: views from the Hill

Monday, September 20, 2004

[FOOD] Fried hama hama oysters to die for at Lüx

2263 Chestnut Street, between Pierce and Scott
San Francisco
Dinner M-Th 5:30-10:00 p.m. F-Sa - 11 p.m.

Last Friday night we made reservations for dinner at Lüx for 9 p.m., late enough to give us time to change after work and make the fifty-minute walk over. We walked in on the dot of nine and had a table within seconds. We hadn't been since June 8th, when we'd popped in on their opening night with our youngest.

Our visit was triggered by an e-mail received from Kitty earlier in the day:

Dear Friends of Isa

It has taken us a few months to work the kinks out of our newest small plate restaurant, Lüx, but we are now ready and eager to introduce (or re-introduce) you to our exciting menu and enjoyable ambiance. We have put up additional drapes to reduce the sound, improved our staff & redesigned our menu. You'll find the same quality of delicious food that we offer at Isa but with a slight Asian influence. We and our staff are very proud of what we've created and would feel honored if you would visit (or revisit !) us soon to see and taste for yourself. Do call or stop by and let us know when we can expect you... and please accept a glass of champagne as our personal thank you for your friendship and support.

Luke & Kitty Sung

Kitty's e-mail continued on with a look at their revamped menu:

a small plate restaurant

Seaweed & cucumber salad with sesame vinaigrette 7

Butter lettuce salad with fuji apple, celery & tarragon shallot vinaigrette 7

Baby arugula salad with red beets & goat cheese 7

Wild seabass ceviche with cilantro, mango & wonton chips 9

Spicy tuna tartare with avocados, soybeans, crispy chips of taro root & seawood 11

A small crab & corn soup with green onion & fried shallots 5

Zucchini & green onion pancake with salmon tartare & dill creme fraiche 9

Fried hama hama oysters with polenta cake, sambal aioli, green onion & cilantro 9

Grilled honey spiced calamari with green papaya salad, mint & peanuts 9

Seared dayboat scallops with sauteed mushrooms & truffle oil 13

Northern halibut with sauteed baby spinach, brown butter & caper soy 13

Miso glazed butterfish with roasted eggplant & crisp nori 13

Honey glazed baby back ribs with with summer white corn & toy box tomatoes 13

Pan seared flat iron steak with yukon gold potato frites & caramelized shallot sauce 14

Crispy peking duck leg with peaches, radish, pinenuts & hoisin sauce 11

Fresh egg noodles with asian chive & mushroom soy 6

Sauteed organic sugar pea leaves with garlic butter 6

Steamed jasmine rice 1

Our staffer informed us that the honey glazed baby back ribs were gone and described a yummy-sounding tiger prawn special. We had a hard time deciding, but finally opted for an O'Reilly pinot noir from Oregon and the following.

Seaweed & cucumber salad with sesame vinaigrette

This was a tasty salad, and I needed something green with dinner, but the salad was not an extraordinary, you've-got-to-try-this salad to recommend to friends. If I had it all to do over again I'd go with the arugula, goat cheese and beet salad.

Zucchini & green onion pancake with salmon tartare & dill creme fraiche

This quesadilla-like concoction worked wonderfully. The pancake was cut into quarters with the dill creme fraiche spooned on top, a small pile of salmon tartare was centered on each quarter. This dish was tasty, very, very tasty.

Seared dayboat scallops with sauteed mushrooms & truffle oil

I love scallops. This dish was delish.

Miso glazed butterfish with roasted eggplant & crisp nori

The miso glazing on the butterfish was a wonderful flavor. The small roasted Japanese eggplant was delivered up as slices, smallish rounds about the size of mushrooms. I happen to be a huge roasted eggplant fan. The flavor went well with the miso glaze and the butterfish.

Crispy peking duck leg with peaches, radish, pinenuts & hoisin sauce

This combination was tasty too. We cut the duck leg into pieces manageable with chopsticks and carried on from there.

The food was excellent, as it had been opening night. The added drapes softened the noise levels we'd experienced our first visit. The noise levels our first visit had been nothing compared to the noise levels we'd experienced at butterfly. Butterfly has wonderful food (Kalua Pig with Butter Lettuce Cups, ymmmm) but noise levels were so high what with the DJ music and some loud parties that we finally just gave up on talking to each other the night we dined there.

The Lüx menu is now printed on a lighter color paper than it had been opening night and was more readable. (The fact I'd remembered my glasses last Friday probably helped the readability as well.) We'd liked the restaurant our previous visit and liked it even moreso this visit. We were diving into our last plate, the peking duck leg, when Luke dropped into the seat next to his nibs.

Luke looked at where we were in our meal and asked us if we had any more plates coming. No, we answered. He asked us what we'd had and what we'd liked. I raved about the pancake with salmon tartare. His nibs mentioned the butterfish. Had we tried the tiger prawn special? No, we hadn't. He asked our server to bring us some from the kitchen and then changed his mind. Had we tried the oysters? No, we hadn't. "Bring them some of those instead," he said.

A very pregnant Kitty joined us. She teased us for not mentioning that the e-mail had triggered our visit and thereby qualifying for a free glass of champagne as a "friend of Isa." They were trying to see what sort of impact the e-mails have because the last time they'd sent out e-mail (when we visited the previous time in early June), they were absolutely bowled-over with the number of "friends of Isa" who showed up for dinner.

In lieu of a glass of champagne, Luke asked our staffer to open another bottle of the pinot noir we'd been drinking and pour some for the four of us then take the rest back to the kitchen for the staff to sample after the restaurant closed.

Fried hama hama oysters with polenta cake, sambal aioli, green onion & cilantro

The oysters were absolutely wonderful. Luke said they were intended to be a single mouthful, and I should pop an oyster in all at once to get the meld of flavors. I found each "serving" to be too big for a mouthful. Maybe if the dish hadn't been straight out of the kitchen and the polenta had had a chance to cool a bit ... Warning. Warning. If the dish is piping hot, cut the polenta cake and oyster in half and take the dish a half oyster at a time or give the dish a chance to cool a bit.

That said, this dish is to die for. No kidding, this dish is so good, that I was vividly remembering the taste and wishing there were some way I could arrange to score some for a morning snack when I was out driving this morning and a hankering hit me.

The four of us sat talking for a long time about food and life, the baby that's due in another three weeks, the three-chef tasting dinner at Manresa the night before, the difficulties of getting people to order sweetbreads and the bill that (if Schwarzenegger signs it) would outlaw foie gras production in California. Turns out both Kitty and I are huge fans of Luke's seared foie gras dishes. We also talked about Bocadillos and the pigs trotters his nibs and I had eaten there, a different memorable pigs trotters dish that Luke and Kitty had had, our dinner at Bruno Viscovi's Albona Ristorante Istriano earlier in the week and so forth and on.

I made sure to tell them that our staffer was a keeper. He had not only provided us with terrific service, but he also cared enough about the restaurant to straighten crooked table settings that he'd noticed on his way back to the kitchen. Good staff make a huge difference for a restaurant and this was a staffer they should keep around.

The four of us split three desserts as we continued talking. The restaurant was closed and Kitty still needed a real dinner and a good night's sleep by the time we said our good-byes. The walk home up over Russian Hill and up Telegraph Hill wore off a small fraction of the calories we'd consumed.

With any luck, we convinced Luke to have a special dinner, a single-night seating for as many "friends of Isa" as the restaurant will hold where he will serve all the dishes he'd love to serve, if he could sell enough of them to warrant their space on the menu -- his scrumptious sweetbreads being just one example.

X'd fingers it comes to pass.

Extra fingers crossed that he doesn't schedule such a dinner for a date when we'll be unavailable.

Lüx was busy, tables full, several large parties in addition to the couples, folks at the bar, but not anything like as busy as Izzy's Steak and Chop House on Steiner. We'd walked by Izzy's on our way over to Lüx and saw the young and the beautiful and the not-so-young and the not-so-beautiful spilling out the door.

I'm torn between wanting Luke and Kitty to have folks spilling out the door and realizing that that sort of popularity would cause problems when we make reservations and that it would be easy enough for Luke to have crowds if he were willing to serve less interesting dishes.

Do we eat at Izzy's? No, not usually. The last time I ate at Izzy's was last year when I was over in Corte Madera for the Book Passage Mystery Conference and ate out with some people I'd met at the Conference. Izzy's menu choices include Caesar salad, prawn cocktail, creamed spinach, scalloped potatoes, six different styles of steak, veal chops, pork chops, lamb chops and more. Good, tasty food, but where's the adventure there?

We're just happy, as we told Luke and Kitty, that there are restaurateurs out there who are willing to take a few risks and who enjoy serving up something other than chops and Caesar salads to the likes of us, who enjoy eating something different.

Now, if Luke would only put sweetbreads back on the menu.

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