While we waited for our appetizers to arrive, we snacked on thick slices of homemade levain bread and butter. The most exceptional of our first courses was a Delta asparagus salad with Maitake mushrooms, sesame seeds, preserved Meyer lemon and fresh cheese. The cheese turned out to be a homemade ricotta infused with lemon flavor, which I could have happily eaten by the spoonful.
Our main course dishes continued our exploration of local possibilities. My skepticism about a main soup disappeared with the first spoonful. The broth was rich and full on its own but together with additions that broadly fell under the category of rice and roasted vegetables, each spoonful turned into a treat. Most surprising were the slices of kumquat. Generally known for their sour bite, they added a sweet bright note to the soup. The trout was perfectly done. Again the play of textures: the fish with the puree and the wild rice made each bite full an experience. But the combination of flavors spoke of new possibilities with old favorites making traditional ingredients rise above the everyday. Throughout our meal, wait staff stopped by to check on our progress and to answer questions.
We argued for a bit about what to order for dessert, all three choices looked great and in the end, ordered one of each. The Carrot Ginger Cake with Crème Fraîche and Limes was a revelation. It was light and airy, and like our main dishes, brimming with flavor. When the pot au crème with rosemary caramel popcorn was finished, there was sadness all round. Sweet and creamy, it was as tasty as it was fun.
Occupation: University President
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Bella Trattoria
Reviewed Outerlands: Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Outerlands is perfectly named for a restaurant way out in the Sunset district, just a few blocks from Ocean Beach. Get there early -- before 6:30 -- because there are no reservations, and this is a meal you do not want to miss. The ambiance is funky with chipped paint, cement floors, rough wood panel walls, Mason jars for glasses and mostly tables for two, but not stacked side-by-side so conversation is easy.
The menu is quite eclectic, and the cuisine is unusual but outstanding. Be sure to order the homemade Levain toast and butter for nibblers over wine. We split a salad of pickled beets, rye walnut crisp, and Cara Cara oranges with a burnt honey vinaigrette, which was the perfect starter. Both of us were delighted with the main dish, which was a combo of shrimp, grits, cracked faro, snap peas, smoke pork shank, wild fennel, and pickled peppers and in human portions, i.e., not sized for a hungry horse.
The server was attentive but not hovering and her recommendation of the Pinot Gris was the right complement to our entree. For dessert, the pot de crème is for the chocoholic among us with an enormous sweet tooth and the apricot trifle was perfectly balanced by the Meyer lemon curd at the bottom of the cup. We had the opportunity to chat with the owner David, who opened the restaurant just 18 months ago. This is a real find and not to be missed.
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Greens Restaurant
Reviewed Outerlands: Wednesday, May 2, 2012
The restaurant has an unassuming exterior. Could be missed easily if you’re not looking for it. The interior is a tall space with a few tables and a bar. It was not as noisy as other SF restaurants. Husband and I could hold a conversation easy. The lighting could be better. There was a couple sitting near us who were holding their phone up to read the menu.
The restaurant interior is grungy restaurant done up in an unfinished concrete style with partial pain, very much reflecting a boathouse or workshop interior which they were probably shooting for.
My one issue with this restaurant was the layout. SF restaurants are notoriously cramped, but this one was just really problematic. Long rectangular space, a third of which is taken up along its length by a bar. Tables lining up on the other side and thrown in up front. The wait staff deserve medals for keeping their wonderful demeanors in a work environment where they are consistently skirting food around people. At one point when it got busy, we had people’s posteriors in our faces there’s so little room. No matter how great food is at a place, it’s not worth that. There’s one table right in front of the door that is pretty much packed around with people staring at you while you eat. In total there are about 8 tables inside and 4 out.
Aside from the food, which we loved, I’d like to commend the staff. They were great. We were seated within 15 minutes of our arrival without a reservation. The first table they showed us was right in front of the restroom. We asked for another and were allowed to wait until another opened up. They were quite gracious about it. The ladies were, there was guy a there who really was not too happy about us disliking anything. Our food showed up fairly quickly.
Regarding the food: One of the appetizers was bread and butter. Levain toast with butter. Good bread and good butter, but really, should this be served up as an appetizer you pay for? The answer is always no.
My entree was a dish of spring vegetables with a roasted chicken bouillon broth. It was light yet extremely deep and flavorful with herbs. It had slices of kumquats, which offered wonderful piquancy. Crunch of snap peas paired wonderfully with chewy buckwheat orzo. Cilantro complemented the dish perfectly. Baby radish, mushroom, giblets, all worked wonderfully. I cannot give enough praise to the gorgeousness that was this dish. I also had the ginger-lemon apple cider, which was fantastic! It was a cold spring day and this really hit the spot. The ginger and lemon were well-balanced and played well together without overshadowing the cider.
My husband had the duck confit. He’s not very much of a duck person, but he really liked the combinations of flavour of this dish. Rich, meaty confit paired very well with sweet and salty prunes and greens. The potatoes could have been better seasoned and were unremarkable. They would have added to the dish had they been crisper. He also had a glass of Sonoma Coast 2010 Pinot Noir County Line, which he did not like too much.
Desserts here were very creative and excellent. We shared the salted caramel pot de mousse which was amazing. Just enough chocolate as a top layer. It was served with crunchy caramel popcorn, which was an excellent foil for the smooth mousse. Sweet without being overtly so. We also shared the strawberry-almond shortcake, which was sort of like a deconstructed shortcake with the strawberry portion being served as a mousse on the side of almond cake. Loved the combination. Didn't quite like the Meyer lemon slices on it. Didn't feel like the dish needed it.