Shall we talk about all the three- and four-letter word places opening of late? (None of them profane, mind you.) There’s SEBO, and BOCA, and CAV, and Coi, and DOSA. And lest we forget, ~NOPA~. I eagerly anticipated the opening of this joint from the moment I heard about it. From the lines and the hype, I’d say the rest of the city did too. The Western Addition/Lower Haight/NoPa area needed a chic place to get a DRANK that doesn’t stink of beer and isn’t full of USF students drinking said beer. We (yes, we—this is my ‘hood) needed a hotspot to get a meal with friends beyond the few semi-hip eateries here: Tsunami sushi and Little Star Pizza. Uh, Popeye’s, no. No comment on Blue Jay Café. And late night? Forget it. Try a candy bar at the corner store, or delivery. nopa is open until 1am, how outstanding is that?
The response has been huge. They told me they did 400 covers on Saturday night. That’s busy. Folks in the industry are flocking to it. Even hilariously so—I saw the twin brothers from Bar Crudo on Sunday, at different times on the same night. Oh, twins.
The cocktails are inspired, with ingredients like elderflower syrup and chartreuse making appearances, all hovering around $6-$7. Quality booze, as well. A bar you’re proud to display, which they are.
So what’s the draw? Well, first up, it has an engaging urban style. It’s like a new generation of Zuni, an industrial Cali-brasserie vibe, with vaulted ceilings, exposed dark wood beams, stained concrete floors, towering windows interspersed with large mirrors behind a lengthy poured-concrete bar (which feels really good to the touch, btw) with a row of stools with mustard-yellow ultra-suede seats, a communal table in front for walk-ins, and an open kitchen in back showcasing a brick oven, a rotisserie working overtime, and a white-jacketed staff hustling, double-time. On the main dining floor is a row of small booths and comfortable seating at wood tables, and a mezzanine above with more seating plus an energetic and simply fantastic mural of Divisadero Street businesses by Brian Barneclo, with funkalicious browns and rust and aqua and celadon… so groovy. There are some personal touches, like tea towels instead of napkins, and your own pepper mill on the table, and a quirky non sequitur as well: the “amuse” of a split radish sent out with a pat of butter and salt. (Talk amongst yourselves. Discuss.) Overall, the space feels modern but warm, chic but unique. Personable yet spacious. Alive. Great tone.
Speaking of tone, some have complained about the deafening din at peak hours. I’ve been on a Sunday and a Monday, so I can’t really testify. I’d imagine the upstairs mezzanine would be better if you’re going to go at primetime and try to hear your dinner partner. Otherwise, consider going with loud friends whom you have no trouble hearing at bars and firing ranges.
Another big point: it’s really a pleasure to walk into a place and have everyone be so damned nice. Warm staff, from the hostess to the bar to servers, outfitted in brown shirts. No shady hostess sneers, no “too cool to shake your drink” bartender ‘tude, no stoner servers. So over all that—leave it to some of the brats working in boutiques! (Wait, I’m way over that as well.) The crowd is casual and easygoing, from hipsters to homos to German sandal-wearers to neighborhoodies to jeans-bar beeyotches. Hello, SF.
So, shall I stop pussyfooting around and get to the food already? Okay, let’s do it. The menu is primarily Cal-Southern Med, and they have a commitment to using organic/sustainable ingredients (just so you know, because they don’t name-check on the menu). My first visit was all about the burger ($12), which comes with a nice pile of fries, harissa aioli, and pickled onions. And watercress, hi! What an on-point peppery addition to a burger. But darn, the patty just wasn’t very moist. Flavor was definitely good, but it wasn’t that juicy dribbly beef deliciousness you want from a burger, which is why you ordered it in the first place. I found out they use grass-fed beef, which accounts for the leanness. But the beef being grass-fed isn’t going to make me order it again, until they figure out how to juice-ify that thing. Maybe when tomatoes really come into season it will help as a garnish, but that still doesn’t make it work in March.
My neighbors were kind enough to let me sample their “little fried fish” ($8), which were perfectly breaded, just crispy enough, and came with a romesco sauce. On my second visit, the anchovies (Yes, the little fried fish are chovies—fries with eyes! You eat them heads and all, scrumptious!) were noticeably bigger. Slightly flaccid. Not as fabulous. Chef said it’s about what’s available right now—when the little buggers are smaller, they fry better. We still cleared our plate.
The rather hefty portion of flatbread ($9) with sausage, broccoli di ciccio, and red onion didn’t really come together for me. The flatbread itself had a nice crispness, but the broccoli was a little heavy in the olive oil and garlic department (and don’t get me wrong, I’m half-Calabrese, so I tend to hang out in that department), and the pieces of pickled red onion scattered on top were cut a bit horsy, and were therefore too assertive. There were primarily the tastes of bitter and sour and the flatbread needed some salty/creamy to bring it together—there wasn’t enough of the tasty sausage to lend a helping hand. Since the kitchen rotates the flatbread ingredients, I’m curious what the next one will be.
The fluffy baked goat cheese ($9) is built for sharing, with a pile of very crisp (and just a touch oily) crostini, plus a side of frisee and pickled beets. The kitchen definitely has a thing for pickling, which is cool. It’s a nice old school touch. Loved the beets.
I won’t go into the sturgeon ($19) since it’s coming off the menu. Let’s talk instead about the rotisserie chicken ($17). My friend spoiled me and served me the dark meat, but poor guy, he didn’t realize how dry the white meat was going to be. Shoot. Chicken is such a pain that way. We all know this. I am confident the kitchen is gonna figure it out, because the flavor was outstanding, and the crispy skin from the twirl in the rotisserie was just killer. The accompanying spring greens had a lip-smacking dressing, made with sherry and muscatel vinegars, and some saucy dollops (with whole grain mustard) were dabbed on the plate. I’ve also heard nice things about the pork chop ($18), and the spicy lamb riblets app ($8). The prices are nice, huh? Seriously, not a single entrée is above $20. How refreshing.
The wines by the glass are also priced kindly and expertly chosen (thank you Mister Hanak), primarily focused on Old World wines, including a Carignan-Grenache Faugères 2003/Leon Barral ($8) which was delightfully ripe, with some nice tannins. I’ll be back for more of that. Exciting list to navigate by the bottle, and priced so you can actually explore. Also a selection of ales, which will go well with the rustic food. Sidebar: loved the elegant flute my Cava came in. Sexy stemware.
Had an uplifting finale of strawberries (they are SO spectacularly in season right now) topped with a decadent Matter horn-sized dollop of zabaglione ($7), which wasn’t totally impregnated with Marsala, yay. It really let the berries stand front and center, delicious. Chocolate ice cream with brandied cherries and almonds was also some quality product. My friends are raving about the doughnut holes with orange honey, but I was too full to go there.
So where does this leave us? Overall, the food features quality ingredients—it’s quite apparent. And for that price point, they’re really being generous. But the execution hasn’t taken that step from good to really good. This is the kind of place that is gonna work it all out, though. There is too much love, sweat, care, and devotion to this restaurant for them to not only work it out, but to make it sing. The partners are Laurence Jossel, Jeff Hanak, and Allyson Woodman, all alums of Chow. And some may remember Jossel from Chez Nous. The sous chef is Marcella Lew, formerly from Andalu. It’s a good team. They have turned this former Laundromat into a space that’s really special, and it just needs a little finessing here and there. Before the Laundromat, it used to be a bank, and you know? I am willing to put my money there.
The phone lines are open at 2pm for same-day reservations (a la Chez Panisse). And yes, they are really truly open until 1am. Support them on that!
* Update *
I'm happy to report the ricotta, zucchini, and Serrano ham flatbread I recently had was quite delicious, but the best thing in the world is their pork chop! It's illegally good, and juicy. Dig in!
560 Divisadero St.
Cross: Hayes St.
San Francisco, CA 94117
Dinner nightly 6pm-1am