Ahhhhhhhhhhhh.....That's me, breathing a sigh of relief. After many months of somewhat lackluster meals, meals which led me to depend on my all-time favorite restaurants to get me through the holidays, I finally stumbled into a dining experience that revived me from the dining dead. Thank you Local Mission Eatery for reminding me how exciting even a casual weekday meal can be when the menu is thoughtful, the ingredients are fresh and well-sourced, and every plate is perfectly executed. At last, I've found the motivation to write!
I would never have guessed that this restaurant, just blocks from my house, one which I go to literally every day of the week (in order to get my Knead fix) and have visited numerous times for lunch, would have provided the spark I needed to get out of my dining rut. After being lured inside by a menu that promised a healthier alternative to my Serrano's pizza addiction, I dropped in early on a Wednesday night expecting a solid meal. But what I got wasn't solid. It blew solid out of the water.
The magic began with a simple, well-composed salad of Crab and Carrot, accompanied by blood orange (both sliced and pureed with carrot), shaved fennel, chervil, and a bright blood orange gastrique. It was uncluttered, uncomplicated, and clean. "Fresh" dripped from the plate and every component of the dish had the room to show off its natural flavor without being driven off of your palate by competing, overbearing ingredients. For such a nonchalant dish, I was especially taken by the attention placed on contrasting textures: crunchy carrot and shaved fennel, firm but juicy slivers of blood orange, and soft, chewy crab whose characteristics were enhanced by the creamy underbelly of the blood orange and carrot puree.
Up next was a soup that must've been created with me in mind. I'm not sure how the kitchen knew about my predilection for root vegetable purees with earthy, subtly sweet undertones. But, someone must've gotten word because the Celery Root Soup was right on the money. Pioppini and Golden Chanterelles - two of my favorites? Tiny bites of sweet Mizuna kumquat? And a nettle puree?! Well mister, you've got yourself quite the dish. The firm bite of the mushrooms held up nicely to the thick body of the puree and grounded the sweet, grassy flavors of the other ingredients. Although I can be a bit picky about soup, it totally hit my soup spot and after one bite I had already decided to return the following night to have it again...and that's exactly what I did. The good news: it wasn't just some strange craving for soup that made me fall in love with it that first night. It was just as good the second time around.
But the soup wasn't the only dish I ordered twice - the Polenta Cooked in Whey also made an encore appearance. Look I'm just going to say it, I'm not really a fan of polenta. Never have been. I've always thought of it like a bland, corny bowl of mush that wasn't worth all those carbs. Well, now I know it's not polenta's fault, I had just never had a deeply flavorful, creamy bowl of corn mush before. At Local Mission Eatery the polenta is cooked in the whey yielded during the process of making their house-made ricotta cheese, a technique that adds an unmistakable richness to the dish. Combined with a perfectly poached farm egg, goat gouda, smoked braised beet greens and onions, and a healthy dollop of their exceptionally light and creamy ricotta cheese, a generally dull dish is transformed into a show stopper. I didn't just enjoy it, I inhaled it. In the face of that damn bowl of mush, vacuum cleaners got nothin on me.
Finally, although I'm aware that the length of this review rivals that of my senior thesis, I can't leave out the meat of this article. No seriously, the meats that were served as the main entrees for my two meals, the Braised Pork Shoulder and the Grilled Quail, are worth noting. The Braised Pork Shoulder, served with apples, cabbage, herb roasted potatoes, and boudin noir, was so tender and moist it literally melted off in pieces the second it was touched by the tips of my fork. Talk about comfort food! I almost changed into sweatpants on the spot. And the Grilled Quail, paired with wheat berries, turnips, salsify, and mustard jus, was perfectly executed. Grilling poultry may sound simple, but cooking it so that this small bird maintains its moisture while all of that good, dry, smokey flavor from the grill is extracted and stored in the meat isn't as easy as it looks. Luckily the chefs know what they're doing, because it's that deep grill flavor that punches up the somewhat dull taste of quail and penetrates through every bite.
The menu is constantly evolving with the season, so everything I just described will probably be completely out-of-date in a week or two, maybe even a few days. But, after two excellent, back-to-back dinners I can be sure of two things:
1) No matter what's on the menu, the ingredients will be fresh, carefully selected, and prepared in a way that allows their natural flavors to shine. So there's clearly no need to question how a new dish is going to taste...it's going to be delicious.
2) That said, as long as that soup and polenta are still on the menu, I need to cancel all of my dinner plans and have a nightly date with Local Mission Eatery. Just me, the counter, and a couple bowls of hot root vegetable puree and corn mush. Sounds exciting, doesn't it?
Local Mission Eatery
3111 24th Street
San Francisco, CA 94110