Comfort Food Newcomers
Photos and article by Virginia Miller
San Francisco doesn’t lack for comfort food. The wave of gastropubs and gourmet comfort food of the past decade has insured most neighborhoods aren’t without elevated burgers and grown-up childhood favorites. Two new restaurants in SoMa and the Mission opened in September with very different menus but both with comfort at the forefront.
COMPANY, Mission (1000 Guerrero at 22nd, 415-374-7479) http://companysf.com
Guerrero and 22nd has long been one of my favorite corners. Whether a pint at The Liberties, a cocktail at retro fabulous bar Lone Palm, house charcuterie at Beast and the Hare, at this intersection I somehow feel transported, encouraged to linger and take in my surroundings, as if in Europe. In Company‘s (formerly Tao Cafe) big picture windows, vintage red chairs and retro lamps make the space even more welcoming than it was before. Lunch hours are idyllic, where a book, a sandwich and a bowl of soup becomes a way of spoiling myself, an inviting break from work.
Dinner is likewise mellow, families and couples confirming a locals vibe. Chefs/owners Karen Hoffman came from Four Seasons Newport Beach and Jardiniere, and Jason Poindexter from Ritz Carlton Chicago, Four Seasons Chicago and San Francisco. Manager/owner Thuy Nguyen (she owned Tao) calls the food “haute comfort”, the menu’s Cal-Med influences (an entirely overplayed category) obvious.
It’s clear in early months that while Company may not be revolutionary destination dining, it’s a neighborhood spot offering tranquil surroundings and well-executed food. The ubiquitous upscale burger is there: “Bread & Butter” burger ($14), a patty of ground chuck and oxtail, topped with Madeira glazed pioppini mushrooms and decadent triple creme brie. At lunch, vegetarian stands up to burger and pork offerings: a panini of grilled eggplant and house ricotta ($11) is layered with rapini/broccoli rabé and romesco sauce. Smoky eggplant and ricotta are in harmony: warm, luxurious, almost healthy. A bowl of squash soup, savory with duck confit, brightened by citrus reduction, is $8 but as an add-on cup to a lunch entree is merely $3.
At dinner, salads are vivid, the unlisted vegetables one night in a “crisp vegetable salad” ($9) being beets, cucumber and avocado over sweet gem lettuce, tossed with feta and toasted pine nuts in a basil mint vinaigrette. House-cured salmon salad ($11) is likewise fresh and silky, with a repeat of cucumber and beets in yogurt dill dressing. Crispy confit chicken wings ($9) are especially tender, accented with heat (and color) from red jalapenos and fried mint leaves. Syrah-braised short ribs ($23) are cooked in harissa, evoking Middle Eastern intrigue over whipped garnet yams and charred rapini.
With four beers on draft, like intense peach notes of Widmer Bros. BRRR Seasonal Red Ale from Portland ($6), and a shorter wine list (heavy on France, Italy, California), there are cocktails sans hard liquor from Assistant General Manager Russell Morton, who worked with Poindexter and Hoffman at Four Seasons. While I typically don’t get excited about soju and wine cocktails, preferring robust spirits to far milder soju, Morton elevates an amaretto sour (something Portland’s star bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler drew attention to earlier this year) in an Almond Cherry Sour ($6), keeping house amaretto tart vs. too sweet with lemon, cherry bitters and brandied cherries.
While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend crossing town for Company, I’d head here when longing for a peaceful respite and a no-fuss, solid meal.
JAMBER, SoMa (858 Folsom St. between 4th & 5th Sts., 415-273-9192) http://www.jambersf.com
Midwestern brother/sister duo Jess and Matt Voss opened Jamber, serving gourmet pub food from Chef Peter Baker with California-only wines and beers, all on tap. The siblings’ care shows in hand-assembled tables, chairs made from wine barrels, wines selected from wineries they personally visited, a hip, industrial vibe warmed by woods and graffiti art in the narrow, loft-like space with walled front patio.
Wines (happily, there’s options: 2.5 oz. and 5 oz. glasses, 1/2 or full 25 oz. jugs), like Darcie Kent Gruner Veltliner from Monterey or a Margerum Grenache Blanc from Santa Barbara, flow easily from taps, with beers such as Almanac’s Farmhouse Ale or a hibiscus saison, Pacific Brewing Lab’s Nautulis.
In my visits, there’s a relaxed welcome from staff best experienced sitting at the rustic wood bar. Jess’ bacon jam recipe is a highlight: a savory, textured pleasure of a spread, no matter what it’s served with. Mr. Meatloaf ($15) is the star, a hefty, tender slab of buffalo meatloaf wrapped in bacon, accompanied by mashed potatoes and roasted carrots. I’m often bored by big hunks of ground meat. Not so here. Jamber’s meatloaf is about as good as meatloaf gets.
Two more standouts? PB & Jam ($11) is a hunk of pork belly layered in a sandwich with peanut butter and that Jamber bacon jam. With most starters on the heavy side, from pretzels to fried mozzarella, and the poutine ($9) a mound of fries and cheese curds with too-scarce gravy at the bottom, the top starter is easily “Parmesan rosemary mashed potater tots” ($8) – warm mashed potatoes oozing out of lightly fried breading – with, yes, Jamber bacon jam. After a decent mac ‘n cheese ($10) or freshly generous salads ($7-9), pot pie ($12-14), namely ratatouille, sounded brilliant but was a soggy, funky mash of vegetables in flavorless crust. Likewise, the beet Jamburger ($10 – there is a veal/beef burger for $12) made me sorry I took the vegetarian path. Despite fresh bread, it tasted like slices of beet on a bun rather than creative beet/veggie patties I’ve had that never replace a “real” burger but can be a worthy sandwich on its own.
Despite a couple difficult dishes, there’s enough here to love at this all day SoMa stop for a drink and a filling bite.