Dungeness doused in garlic cloves and herbs. Though I prefer roasted crabs at local family-style Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants, this is a hearty meal, accompanied by a generous, cold seafood gazpacho ($16.95) loaded with crab legs, shrimp and avocado, looking like a giant Bloody Mary with a celery stalk standing tall in the glass, it tastes a bit muddled, lacking focus.
Purer tastes come in the simple: oily garlic bread ($4.95) and a cup of creamy Boston clam chowder ($3.95, bowl $5.95). Mission Street Oyster Bar’s sunny setting and service comfort, making me grateful these kinds of humble restaurants are still opening in the Mission.