Occupation: DJ and Budding Actor
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: 2223 Restaurant and Bar
Reviewed 2223 Restaurant and Bar: Wednesday, February 10, 2010
One of the great joys of participating in Check, Please! Bay Area is getting to share your favorite restaurant with the other guests on the show, as well as introduce the viewers to it in hopes that they might just believe that it’s as good as you say it is and give it a chance. Those who take my advice and pay 2223 Restaurant (named for its address on Market Street) a visit will be rewarded handsomely with what I call, "Downtown quality food at neighborhood prices." But at "Twenty-Two, Twenty-Three," as the locals call it, you also get the neighborhood personality: inviting, welcoming, hospitable, friendly, and comfortable. And it has been a consistently exceptional restaurant for the decade-plus I’ve been eating there.
Although I would use the words "chic" and "upscale" to describe the ambiance and food quality at 2223, there’s no pretense here. The crowd is very mixed, and all are welcome. On any given night, you will see gay, straight, young, old, fashionable, and casual people, all co-existing peacefully, and visually and audibly enjoying themselves. In fact, the buzz at 2223 can jump into the din range quite easily, even during the week. But if you go on a weekend, prepare to be part of a crowd. It’s the kind of place you can take a special date, a group of friends, a business associate, or your parents, and I think I’ve seen examples of each at some point or another.
Somehow, they always seem to hook me immediately upon entering through the heavy velvet curtains. Knowing the restaurant gets quite loud when it’s full, we like to dine early, around 5:30 or 6:00pm. But at that hour, you are certainly treated like royalty, from the initial greeting to the seating and service throughout. Most times we are offered a window table, and are told it is the "best seat in the house." There’s such a good feeling that results from being told you have that distinction. All of the servers at 2223 are friendly, knowledgeable, and pay attention to their guests. We have brought our own wines, split orders of menu items, made special requests, and gotten clarification on menu items without ever being made to feel like schmucks for doing it. To preempt potential menu questions, servers will inform you that everything is listed on the menu, but offer to explain any of the preparations, and they seem genuinely happy to do so. They are intuitive as well, and provide plenty of options to accommodate their guests. For example, one time our server sensed that I didn’t seem enthusiastic about having a cocktail, and without missing a beat she offered lemonade, limeade, or iced tea. There is something eternally accommodating about the attitude of the servers, even when they're asked to assist you in assembling a good meal for yourself.
Melinda Randolph’s creative and delicious food is what 2223 is really all about, but be forewarned that the portions run large. Everything on the menu is good, and I say that with complete confidence, having tasted them all. But it’s the fried calamari salad that brings me back time and time again. The most tender rings and tentacles, dusted in a zippy spiced flour and delicately fried to a golden perfection, come resting on a bed of fresh greens, surrounded by sweet, tiny, pear-shaped tomatoes, and topped with a dollop each of fresh made cocktail and tartar sauces. I do not know of any other restaurant that combines these sauces this way, and in a salad no less. And the result is heaven in your mouth. Period. Eat it yourself sometime and see what I mean. There are a few other salad choices as well, such as versions of Caesar, spinach, and mixed greens, and all of them are fresh and well executed. The pizzas are thin-crusted, creatively topped, and always cooked to a crispy, delicate perfection.
On a recent visit, two of three of my dining companions ordered the pan-roasted mussels and clams with creamy polenta in a tomato broth, and both raved so enthusiastically that I was forced to stick a fork in it myself. I was left with a renewed respect for their tastes. The roasted chicken is a staple on the menu at 2223, and it never disappoints. The vertical presentation is enough to make you sit up and take notice from the second it arrives. And who could resist a pile of crispy onion rings right on top? Under the rings (in descending order) is a generous portion of perfectly roasted chicken, a bunch of al dente, steamed Blue Lake green beans, and a buttery bed of smooth, creamy, mashed potatoes. The Loch Duarte salmon is consistently fresh and savory and now being served with a "lemon beurre fondue." A flank steak ordered medium rare was grilled to a pink and red perfection; something even many quality restaurants miss. And the accompanying gnocchi were delicate, gooey, and scrumptious, all in one. Most dishes are served with some combination of vegetable and starch, but side orders of them are available as well. The Blue Lake green beans and Brussels sprouts with bacon are highlights.
But the desserts alone are a reason to come here. There is nothing that could keep me from the sour cherry bread pudding. That, for sure, is worth the trip. I have been known to stop by at the bar at 10:00pm just for that sweet, piping hot, yummy bread pudding with the tart cherries, sticky sauce, and over-sized scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on top. You just can’t end a meal any better than that. But if you want to try, take a fork or spoon stab at the ever-so-chocolaty chocolate mousse, the zesty, frozen Meyer lemon cream pie, or the butterscotch pudding parfait; all certified winners among my crowd.
Introducing friends to 2223 is always fun, because the responses are quite predictable and consistent. Our friend Brian summed it up on a recent visit when he simply said, "What a find." Indeed, this local favorite is certainly a find, and it epitomizes the San Francisco restaurant scene, while fulfilling a useful role in the local marketplace. It’s friendly and environmentally responsible without taking itself too seriously, and Melinda Randolph’s food is out of this world. You really don’t have to go downtown and pay astronomical prices to get world-class food. It’s out here in the neighborhoods, and right down to earth, where it should be.
Occupation: Insurance Company Attorney
Favorite Restaurant: Brown Sugar Kitchen
Reviewed 2223 Restaurant and Bar: Friday, February 12, 2010
Overall Summary: A bustling restaurant in a bustling neighborhood. Exciting and delicious fare, walking an interesting line between comfort food and the unexpected.
Details: 2223 Market (which is the address, not the restaurant’s name. We learned that technically it has no name) is located on a cheerful section of Market Street in the Castro. Should you decide to try it, automobile transport is discouraged due to the absolute lack of parking options, aside from slowly trawling the streets and waiting for a miracle while in the process of becoming lost.
Once we found our miracle, we had a pleasant walk down the streets filled with strolling groups of Friday-jolly hipsters. We began our dinner with two appetizers: lamb spring rolls and a grilled artichoke. Both were excellent. The lamb, paired with a slightly sweet, slightly spicy dipping sauce, was savory and satisfying with subtle overtones of mint and cilantro. The rolls were cut into bite size pieces that were easy to share with others at the table. The artichoke was served fresh off the grill, along with aioli dipping sauce. All in all, it was the most straightforward element of our meal. It was great.
Our two main courses were anchored with traditional cuts of meat: pot roast and a double-cut pork chop. However, both were finished in ways that kept the experience fresh and exploratory. The pot roast was garnished with roasted white beets and pearl onions. The beets had a nearly bitter taste, which was nicely balanced out by the sweet onions. Both were good companions to the fall-apart tender roast. Potatoes au gratin and a horseradish sauce rounded out the plate as an even safer and traditional companion to the beef. We realized after the fact that the theme of the accompanying vegetables was "roots."
The pork chop entree was presented in a Southwestern theme. It was drizzled with a slightly spicy au jus, and accompanied by a tasty chile rellano on a bed of black beans with crispy flour tortilla strips on top. The roasted vegetables on the side included chayote, an unusual vegetable in an American restaurant. Everything on the plate was fantastic.
The restaurant was noisy to the extreme. We asked to be moved to a quieter location, and the staff came to our assistance. We were happier in the second location. The ambience and décor was modern, pleasant, but not distracting. A well-worn dark hardwood floor anchored the modern décor in the same way that the chef’s comfort food classics anchor the daring flourishes that share each plate.
Conclusion: It is all about the food. Every bite is delicious in a way that you might not anticipate. The difficult parking and the noisy environment turn out to be worth the aggravation in light of the exciting taste experience.
Occupation: Director of Juvenile Justice
Favorite Restaurant: Turk and Larkin Deli
Reviewed 2223 Restaurant and Bar: Tuesday, February 16, 2010
I loved, loved this place. The atmosphere was nice. Great pictures, casual tables with cloth napkins, and a large bar on one entire side of the restaurant. I got there early, before dinner started. The greeting was pleasant, and I was told that dinner didn’t start until 5:30, but I could have a drink or sit at the bar and wait. I had a drink, and it was the best and most expensive margarita I’d ever tasted. The bartender was patient with me, as I never know what I want to drink.
There is a glass partition that separates the bar from the sit-down tables. You are able to order and eat at the bar. The wait at the bar was about ten minutes. I had made a reservation for 5:30. I was given a great seat where I was able to see the entire restaurant without looking suspicious.
The menu was not fancy, and the selections were not either. I happened to be at the restaurant on what is called "12 Dollar Tuesday." There is separate menu where the entrees are twelve dollars. I didn’t like anything on that menu, so I stuck with the house menu. I had a taste for a steak, but there were no steaks on the menu, so I settled for pot roast. The appetizer selection was eye catching and had a good variety. I was really drawn to the crab soup and ordered it. The waiter was very attentive, but there were only a few people in the restaurant. He did tell me it would fill up soon because of 12 Dollar Tuesday.
As I waited for the soup, more people did mosey in. The soup came and was fabulous! I enjoyed it very much. Shortly after the soup, the pot roast came, and the plate was full. There were two incredibly large pieces of roast topped with horseradish on a bed of mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables. In a word: Awesome! I ate the entire plate. I kept saying I should take some of it home, but I wanted to continue to enjoy and savor the moment.
The restaurant did continue to fill up, and by the time I was finished the place was almost as full as I was. I didn’t have room for dessert. I felt very comfortable and at ease sitting there by myself. I will go back, and I will recommend to other friends.