Special Slow-Cooked Cod, Molasses-Brined Pork Chop with Potato Salad, Bucket of Fried Chicken
Occupation: Management Consultant
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: The Front Porch
Reviewed The Front Porch: Friday, June 8, 2007
I took a friend on a Friday night at about 7:30pm and we found parking two blocks away on a residential street.
We had a pleasant 40-minute wait sitting at the bar enjoying pint-size bottles of St. Peter's Stout, a small brewery, dark, English ale; my favorite ale of all time. From the outside, the Front Porch seems small and non-descript with a few tables and chairs outside where people were waiting. The restaurant was originally the garage with an Edwardian above. The décor is 1920's with tin on the ceiling, an old cashier on the bar, a few antique photos and antique windows on the walls. The atmosphere casually with artistically clad young non-professionals. It had a very neighborhood-y feel. The seating was minimal and tables were close together, but comfortable. It was loud from people talking and background music (not live) but the noise was not unbearable. The staff was busy, but very attentive, pleasant, and responsive.
The sangria was unique, but a bit too sweet. The presentation of the food was a bit artistic and the arrival time was about 20 minutes, which makes sense since most of the dishes are slow-cooked. We had the conch fritters and pickled beets for appetizers; they were both awesome. The pork chops entree was outstanding. It was about 1-inch thick and 10 inches long and cooked to perfection with banana strips. It was complemented extremely well with the grits side dish. These were probably the best dishes on the menu. The special cod entree was very good as well. The cod skin was peeling off whole on the plate, revealing the supple white fish. The portions were generous and we were too full to try dessert.
The total cost per person with tip was $50. Not counting the pre-dinner ales, about $18 with tip.
Occupation: Employee Benefits Expert
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Ana Mandara
Reviewed The Front Porch: Saturday June 9, 2007
I was so excited to try The Front Porch, as it is in my neighborhood, and I had heard they had fabulous fried chicken. I think my greatest surprise was that I thought I was going to a down home restaurant with comfort food, and instead found a Caribbean-inspired place with flavors that didn't really appeal to me.
We went at 6:30pm on a Saturday night, which might have been our first mistake. After finding parking in this usually crowded neighborhood, we tried to enter the restaurant to put our names on whatever list existed. At first, we were unable to locate anyone in charge, as the other people at the door were also trying to put their names on the list, or pick up food to go. Finally we were greeted, and were told that it would be a 40 minute wait. We waited on what else, the front porch, which consisted of some cute chairs, including a rocker for my three-year-old daughter. The only down side of the wait was the constant cigarette smoke that kept being blown in our direction from another group also waiting for a table.
We finally were seated at a booth with a chair on the end to accommodate our party of five. It was a tight squeeze. The noise level inside made it difficult to hear the waiter, for him to understand our order, and almost impossible to have any conversation at our table.
We started with the assorted West Indian chips, which were spicy and dusted with a nice powdery sugar. It was an interesting combination of tastes. The two tiny plantain cakes were served with a small sliver of house cured smoked salmon, and a dollop of mashed avocado and crème fraîche. The combination was delicious, but the portion size was way too small. There was definitely not enough to share even a taste with anyone else. The duck pâté was served with mango chutney that added a nice sweetness to the pate.
For our main dishes we ordered the Porch Chop, which is the Front Porch's take on a barbequed pork chop. It came with a just slightly spicy barbeque sauce, and was served with sweet mixed cabbage coleslaw on top, and fried plantains on the side. We also ordered the bucket of fried chicken with mustard greens and mixed fries to share between one adult and two small children. The chicken was juicy, but the coating was nothing special, and tasted somewhat like cardboard. The greens were slightly undercooked, but the mixed fries were nice.
I think the greatest disappointment with the Front Porch was the value for the money. The portion sizes were very small. The bucket of chicken came with eight of the smallest chicken pieces I have ever seen, and didn't seem worth the nearly $30 cost. The child's cheeseburger was so small that it left my nine-year-old still hungry. When we left, we actually went home to eat again. The portion size coupled with the noise level and the cigarette smoke that actually drifts into the restaurant from outside made this restaurant one that I will not visit again.
Occupation: E-learning Expert
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: RNM
Reviewed The Front Porch: Friday, June 8, 2007
The Upper Mission, it seems, is rapidly becoming one the city’s most reliable go-to spots for great casual dining. It’s always been a charming and fun neighborhood, but with the addition of Blue Plate, Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack, and now, the Front Porch, the UM can now claim a triple-threat of really wonderful, innovative, attitude-free restaurants.
Clearly a lot of people agree with me. We went to the Front Porch early on a Friday evening, around 6ish, and it was a good thing we didn’t get there any later. By 7 o’clock, the place was totally packed. The restaurant occupies an unassuming, whitewashed building, distinguished mainly by the eponymous front porch (which I’d argue is really more of a patio, but “Front Patio” doesn’t have quite the same ring). It’s just far enough off of Mission and San Jose to feel hidden and out-of-the-way.
That sense of having discovered something secret is more pronounced when you walk into the main dining area. Low, pressed-tin ceilings, a long, polished oak bar, and black-and-red checkered floor tiles give the space a sort of speakeasy vibe; you almost feel like you should have been asked for a password at the door. We were lucky enough to be seated promptly, and, better still, the cocktails came in the blink of an eye. Although my vegan, but paradoxically hard-drinking friend, Sean, was a bit dismayed at the bar’s beer and wine-only offerings (he claimed the rosé sangria reminded of him of wine-cooler binges in high school), I’ve always been a fan of the girly cocktail. Once I tried the Carribini -- their variation on a bellini consisting of a guava puree and German sekt (i.e., Champagne) -- I found it hard to stop: I managed to suck down three over the course of the evening.
Caribbean-inflected comfort food dominates the menu, the operative keywords here being “hot and sweet,” “starchy and creamy,” “hearty and homey.” This is not to say the chef isn’t willing to take risks, some of which paid off for us, and others….not so much. On the super-positive side were the amuse-bouches -- something that you wouldn’t expect to get at a laid-back Jamaican soul food joint. However, I’m very glad we did as they turned out to be one of the high points of the evening. These delightful little canapés consisted of a kind of brandade -- salt cod mixed with potato (sweet potato in this case) -- sitting on crisp toasts, drizzled with olive oil, and topped with a fresh salad of marinated red pepper and arugula. Although the combination might sound a teensy bit over the top, it totally wasn’t. The flavors harmonized perfectly, and it managed to be inventive without being at all bizarre. The plantain cakes we ordered as one of our appetizers, on the other hand, were less successful. The “cakes” were actually more like fritters, only with a slightly bitter edge. Presented with an avocado mash (basically, guacamole minus the lemon juice and garlic), crème fraîche, and wild salmon (of all things), the combination just seemed outré. It was one of those dishes that sounded really interesting on paper, but didn’t quite come together in your mouth.
For his entrée, my partner Don had the bafflingly-named “escaveitch” fish. A Google search on that word will suggest that you might have meant “escoveitch” fish, which, as you will further discover, is a Jamaican variation on ceviche. But perhaps the Front Porch didn’t actually mean “escoveitch” after all since the fish that was brought to Don bore very little resemblance to ceviche of any known nationality. Rather, it was just a very nice, fresh tasting, but fully grilled filet of bass, topped with fresh slivered onions, lemon juice, and placed atop a bed of coconut red beans and rice.
One of the reasons I wanted Vegan Sean to accompany us on this particular dining excursion (aside from the fact that he’s hilarious and always great company) is that I needed someone to try out the daily vegan special that the Front Porch advertises on their website. I was curious to find out whether such a homey, meat-centric place would actually take their vegan option seriously. The answer is: they do, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to please every vegan, every time. The special that night was an olla of butternut squash, rapini, sweet potato, and cherry tomatoes, all stewed up in a bath of coconut milk. Unfortunately Sean isn’t a huge fan of coconut milk. I am, but I had to agree that the sweetness did tend to overwhelm the taste of the veggies, such that you didn’t really get the full flavor of every component of the dish. If you do consider yourself a hardcore herbivore, I’m thinking the Front Porch probably shouldn’t be your first stop.
Now that I’ve done my due diligence as a culinarily-correct San Franciscan, let’s get back to the meat. The pork chop I ordered was heaven on a plate. I’m not entirely sure what “molasses-brining” might involve, but the result is a not overly-sweet, smoky, moist, and thoroughly satisfying hunk of cooked pig. The lightly-dressed sweet potato and carrot slaw that was served on top was genius, providing a clean, crunchy counterpoint to the sweet and salty meat. The pork chop also came with a side of plantains, which could have easily passed without mention if I didn’t have a particular axe to grind about said fruit.
I’m sorry if I sound parochial and boorish, but when I see something that looks like a banana, I really want it to taste like a banana. My experience with plantains, in this regard, is not dissimilar to the one I commonly have when I order a Diet Coke and take that first neuron-frying sip of what turns out to be Diet Pepsi. What you had hoped would be something familiar, comforting, and pleasant suddenly rips its mask off to reveal a horrifying and freakish visage beneath. At the risk of overstating the point: I’m over plantains.
Desserts were very nice, with only a single, and probably entirely subjective, off-key note. This came with Don’s almond brownie. It definitely tasted like it was made in-house, and it was fluffier and less dense that your ordinary fudge brownie. All agreed that it was tasty, but there was definitely an unfamiliar and off-putting undertone in it that was driving me (and only me) nuts. It was only after I was picking over the remnants of the brownie later that night that it came to me… in the form of a mental image of the Jimmy Dean sausage package. Either they totally put sage in that brownie, or I had a temporary brain-tumor that was causing bizarre taste-hallucinations that night. My lemon pound cake with strawberries and fresh whipped cream, on the other hand, was excellent in every regard and utterly free of unidentifiable tastes. The cake seemed to have been macerated in a citrus-y sugar syrup that gave it a dense, almost crystallized texture. The counterpoint of the fruit and the not-too-sweet fluffy whipped cream made for a great finish.
Final thoughts on this thoroughly excellent addition to the Upper Mission dining scene: get there early, pray that the chef graces you with one of those amazing amuses, stick to the meat-based options if you can, and come hungry.