Spicy chicken (photo from Heaven's Dog).
Photo from Heaven's Dog.
Photo from Heaven's Dog.
You thirsty? No? Well, sit at the bar at ~HEAVEN'S DOG~ for a few minutes and you will be. This hidden-away SoMa doghouse is a bit like a Beretta South, with a strong bar program that acts like a tractor beam to cocktailing types citywide. Which is important, because this lonesome stretch of Mission Street practically has tumbleweeds blowing by after 7pm.
Now, I normally don't start restaurant reviews with an overview of a bar, but in this case, I could very easily drink my dinner from Erik Adkins's smashing list of Charles Baker-inspired cocktails (for more on who Charles Baker is, read this piece by my freelance writing cohort, Camper English). And you'll only pay $10 for a glass full of gorgeousness, with big ass Kold Draft ice cubes clinking around. New York pricing, this is not. And the line-up of talent behind the bar is some of the City's best. It's too easy to end up having one too many here. Oops.
While perched at the undulating wood bar here, it's the perfect place to play one of my favorite new bar games (no, dice are not involved): do I want a drink that is citrus-driven, or spirituous? (I've had the same question asked of me at Jardinière's bar.) Out of all the drinks I've tasted here, I have yet to have a dog in the bunch. Oh, and even if you're not on the boozy and weaving path, I can attest my pal's non-alcoholic drinks were admirable in their freshness and complexity.
So, before you tip off that barstool, or slump over in the persimmon moderne seating in the lounge (truth be told, not my favorite place to eat or drink here), you need some sustenance. This Chinese offshoot from Charles Phan's Vietnamese empire has chef de cuisine Andy Wai (Harbor Village) leading the charge. Kind of like what Phan did with Slanted Door, you'll find Chinese dishes (many of them familiar) made with quality ingredients. For example, the spicy chicken dish ($14) is like a jazzy kung pao made with toasted cashews, but what really sets it apart is the delicious-tasting chicken and fresh bamboo shoots (wish more places used them).
I've cruised through the long-ish menu a fair amount, so let's just get you going on my faves or we'll be here all day: more than anything, I get mad cravings for the edamame salad ($7), with bouncy ribbons of bean curd and the heat of chili oil, plus the tang of pickled mustard greens. Two paws up.
The silky ma po tofu ($12) with ground beef is another standout (yes, I like spicy food, as you can tell by the three dishes I've mentioned thus far). And since we're on that topic, I'd be remiss to not mention the spicy clams ($15) that made me wish I had smuggled in a French baguette so I could dunk it in the fragrant and herbal broth.
Oh yeah, and the spicy green beans ($8) should be on your list, along with the tender salt and pepper local squid ($13) with chiles and garlic. Sorry, this is reading like a review of Spices II, isn't it? Just call me Spicy Spice.
Okay, okay, in the not-spicy department, I totally went nuts for the side of kale ($8) with fermented black bean and ginger--it's how I want my weekly batch o' kale from now on (but with a touch less oil). Yeah, that price for a side of vegetables is a bit steep, but this is not Ho's on Van Ness, yo.
And people certainly order up the pork belly in clam shell buns ($9) here, but after going two days in a row to eat that fool David Chang's version with the warm sriracha at Momofuku in New York, well, I'm ruined forever and I'm just going to leave it at that.
I haven't been as thrilled with the dumplings here, even though I keep trying. Just not moving me, which is a little frustrating because I'm such a dumpling maniac. Ah well. Then again, the menu is extensive enough that there are plenty of other dishes to choose from instead, which I do.
Now, is the menu groundbreaking? Or perfect? Or wildly authentic? Not really, but it has definitely gotten rather tasty of late--I think the flavors have hit their stride, the ingredients are well chosen (that has been a constant), and there are some inventive touches (is this a new genre: "local Chinese?").
The vibe is a bit of a hodgepodge--it's close enough to the Orpheum and Golden Gate theaters that you can see a pre-theater crowd, but the Olle Lundberg décor is chic enough to draw the gay boys in, and then the cocktails and late hours (until 1am Mon-Sat) call the industry folks--plus there's complimentary dim sum at 11:30pm. Oh yeah, and I've noticed families coming in on the early side. And there's a semi-private room that's perfect for birthday groups o' girls. You get the picture--it's a come one, come all kind of spot--it just depends on when you want to eat.
The look is urban but the vibe is comfortable, good for a midweek date or a casual night out with friends. Two people can dine here, but I really think a headcount of three or four is the ideal partay size, so you can order a hodgepodge of dishes off the menu. Not really a good spot for solo dining, unless you're fine sitting down to a plate full of char siu barbecued pork ($9) all to yourself (which could happen here, it's that tasty). There are also enough vegetable dishes that a non-meat eater will be quite satisfied (like the "vegetarian pork belly" buns), plus you can get a side of Massa Organics brown rice. Which you certainly won't find at most Chinese joints around town. Woof.
P.S. You can get up to four hours of validated parking in the SOMA Grand garage next door for only $4, a lovely feature in this parking-deprived town.
1148 Mission St.
Cross: 8th St.
San Francisco, CA 94103