There are some restaurants where you just can't help but order the same thing, again and again. To wit: how can I possibly visit A16, and not order the burrata, the tripe, and the gnocchi? It would be scandalous not to. I'm normally an adventurous diner, sometimes too much, but there is one place in town where I practically act like an old fogey and always order the same damned thing, again and again and yet again: ~SOUTH PARK CAFÉ~.
You don't even need to put the menu in front of me. I know exactly what I want. Yes, the pig salad and the steak frites, thankyouverymuch. The pig salad ($9 lunch/$10 dinner) is total piggy bliss: you get jumble of fresh greens perfectly dressed with a tangy mustard dressing, with slices of tart green apple, shallots, and glorious hunks of slow-cooked pork confit mixed in--they're almost like a French version of carnitas! Oink.
Then the steak frites ($12 lunch/$19 dinner) means you get a juicy hunk of grilled Angus New York steak, always cooked exactly how I want it (some days rare, some days medium rare--depends upon how carnivorous I am really feeling), with a red wine sauce and substantial hot fries to sop up all the juices. I don't care what kind of a day at work/break-up/tax day/bad hair day you've had; odds are good these two items for lunch or dinner will set you straight. (Or if you happen to be gay, they will just make you happy.)
I have a friend who adores the ahi tuna salad with cannellini beans ($10) for lunch, and I've tasted the lovely blue nose bass with pancetta and mashed potatoes and the hearty beef "en daube," but in the end, I'm a pathetic creature of habit. Tragic.
I am quite grateful that the chef-owner, Ward Little, is also a creature of habit--he's been holding the kitchen down here for years, since 1993. Ward is a kind man who works hard--if you get a chance, ask him about his days touring and cooking in France. He does put some racier things on the menu, like lamb tongue, so have fun being adventurous since I cannot.
This homey little French bistro is perched on the anomalous South Park (I wish we had more Euro-style residential parks like this) and for reasons besides the pig salad, it occupies a sweet little space in my heart. I remember a dreamy late afternoon lunch on a rainy day, sitting at a window table with a man I was deeply in love with, getting tipsy on a bottle of wine, with just the two of us and the server in the restaurant at that later hour. Beautiful light in this place, with cheerful yellow walls. Yup, we were madly in love, we even had a little rose in a vase on our table, but I'll be damned if we were going to share our pig salad and steak frites--we each had our own.
I also remember celebrating a dear friend's birthday here one night, a perfect setting for a four-top of friends to get together--the vibe is relaxed enough so you can share a joke and no one really cares if your whole table is suddenly cracking up. The servers also tend to stay in the background, only appearing when you need them--casually efficient.
This place also draws quite the lunch crowd--the days of table service at lunch are gone, however. After dot bomb went off, the whole South Park area became quite sedate, and if I remember correctly, South Park Cafe's lunch service went away entirely. But things picked up, and hurrah, they reopened for lunch. Now you simply order at the counter, grab your silverware, and your PIG SALAD will be brought to your table rather expeditiously.
A citron presse at lunch is also recommended, or if you are my kind of diner, go for some vino--the list has plenty of bistro-friendly choices on there. And bonus, they have a full bar in case you need something stronger. While they don't take lunch reservations, things always move pretty quickly. It can get quite boisterous, FYI, so don't plan on a quiet tête-Ã -tête--that's more likely during a Tuesday night dinner.
Next time you're wondering where to go for a dinner date, and would be happy with some rustic bistro cuisine, this place is the ticket. Or if you're a miss(ter) lonely-hearts, you can easily dine at the bar here solo. Parking is usually pretty painless, and the $32 prix-fixe dinner (your choice off the menu, you know what mine would be!) is a nice deal if you plan on tucking into some dessert too.
While new is nice, dependable places like this are a big part of what San Francisco dining is about to me. I'm grateful to have this place be a part of my time living in the City. And viva the pig salad!
South Park Café
108 S. Park St.
Cross: Jack London Alley
San Francisco, CA 94107