There are some moments that really make me happy as a restaurant columnist, and seeing someone open their lifelong dream place is pretty high on the list. As a somm, Paul Einbund has poured me countless glasses of wine at many restaurants over the years, and I’ve been tracking his hopes and plans to have a place of his own for a long time. He even knew who his chef was going to be for the past five years: chef-partner Gavin Schmidt, whom Einbund met when they were both working at Coi (Schmidt was chef de cuisine).
It has been some time. You could say ~THE MORRIS~ is the victory story of the tortoise instead of the hare. And it’s that much better for it. Einbund has had years of plotting and studying what works (or doesn’t) in restaurants to apply those findings to his own. He’s a details guy, obsessed with the many minutiae in this world.
As someone who spends more time sitting at restaurant tables than her own dining table (and to be honest, eating at my desk is usually what’s happening when I am home), I enjoy all the thoughtful touches and nuances throughout the experience. The menus that tell you if it’s a root, leaf, flower, or fruit day. The downright spa-like bathroom, with the dreamy projection of country roads onto the wall and romantic Satie playing and nice soap and hand towels. (It’s like three minutes of therapy in there, I’m not kidding.) The coasters under your cocktail made by Einbund’s wife, Vanessa Yap Einbund. The custom-made pottery (even the dumpling has its own special bowl). The music playlist that was painstakingly curated—Tame Impala is not a Pandora pick, it’s a Paul pick (plus some tracks from his staff), always with the guest in mind. The place is dense with detail, it’s own version of a Seurat packed full of many dots that create a larger picture.
This restaurant had big, nostalgic shoes to fill, a pair of well-loved Stan Smiths that belonged to the ultimate neighborhood restaurant: the Slow Club, a beacon in this Media Gulch/Potrero Flats location for 24 years and an indelible part of so many memories. Einbund and Schmidt want to continue the neighborhood lineage and offer the next iteration of the neighborhood restaurant. As I jokingly said when we first talked, “It’s a neighborhood restaurant by people who know their shit.”
The Morris is about a casual-yet-assiduously studied balance between high and low, which is personified by the gorgeous and deep and highly personal wine list, one that can be as low profile or as baller as you want to go—and you’ll still be in your jeans—whether it’s a $900 bottle of Selosse, or you’re drinking Einbund’s house white or red by the centimeter ($1.50 per cm), a fun carafe method Einbund created at Frances. While the denim-wrapped wine list is engrossing to read, and you know Einbund burned the midnight oil to geek so hard on it (take me right to “crazy bright, crisp, mineral-driven Burgundy”), but be sure to engage him so you can enjoy his animated and insightful chatter as you both figure out what the hell you should be drinking. He has some ideas.
I almost need to apologize to the other cocktails on the list because I’m so smitten with the Chartreuse slushy ($10), the perfect start to a meal (and end to a hangover). It’s what I want every time, now served in its classic glass with a metal straw/spoon combo I first encountered at Little Branch in New York many years ago.
I appreciate how they keep the drinks at $12 and under, and that they’re not too tricky, although they are having some fun with the ultimate off-the-menu burger with an off-the-menu cocktail pairing: a smoked duck Manhattan (they steep Four Roses bourbon with the carved neck and back from the roast duck, filter it, mix it with Carpano Antica and Fee Brothers whisky barrel bitters, and serve it with Dudognon Cognac-soaked Luxardo cherries and yes you want this).
You can perch at the lively bar in the back, order a mouth-filling foie gras-and-chicken dumpling ($3 a pop) and finger lickin’ fried pork cracklins ($6) drizzled with a gastrique of Aleppo honey with cayenne and sherry vinegar, and die a very happy person.
But good thing, you’re still alive and with us to enjoy Schmidt’s tour de force of a charcuterie board. Don’t mess around with trying to choose ($8 each), go for five for $20. Full house! There’s bright fennel salami, and the almost brisket-y spicy headcheese, and a rabbit terrine made extra-brill with pork fat and Chartreuse. Duck liver mousse, always. The too-rich duck rillette (yes, it can happen, even the baby bites of pickled cauliflower couldn’t uncoat my mouth) has been swapped out for other meaty treasures, like chorizo with a touch of dried anchovy powder for extra umami. It’s like a charcuterie lab over there, so keep checking in. (Schmidt is butchering whole pigs each week, and on the menu, you can see how the kitchen smartly uses everything.)
The menu has 10 dishes to navigate, with seasonal vegetables holding court next to sure-to-be classics like Little Gems anointed with a creamy dressing of Banyuls vinegar, Dijon mustard, hazelnut oil, and egg, plus burnished bacon lardons, Parmesan, and hazelnuts ($9). It’s the kind of salad I want every night, but one detail missing for me was fresh cracked pepper—and the dressing needed to steal a little salt from my otherwise-incredible side of smashed and fried fingerlings that came with my burger.
I like the interplay of Asian touches on the menu, like the can’t-miss (trust me) crab porridge ($16) with notes of lemongrass and ribbons of carrot and tempura crab and rau ram (Vietnamese coriander) on top—although the porridge has just been swapped for a more springy salad, FYI. One night the kitchen was wafting with fish sauce every time an order of blistered pole beans ($12) was fired (now subbed with charred broccoli), with tender and curling tentacles of grilled squid tangled up in the assertive dish with a chile-lime vinaigrette—it has a strong and likable handshake.
You want fish? Sausage? Mushroom stew? Okay. And I still need to return for the Berkshire pork chop ($28). But come on, you are here to try this six-day duck, a smoky and juicy and fatty and crispy feat of kitchen engineering (it’s brined, air-dried, smoked, and roasted to a deep mahogany), and it’s going to demand some wine. (Paul’s got you.) The duck is built to share with your table ($48 for half) but then again, it’s the kind of thing that makes you hope for leftovers so can gnaw on it the next day over the sink when no one’s watching.
There’s also this off-the-menu burger that I really shouldn’t be talking about, because it’s extremely limited (like 12 a night), but you want this thing. Twenty-nine-day aged Five Dot Ranch beef (with some more aged beef in the mix as well), a truly monster half-pound patty (yes!) that is so sturdy and hefty and juicy and satisfying to chomp into, with a housemade potato and rosemary bun they even got a special oven to bake it in. Pickled onion is a nice touch, and even though it’s fired on a gas grill, it makes you think of your favorite outdoor grilled burger. It’s a beast for $16, and you can add some three-year Grafton cheddar ($1) or Comté ($2). Don’t cry if it’s out. And it you’re too stuffed to finish the side of fingerlings, bring them home and call me and I’ll make you one hell of a tortilla the next day.
Are you too full? Order a digestif and buck up, because you still have some exquisitely fluffy and tender buckwheat doughnuts ($8), the size of your favorite Hostess doughnut, that you’re gonna dunk into some whisky crème anglaise. Lightest touch of salt. Goddamn what a perfect dessert.
The team here has created such a welcoming neighborhood bistro, based on really good breeding. They are having fun, but they all watch the room like a hawk, and even servers in their locally made aprons who didn’t wait on you personally will note you, smile, say hello. The room smells like food and is busy, often with people hungrily waiting for a coveted table around the sidelines. It still has some Slow Club Deco-industrial touches, but was greatly improved with sound dampening materials (it’s still lively but no longer deafening), plus mother-in-law’s tongue plants to separate the room from the bar, new tables and lighting, and there’s quite a shimmering wine room. It still feels like the San Francisco spot I knew, but is also very now. In a way, it parallels how I have changed here these past 22 years too.
When you name your restaurant after your father, you want to do him proud, and I can see how Einbund and crew are going to keep pushing and doing right by his pop, and their guests. Which is what makes it exactly the kind of place that will keep me coming back. (And the future brunch and lunch service can’t get here fast enough.)
This review was based on two visits.
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