560 Divisadero St.
Cross: Hayes St.
San Francisco, CA 94117
13, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!