Friday, June 13, 2008

Canteen: Restaurant Review

You've got to admire a chef like Dennis Leary who goes from working in a prestigious and elegant restaurant to taking over a diner with only four booths for four and a counter. Eating at Canteen is always a treat because even though it looks like a gussied up lunch counter the food is nothing short of outstanding.

After eating at Canteen a couple times for lunch and more than a few times for breakfast and brunch, I decided it was high time to try it for dinner. It's not often you get to order everything on the menu, especially when you're a party of four, but when there are only four appetizers, entrees and desserts it's not so hard to manage. What made it all the more possible was the most genteel dining companions who went along with the plan.

Canteen Appetizers
At Canteen the dinner menu changes every week. You can check it out online, though I notice sometimes it's behind by a week. The meal began with an amuse bouche, a shot glass was filled with a refreshing buttermilk cucumber soup. There was also a buttery and hot-from-the-oven dinner roll. The Chilled Pea Soup with parmesan cream ($7.25) was light and creamy, perfectly in tune with the season.

The pork belly served in crispy strips with a salad of endive and celery and a drizzle of a honey-like vinegar syrup was a nice balance of textures and flavors. But it was the squid dish that blew me away. The most tender, small, fresh squid was served over a bed of the most perfectly cooked black lentils with a a dab of red chili paste and a slightly crunchy topping of bread crumbs. It was out of this world and would have made an excellent entree.

Canteen Entrees
For entrees we had something called Sweet Corn Clafoutis ($20.25). It was super rich and crisp around the edges. More of a fallen souffle or pancake than a clafoutis, it was nonetheless delicious. The asparagus and slightly melted goat cheese added juiciness and tang. The swordfish was very tender as if it had been poached in oil and was served with a swiss chard, beet and barley salad with walnut vinaigrette. The crunchy salad on it's own was terrific. I may have to try making a version of it at home. The veal filet and guinea hen with divine sauces were just like something you would find at a more upscale restaurant.

Canteen Desserts
We agreed the desserts covered all bases--there was a vanilla souffle, bittersweet chocolate custard, strawberry shortcake and braised apricots with bitter almond ice cream served with some strips of cake, maybe pound cake. Each dessert was a knockout. The souffle converted a non enthusiast with one bite. The custard was ridiculously rich and creamy and the shortcake had the most ethereal topping that was like a puff of cake.

One word about the wines, not only is the selection good, but the markup one of the lowest I've seen. Just a couple of examples--Robert Sinskey Pinot Noir which retails for $44 was $67 and Longboard Sauvignon Blanc which retails for $24 was $36. While not a fancy place, four years after opening, the food couldn't be better at Canteen.

817 Sutter St @ Jones
San Francisco, CA

Tue-Wed, Fri-Sat 6:00 pm-10:00 pm
(sadly no longer open for breakfast during the week)
Sat 8:00 am -2:00 pm
Sun 8:00 am-2:00 pm