AL's Place from Chef Aaron London, Now Open on Valencia Street

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Chef-owner Aaron London. Photo: Molly DeCoudreaux.

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The airy dining room. Photo: Molly DeCoudreaux.

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The Ms. Brown cocktail at AL’s Place. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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Mr. Blue (Cardamaro, Vergano Americano, Dolin Blanc, and mandarin bitters). Photo: © tablehopper.com.

Opening this Friday February 6th for dinner is chef-owner Aaron London’s long-time-coming solo restaurant, ~AL’S PLACE~. After his time at Ubuntu in Napa, the chef has been looking for a space in SF to call his own, and as we previously mentioned, he has transformed the former South End Grill ‘n’ Bar on Valencia.

It’s now an airy and cheerful spot, with a light turquoise floor that is reminiscent of a hue you’d find on a fridge from the 1950s. The exterior is a bright cornflower blue—you can’t miss it. There are plenty of windows (with lots of light coming in, thanks to the south-facing orientation), with vibrant artwork on the walls by Jessica Fleming. There are 45 seats (eye-catching and colorful Jean Prouvé replicas) matched with plywood tabletops, plus a bar/chef counter in the back (featuring stools by Sean Dix and originally created for YardBird in Hong Kong, which I was recently sitting in), and there are 20 outdoor seats next to some raised beds as well, which will come in handy when brunch launches in a few weeks. Eventually there will be some headlamps added to make outside more cozy too. Because, SF.

London will obviously rocking the NorCal seasonal, local, organic, vegetable-centric tip, with plenty of attention on seafood, and he also wants the menu to strike a note of affordability for the neighborhood as well. The menu is broken down into composed dishes, about four or five in each section: smaller bites, warm/hot, cool, and then sides, which are actually the meat dishes (the rest of the menu is seafood- and vegetable-heavy). Small bites are priced around $5, composed dishes between $11-$18 per dish, and sides $15-$20.

Dishes include lightly cured trout, pickled green fig, torn potatoes, fava leaf; black cod crusted with black lime and roasted black lime powder with winter citrus and sunchoke curry; and a side of hanger steak with crab shell butter and sherry vinegar. The menu should be live on the site any day now. Look for that oh-so-SF balance between precise food and a casual atmosphere.

A unique component to AL’s is they may only have a beer and wine license (with a well-selected wine list that isn’t too spendy either—Sam Bogue from Central Kitchen consulted on it—plus plenty of Belgians on the beer list), but the team really took time to develop a low-ABV cocktail menu, thanks to bar manager Alex Phillips, who London worked with while he was working behind the bar at Locanda (he was also the bar manager at Camino).

I was given a sneak peek of the low-proof cocktail list, which are all named after characters in Reservoir Dogs (and no, one of them is not Victor the Cleaner). You can start your meal with a couple of spritzes, like Mr. White (Cocchi Bianco, prosecco or cava, orange bitters, and fruit, like blood orange), served over a big, gorgeous hunk of hand-cut, clear ice. A fuller-bodied choice is Mr. Pink, made with Cappelletti, Cocchi Rosa, and seltzer.

I was quite taken with the sherry cocktails, especially Ms. Brown (manzanilla, Dolin Dry, Cocchi Torino, grapefruit bitters), while the nutty Mr. Blonde really highlights the oloroso on the finish, with Bonal and five-year-old cherry bitters that Phillips just found in his cabinet, providing some oomph to the drink.

You can finish your night with Mr. Blue, which has a touch of bitterness and a richer style thanks to the Cardamaro, plus Vergano Americano, Dolin Blanc, and mandarin bitters. All are $10. Here’s the beverage menu.

There are also a couple of fantastic nonalcoholic options, including the tangerine and vanilla cream soda (which features a half ounce of cream and tastes just like a 50-50 bar in a liquid form), and a concoction made from pomegranate syrup and blood orange, with lemon and seltzer.

London was really hands-on in all facets of the restaurant, from custom designing the aprons with Alternative Apparel (including diagonal pockets for tweezers and more in the front so they don’t fall out when bending over, a special phone pocket, a custom fit around the neck with snaps, and a bit of stretchy material as well) to customizing the bar rail (inspired by things he learned while bartending) to making a really comfortable dish pit (London was once a dishwasher). His kitchen is Tokyo-small and really tight but features many design shortcuts and improvements. London is happy to have some folks in his kitchen he has worked with before. You’ll also spy GM Liz Subauste working her magic on the floor. The team is ready and raring to go.

Opening Friday February 6th. Open Wed-Sun 5:30pm-10pm (and until 11pm Fri-Sat). 1499 Valencia St. at 26th St., 415-416-6136.