: views from the Hill

Thursday, January 06, 2005

[FOOD] as we hope to continue ... The House

Can't remember what else we did Saturday and Sunday, but his nibs had Monday, January 3d, off and we headed up to San Francisco late Monday morning. We arrived hungry a bit after noon. Well, I arrived hungry (not having had bfst), but it had been hours since his nibs' bfst so he was willing to eat.

"Where?" he asked.

"The House," I answered. The weather was cooperating, sort of, and we headed down the hill to North Beach around 2P.

The House
1230 Grant Avenue, SF.

The restaurant was half-full and the server was on the phone. He waved and mouthed ("choose your own spot") as we settled into a table for four, halfway into the main room. He was still on the phone when his nibs got up to grab a couple menus. "Sorry," the server mouthed with a shrug of his shoulders, still on the phone.

We checked out the menu. His nibs said he didn't want to eat much because we'd probably go to dinner too. Maybe an appetizer, he said. Plus the unagi and avocado sandwich, of course. Ummm. Ymmm. Unagi and avocado sandwich, the dish he'd espied on a posted menu back that first day we'd walked by and discovered The House.

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We must have walked by the House a couple score or more times before that first day we stumbled over it and walked in for lunch. The restaurant is nondescript, minimalist. It sits on the corner of Fresno Alley and Grant, across the alley from The Saloon, a rowdy, happening spot. The Saloon is reputed to be the oldest bar in San Francisco, established 1861.

You walk down Grant, pass The Saloon and somehow never notice The House. It's just a window, a door, and then you get distracted by the Tibetan imports in the window of the shop just a bit further down Grant, not to mention the hoohah that awaits you at the end of the block, where you hit Broadway.

Or at least that's the way it was for me, until the day I was more than halfway down the half block between Fresno and Broadway and realized his nibs was no longer beside me. I looked back and found him perusing a menu stuck on a window of a restaurant I'd never noticed. "Unagi and avocado sandwich," he said. "We have to try it."

So we did.

That first time, we stopped by for the intriguing-sounding unagi and avocado sandwich and were snagged by the goodness and elegance of the simple asian fusion (how I hate that description and yet, should the shoe fit) food.

Monday, we were still discussing alternatives when the server came over and apologized for ignoring us while he dealt with the phone call. He told us the day's lunch specials and left us alone while we discussed some more. He came back with the house's signature amuse, lightly vinegared cucumbers tossed with dark sesame seeds and chunks of garlic.

We decided (your choice, his nibs had said) on the white shrimp and chinese chive dumplings. His nibs said, "for the entree, I'll have the unagi and avocado sandwich" at which point he handed the ordering over to me.

Me? I said. I thought we were sharing the sandwich.

"Are you kidding?" his nibs said. "I don't share that sandwich."

Our server just chuckled.

Well. I knew I'd get at least a bite or two and, although the sandwich is to die for, I decided that rather than unagi and avocado, I'd have one of the day's lunch specials: grilled sea bass with garlic ginger soy sauce served with steamed rice. His nibs asked for an Anchor Steam, while I ordered a 1554.

(Aside. My favorite beer of all time was Trader Joe's Black Toad beer. Alas, they stopped carrying it years ago. Their source had gone under, they said. I searched the Web looking for the brewery and finally gave up. A month or three ago, Trader Joe's began carrying a beer they called Black Toad. The beer was good, mind you, a dark beer that wasn't overly sweet, but it wasn't Black Toad. If you, like me, are looking for a Black Toad fix, the New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, CO, has the closest thing to Black Toad I've ever found. 1554. Ymmm.)

The appetizer came: six dumplings along with a dipping sauce, delicious. The dumplings were arrayed on thin slices of watermelon radish with shredded daikon (I think) and bits of shredded raw carrots alongside. We shared without any mishaps. Luckily, the number of dumplings was easily divisible by two. The dipping sauce was piquant and tasty.

I did get a nibble or two of the unagi and avocado sandwich, which was as delicious as always. The unagi and avocado are served on thinly sliced grilled sourdough. A mixed green salad assortment filled out the plate. One of the things I really like about The House -- besides the yumminess of their food -- is the way they layout their plates in beautiful patterns, always with an assortment of fresh veggies -- shredded or otherwise.

The sea bass was superb, dark and smoky on the outside and tender white inside. The rice was served in a separate bowl with dark sesame sprinkled on top. The fish was served atop bits of a cruciferous vegetable. A delicious sauce spooned on the edges of the plate to accompany the fish.

No room for dessert as we were planning for dinner out in a few short hours.

Before we left, I took a picture of the mural across Grant Avenue from The House, because the graffiti on it pissed me off.

Check out the graffiti that's blotching up the model's forehead.

A few months back, I saw a VISA ad on TV and recognized this mural in the background. Monday, when we sat down at The House, the first thing we noticed was that some cretin had tagged the mural.


We walked home. I took a nap, and woke up to find his nibs had made arrangements for us to eat at Sam's Grill, a treat I'd asked for before I fell asleep.

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