1710 Mission St.
Cross: Duboce St.
San Francisco, CA 94103
Small plates $11-$19
Bar: Tue-Sat 5pm-2am
4, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO
Is it a lounge? Or is it a restaurant? Most places would suffer
from an identity crisis on par with Nicole Richie trying to balance
the two concepts (it's hard enough to even do one thing well)
but ~LEVENDE LOUNGE~ manages to pull off the combo.
It's one of those places I could consider hitting if it was
midweek and some of my peeps were visiting from L.A. and I wanted
somewhere upbeat but chill enough to hang out, throw back some dranks,
and graze through the menu without having to think about things
too much or totally ouch the wallet. It would be on-point for a
birthday (although I seem to recall something tricky if you have
ten or more people), a coworker dinner, or ladies night.
chef Jamie Lauren departed in January of 2006 (she's now busy
working on getting Prana ready to launch), and Arren Caccamo took
her place, who hails from Oola, Baraka, and Chez Papa. He's
shifted and tweaked the menu to make it his own, which is an eclectic
international small plates menu that's built for sharing.
Unless you're a vegetarian, which means you would be mostly
relegated to one salad (the other two contain anchovy or chorizo),
a couple sides, or the cheese fondue. (See, I look out for you non-carnivores!)
dining partner and I found the pan-roasted scallop cakes ($11) too
gluey and heavily breaded, but the rosy blood orange and fennel
beurre blanc the cakes were resting on was delish. The bluenose
bass ceviche ($14) wins for the most creative and kooky presentation
I've seen in some time: the bowl of ceviche rests on the table
with smoke pouring and swirling out like a mysterious volcano or
exotic tiki drink (it has dry ice underneath). Just call it the
voodoo doctor. Actually, I'd say it was more of a veggie salad
than a ceviche (or a voodoo doctor)—it was rather laden with
yellow tomatoes and bell pepper instead of fish, but at least it
had a nice kick.
I was a little wary of the famous lamb burgers ($12) that have been
on the menu since day one. I remembered my last tour with them,
because those delicious little buggers tragically stayed with me
all night. Later that evening at a bar, I was afraid to open my
mouth after a swig of my usual Jack and Coke in case I'd emit
the most petite of burps and essentially unload the equivalent of
lambie aromatic napalm on anyone within a 20-foot radius. Not so
hot to dine on before a big night out, especially if you want to
make some new friends, let alone keep the ones you have. On a date?
Forget it—he's gonna be making out with the bartender
or the chick at the end of the bar before the night is up—and
you're going home with an empty tin of Altoids. (Or maybe
a weird Mentos character.) The very charming server assured me the
burp-factor had been addressed in the recipe (glad I wasn't
the only one), and I gotta say, the lamb burgers and I were cool.
They played nice, all night. So order them. Great flavor like I
remember, totally juicy, and they're partnered with onion
chutney, cumin yogurt, and house-made pickled cukes. You get three,
so count your blessings.
was previously at Oola, so you know he knows his ribs. Levende's
baby-back ribs ($14) are straight up wicked. They're the kind
that really bring out the animal in you. Rawr. (Maybe the voodoo
doctor has something to do with this?) The ribs come with a candied
mandarin, OJ, sesame seed, and ginger sticky glaze (if my notes
serve me correctly). But I'm not gonna divulge why these ribs
are so ridiculously mouth melting and addictive. Okay, actually,
I will—you should know. First, they're braised for almost
three hours, and then they're lightly floured and then fried.
I KNOW. As the swoosh sez, just do it. They're worth the extra
hour on the Stairmaster. The ribs come under a thicket of enoki
mushrooms and daikon sprouts (with some edamame sprinkled on the
plate) if you want some greenery to somewhat counteract the meat-fest.
Your table will cast the thicket aside and attack the ribs like
hyenas on a fallen wildebeest, I swear.
the grilled ono skewers ($18) a little dry and spendy to boot—they
came with a zippy ratatouille that had some ginger going on instead
of rosemary, and… actually, truth be told, there were just
too many flavors on the plate—I didn't know where to
sign on. Ultimately I said oh no on the ono. I also wasn't
ready to go to bed with the side of grilled asparagus ($7), which
is the third time I have seen asparagus with blue cheese and balsamic
in recent months. I dunno, but that combo really doesn't rock
me. (Is it just me? It's entirely possible.) The asparagus,
however, were perfectly cooked—just the right amount of snap.
They would be beautiful with just the balsamic, really. No need
to gild the lily.
(and angioplasty) seekers, take note: the side of mac and cheese
($7) is a downright huge and bubbling mass of smoked gouda, jack,
and cheddar cheese, with a sage béchamel. Oh, and applewood
smoked bacon. It's merciless in its riches. Slide on in.
if that cheese (and bacon) finale wasn't enough, let's
waddle over to dessert, shall we? There are five other selections
available, but the only one you really need to know about is the
chilled peanut butter mousse ($7), served in a martini glass, layered
with crumbled Oreo cookie. It's fluffy, it's light,
it's freaking scrumptious. An adult Reese's, without
the waxy chocolate. I would totally dump a martini out of my glass
to make room for this dessert. (No, actually I would just down the
martini very very quickly—sorry, lost myself for a second
I said, I would happily dine at Levende midweek—it has a nice
downtempo vibe overall, but come Friday, say 10pm, the hormone bomb
goes off and wham, you suddenly have a scene of hets paying up the
$10-$15 cover and swarming the place for some house beats and horny
fraternizing. Saturday too. (Actually, they have some good acts
that spin on Thursday nights as well.) Don't get me wrong,
I love me some house (like Victor Duplaix coming up on the 15th)
weekend scene is just not my personal velocity.
space is industrial meets West Elm: sleek, spacious, loungey and
inoffensive, with vaulted ceilings, exposed beams, and easy communal
seating, plus cool art and dim sexy lighting at the tables. The
space has one of the most ingenious features I've ever encountered:
when it's time to pull a Clark Kent and transform from restaurant
into lounge, the wood tables are actually adjustable, so they are
lowered to a more appropriate cocktailing height. Muy clever. The
servers are all quite nice, and they do a good job managing the
small plates format, which is always a little extra work.
cocktails are inventive and nicely crafted, and the wine list has
some interesting selections thanks to Nicole Burke (the consulting
somm who did a bang-up job on the list at (415)
Asian Restaurant & Lounge). Speaking of wine, in honor of
Levende's second anniversary, they are offering 50% off all
their wines on Tuesday nights. That 2004 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir
just went from $60 to $30, cheers.