It's funny, for a town that has been missing some new options for seafood, within a few months of each other, we got Waterbar and ~ANCHOR & HOPE~. Not only is this the third local restaurant with a mermaid logo (see Weird Fish and Bar Crudo), but it's also the third restaurant in the Mitchell and Steven Rosenthal and Doug Washington crown, joining Town Hall and Salt House in their trifecta of urban SoMa outposts.
Anchor & Hope follows their vintage/warehouse-chic design aesthetic: brick walls, polished glossy floors, reclaimed wood, embossed menus, plus exposed rafters, tall ceilings, and skylights that really make the ambient light downright lovely during lunch and the early evening hours. The alley location is cool, and I like how they additionally painted Anchor & Hope on the roof. And of course, there's a cheeky bill presentation at the end--I'll leave that as a surprise for ya.
The design has all kinds of East Coast fish shack references, from the ropes hanging from the rafters to buoys and fisherman lanternsâ¦ I was missing a bit of the edgy and sexy art touches I appreciate at their other two establishments, but I do like the piranha mural, and the quirky/ugly fish in the light-up display case behind the bar, which is exactly where it should be, or perhaps near a pool table. (I wanted to give the fish a name. Like Monty.) Maybe they can put some saucy art in the rather bare bathrooms--I want to see even more of the owners' trademark humor and cheek (but not cheeks).
The dining room's wood tables are a funny hodgepodge: some have tablecloths, some don't. Kind of like the crowd: some are fresh off of work and dressy casual, while others are rockin' the unofficial U.S. uniform of jeans with a nice shirt. There's also a long zinc bar, try 35 feet, where you'll most likely find some industry folks spending their tips on oysters on the half shell (some clock in at $3 a pop) and rosé bubbly, or perhaps a beer off the well-selected list. The Beau Soleil oysters from New Brunswick totally enchanted me, so fresh and bright. And if you're feeling super flush, you can indulge in some shellfish platters, like the tugboat ($42) or the love boat ($72). (Yes, clever.)
The menu has some straightforward fried seafood classics, like "fries with eyes" ($7.50), a pile of smelts with a chunky remoulade for dipping, or the fried Ipswich clams ($13) served with tartar sauce; both ideal "sit at the bar and give me a beer" dishes.
And then we enter the bacon zone. Succumb to the much-lauded angels on horseback ($8), four meaty Blue Point oysters wrapped in smoky bacon, each sitting on a leaf or two of peppery arugula, with a tangy remoulade. What's stellar is the bacon doesn't overwhelm the sweet tang of the juicy oysters, and they're cooked just right. Chef Sarah Schafer totally nailed this dish.
You ready for some pure decadence? Welcome aboard, because the warm sea urchin ($15) is totally going to make you say hellllllo, sailor. This stunning presentation has the urchin still in its shell, resting on a base of mashed potatoes, Dungeness crab, tomato, cream, and a verjus beurre blanc. It's rich and ridiculously good, a total cauldron of delish. Not sure what will happen when sea urchin is no longer available from Baja (seasons change, and so did I), so order it while it's still on the menu--perhaps they will be able to source it elsewhere come September.
Okay, for you healthy types, the stacked salad with romano beans and little gem lettuce ($13) is a total winner, with two different creamy dressings, one for the beans and one for the greens. Just wasn't sure how the vegetable salad cost more than one with fish, but it was definitely substantial. I scarfed the cold-smoked maple trout salad ($10) with anchovy dressing for lunch one day, a well-balanced salad, but it made me think, "Hey, if you're going there, why not give me a duck egg instead of the petite quail egg?" Let's truly rock this salad like the salad Lyonnaise it's riffing off of. Bring on some yolk!
There are about ten mains, which include a couple non-seafood items, plus a mystery vegetarian number called "Chef's Delight" ($18). An unexpected hit dish for me was the elegant stuffed breast (and leg) of guinea hen ($26), which highlighted chef Schafer's French training: the thigh is ground into a mousseline with truffle, shallot, and spinach, and then stuffed into the breast and all wrapped in caul fat, and then roasted. The meat was sublimely tender and moist (thank you, caul fat), and served over a springtime combo of English peas and morels, plus some favas and fingerling potatoes, and drizzled with a flavorful Bordelaise sauce. Uh huh.
Of course I've had to eat the lobster roll ($23) all three times I've been here. It does have small fluctuations, either dressed a bit less, or more, but it's a nicely loaded bun with a simple dressing of celery seed, unmistakable Old Bay seasoning, and a garlic aioli. The roll is buttery and toasted, and I loved scooping up chunks of lobster and the homey coleslaw with the side of crisp and salty house-made kettle chips.
Other mains include waiter-recommended whole-roasted tai snapper ($28), and fish and chips ($24) made with halibut, but I haven't tried any of these. Yet. I keep getting lost in the appetizers and making a meal of them.
And to go along with all these dishes is one honking list of white wines by the glass. Yo, 27 in all. Plus six bubbles. And 16 reds. Totally fun to navigate. (Har.) All kinds of prices and styles. Some standout pairings were suggested by our server, like the BROC cellars 2006 Ventana Vineyard grenache with our lobster roll and guinea hen, meow.
By the time desserts roll around, they are recited to you tableside, so pay attention (especially if you've been tossing back too many glasses o' vino). The coeur de crème/heart of yogurt and sweet cream ($9) with a raspberry reduction and almond honey cookies was my favorite finish. I liked the slab o' chocolate-meets-pudding cake with its tasty layer of salty nuts, but the presentation of it just sitting on a bread plate was too simple: I don't want fussy chocolate squiggles, but it just seemed so, uh, functional. At least make the plate it's served on kinda cute?
Anchor & Hope is a primo spot for a business lunch that isn't too business-y, and the round table and communal table make it an easy choice for a larger group outing. The vibe is unpretentious and welcoming, service is smiley, and while there's definitely some volume, it's not deafening. It's good after work, or later. It's versatile, and friendly, which is exactly what I imagine the owners intended.
Anchor & Hope
83 Minna St.
Cross: 2nd St.
San Francisco, CA 94105