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04.28.2004

Restaurant Review: The House, San Francisco

Continuing my interest in exploring boutique restaurants in San Francisco, I bring you The House, which is now the only incarnation in San Francisco since its sister restaurant of the same name closed its doors out in the inner Sunset.

Even though it is kept company by the recently installed Sake Lab around the corner, this small Asian fusion restaurant is still incongruously matched with the surrounding "all-Italian-all-the-time" neighborhood of North Beach. It's even harder to find amidst all the red green and white signage these days house.card.jpg by virtue of a huge scaffolding which obscures the light orange neon sign which hangs above the small single window and door which mark the front of this restaurant.

Orange is a very trendy color, and this is a very trendy restaurant, but not in a way that is overstated. The interior is nicely designed with simple, modern lines. The light green-gray walls are decorated with small colorful monotypes and modern abstract elements that lend color to the room but do not distract from the dining experience. The booths and bar are done tastefully in blond colored wood, the floor in dark slate tile. From the nice pendant halogen lighting to the die-cut paper placements with their little house shaped holes on the edge, it's clear that someone with an eye for design has been involved in shaping the atmosphere.

The attention to design detail extends to the food, both in its preparation and presentation. I'm constantly surprised by the use of color and the arrangements of food on the plate, whether it's a small pile of green tobiko (flying fish eggs), or nicely crosshatched yellow and burgundy sauces on a plate. I've often ordered the same thing as my neighbor and had the plate come out differently, as if the kitchen is playfully staging their dishes as individual little performances. Luckily, they don't just excel in set decoration -- the cooking is awfully good too.

The cuisine is primarily a fusion of Japanese and Chinese influences with a little California thrown into the mix. The house made thick wasabi noodles are particularly tasty, and they are served with various toppings as the chef sees fit. One week it was an unagi (freshwater eel) filet, another week it was slices of flatiron steak. Last time I was there I had a delectable miso glazed black cod over dry wokked green beans in a dark soy reduction accompanied by Dungeness crab and avocado sushi rolls.

All of the food, including the desserts are prepared fresh daily and the menu shifts a bit to accommodate seasonal ingredients and / or the whims of the chef. Structured around small plates and large plates, it is possible to construct a meal of many tidbits or of a larger entree. I've been wanting to go one evening with 5 or 6 friends and order a dozen or so small plates along with a few bottles of wine from their excellent wine list.

A word or two more about wine. The House offers an eclectic and carefully researched list of reds and whites with bottles ranging from $22 to $68 in price, with many of the bottles at the lower end of that range being excellent wines. I was shocked the other day to see that they were serving one of my favorite but obscure Robert Kacher selections from Minervois. There are 3 or 4 wines offered by the glass of both red and white varietals. Or if you prefer you may bring your own wine for a $15 corkage fee.

The restaurant seats around 70 or 80, with many of the tables being fairly packed in. It's a small space and can be somewhat loud at times, and bustling. The service is very democratic and attentive, if a bit relaxed. Dining here you'll find yourself in the company of a cross section of San Francisco dining culture: older gourmands, young hipsters, locals from the area, and wandering tourists who are lured to the oasis of non-Italian calm out of the wilderness of North Beach.

How Much?: Dinner for two with a couple of glasses of wine should run you about $75.

Reservations are recommended and parking is non-existent unless you want to pay the steep Broadway parking lot rates or you know the Valet at Larry Flynt's Hustler Club down the street.

The House
1230 Grant Ave (@Columbus)
San Francisco, CA 94111
415.986.8612

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