While it’s fun to stay close to home, getting across town, particularly in a part of the City with some parking, is also delectable if your destination is either Radius or Twenty Five Lusk.
I didn’t read anything about Radius before I went to dinner there with my friend Carl, a director of musical theater. Having dinner with Carl is especially fun because we talk endlessly about Broadway shows, past and present.
What I did know about Radius was it was French-Californian, in the space that once housed Julie’s Supper Club (a SOMA pioneer), and across the street from BrainWash, the popular Laundromat-cafe on Folsom.
My wine writer friend Sallie had told me about three fabulous Rhône wines, so I brought a bottle of the one she rated the highest: a Domaine Richaud Cairanne 2007.
I met Carl at the bar, and we decided to have a glass of white wine while our Rhône was being decanted. Looking over the wine list by the glass and bottle, I was truly perplexed there was nothing from France.
We each chose a different style of Chardonnay: one round with oak, the Sedna Napa Valley Chardonnay 2005; the other flinty, no oak, the Lioco Sonoma Chardonnay 2009. Besides being unoaked, this wine is fermented on wild yeasts and bottled without filtration. I have to say the back label on the Lioco was a scream:
Aroma: lemon curd, pear skin, wet stone
Flavor: verbena, green pear and talc
Food pairings: fig pizza, green papaya salad and crab cakes (Who doesn’t stock those?)
That aside, the wine was delish. It was Carl’s favorite, but I still like buttery-oak in my Chard.
We began our dinner with the cheese and charcuterie plate, a great match for our Rhône. The charcuterie was from Fra’mani, chef Paul Bertoli’s company, and the cheese was indeed all local, including the Nicasio and some lovely goat and sheep cheese.
Then it struck me. They aren’t saying it, but this restaurant strives to live by the precepts of the locavore movement (see accompanying sidebar). Now, I was doubly intrigued.
Our waiter, Frédéric, a Frenchman, who has worked around town, mentioned as he poured the Rhône that his grandfather used to get this wine in France. I implored him to taste with us and we drank to his grandfather.
Carl and I split the potato gnocchi. It was of the more sturdy style by chef Kelly Hughett, and what was especially good was it featured matsutake mushrooms, corn, spinach, and shaved Bucheret cheese.
Carl opted for the lamb shank; I for the duck breast, rare, of course.
The white-wine-braised lamb shank with subtle Middle Eastern flavors, luscious goat cheese polenta and arugula was spot on. It was a dish that showcased Hughett’s skill with spices and long-braised meat.
The Liberty duck breast came in a traditional pairing with baby white turnips, a huckleberry duck jus and a potato gratin. A few nights earlier, I had tasted a mediocre potato gratin at one of the top restaurants in the city; at Radius, the potato slices were sliced so thinly as to be almost transparent, creating a dish that was hard to stop eating.
On the dessert: although we were pretty satiated, we tried the lemon curd tart with chocolate praline crunch, candied almonds and meringue plus the poached caramel parfait with spiced poached pear, salted caramel sauce and cocoa nib brittle ($9). The desserts will stand up to any of those at the top restaurants in the City.
Later, I visited chef Hughett in the kitchen and was pleased to see a couple of young women as part of her crew. It brought to mind 35 years ago when I went for a cook’s job in a French restaurant. I was certain that after I left, my resume was nestled in the garbage with the potato peelings. Brava women cooks!
I asked chef Hughett if she is a locavore in her personal life, and she said, “I am when possible, but [t]here are some specialty products [white truffles] I treat myself to.”
Everyone who opens a restaurant in the City says it’s a goal to cook local and seasonal foods. I think that’s a hollow mantra. But Hughett and her crew, plus owners Jon Whitehead and Christian Baker, are walking the walk besides talking the talk.
Radius: 1123 Folsom Street (near Seventh), Tuesday–Saturday 5:30 p.m.–11 p.m., 415-525-3676, www.radiussf.com.
Twenty Five Lusk
I hate it when Anton Ego, the reviewer, beats me to reviewing a new, stylish place. I don’t like to be influenced by his screed. But timing is everything, or so they say. (For the uninitiated, Anton Ego was the snooty restaurant reviewer in the animated movie Ratatouille.)
Once you find Twenty Five Lusk tucked away near Townsend between Third and Fourth streets, you will never forget the look of it from the outside – or from the inside. It reminds me of some soaring L.A. restaurants with lots of glass and natural materials. Striking.
The kitchen, under the direction of chef Mathew Dolan, is sequestered behind tinted panes of glass. The staff works with such intensity you can feel it through the glass as you pass by.
Now, some critics often visit a restaurant three to four times, a while after it has opened. I go once, like a consumer. Sometimes I’m invited, so you know the restaurant is doing their best. Despite that, it doesn’t always pan out in their favor.
Every savvy restaurateur in the City knows Anton Ego by sight. I’ve personally seen his photo in kitchens. So, when he slides in, he’s anything but anonymous.
My review of Twenty Five Lusk is based on one enjoyable visit. My dining companion, Richard, drinks very little, so when I got there he was sipping some yummy Mocha Java coffee from Equator Coffee. I had a taste and it was spicy-wonderful. It reminded me of some coffee I had years ago from Yemen.
I am a Hendricks gin addict: stirred gently, up in a chilled martini glass, no garnish. Why would anyone stick an onion or olive in a gin gently infused with rose petals and cucumbers? Hendricks is one of the best things to come out of Scotland besides smoked salmon. On the menu was a margarita made with Hendricks, and against my better judgment, I tried it. The Hendricks got lost on its trip to Mexico.
The chef sent out a couple of appetizers: a satisfying tuna concoction with olive conserva, lime avocado puree, and a star anise cracker; and a sturgeon brioche delight topped with American caviar – both perfect palate teasers.
We opted to try the oxtail ravioli, which was highlighted with a comforting black garlic enhancement, roasted Gala apple, and a turmeric sauce. The ravioli were gossamer light and tender. I thought all the disparate flavors contributed to an interesting and compelling dish, unlike Mr. Ego, who said chef Dolan’s food was heavy and akin to dishes that dominated 1980s cuisine.
Richard, who is a chef, had the sole with a unique vanilla sauce. I know he chose this dish really to see how far chef Dolan is pushing the envelope. Well, talk about thinking outside the box – a kumquat-celery choucroute, French-fried chicken mushroom, and the vanilla sauce accompanied the sole. Richard remarked that the vanilla might have been a killer to the dish, but it was perfectly balanced and made the sole compelling. I agreed.
I chose the pressed lamb shank that came with Parmesan späetzle, braised cabbage and a natural jus. Dolan, of course, took a walk to the German genre with this dish. I can’t tell you how much I crave späetzle. The lamb shank was braised (perhaps cooked sous vide) and then pressed into a flat slab. As wonderful as it was, the concentration of the lamb in this manner made the dish a bit salty. It was a minor detail to an otherwise wonderful dish.
Richard had a Luciene le Moine 2006 Bourgogne Blanc Burgundy (Chardonnay), which stood up to the richness of the sole and its sauce. The waiter chose a Domaine Des Lises 2008 Rhone (Syrah) for the lamb and hit it on target.
We forced ourselves to eat dessert, and we were not disappointed. The date cake with an apricot sorbet and the rosehip parfait were light finishing touches to a restaurant I want to return to again and again.
Ego gave the food a very low score. But I loved it, Richard loved it, and Jack Rubyn, president of the International Wine and Food Society and KGO’s Ronn Owens also loved it. Case closed.
Twenty Five Lusk: 25 Lusk Street (near Townsend); Monday–Thursday 5:30 p.m.–10 p.m., Friday–Saturday 5:30 p.m.–11 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.–2 p.m. & 5:30–11 p.m.; 415-495-5875, www.twentyfivelusk.com
GraceAnn Walden conducts food tours in San Francisco and writes for www.diningaround.com, the online companion to “Dining Around with Gene Burns” of KGO-AM (810). She can be reached at www.graceannwalden.net.