Not Your Grandfather’s KFC
(UPDATE: This restaurant closed at the end of 2011 as the owners focus on their other projects.)
1058 Valencia St., San Francisco
Dinner Mon.–Sat., 6–10 p.m. (till 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays)
No reservations, VISA/MC accepted
I’ve actually eaten out of desperation at the tiny KFC outlet in San Francisco’s Mission District. You’d have to be desperate to do that because there are tons of restaurants and taquerias around to satisfy one’s hunger, so it was only at times when I didn’t want to wait for a table or needed a quick bite before heading home that I resorted to this fast-food option.
I don’t have to feel desperate any more as restaurant after restaurant opens up in this neighborhood. And the KFC is no more. In its spot is a funky diner serving up whimsical American classics.
Restaurateur Neil Jorgensen and Chef Bruce Binn have transformed the tiny KFC shack into a trendy Mission district restaurant, and as a nod to its former tenant they called the place Spork. (That’s the spoon-fork utensil that’s popularly used by KFC.) Recently I visited the place with my friend David for a weeknight dinner.
Jorgensen has taken advantage of the space, pushing back the previous kitchen farther behind to open up more space for tables and a huge curved bar. The heavy curtains at the door reminded me of restaurants back in New York, but the casual but stylish interior definitely had a California feel. (But I have to say, I didn’t really get the huge pop art of hands signaling numbers. It looked like a cross between Andy Warhol and Communist propaganda posters.)
Spork doesn’t take reservations (and isn’t opened on Sundays, which I annoyingly found out a few weeks earlier) so David and I got there early to ensure we got a table right away. We arrived soon after the restaurant opened at 6 p.m. and was seated by the window. By the time we were done with dinner, the place was packed with an eclectic group of diners while others lingered around the bar waiting for tables.
Chef Binn’s menu is limited to several appetizers and about five entrees, all playing on the theme of an “upscale diner.” (<--TM by David.) And despite the fact that they print out the menu every day, I doubt that the selection changes that often. I’m pretty sure, for example, that you can always get the Inside-Out Burger or the Mussels and Pork with a Spork.
We started with the rosemary dinner rolls, which are complimentary but the menu notes that you have to request them in order for them to bring them to your table. And can I just say that you should never, ever forget to request these warm, savory, Southern comfort in a bun. The rosemary infused the buns with aroma that just opens your senses for the meal ahead.
David started with the Roasted Pears and Goat Cheese Salad ($9) and I got the Griddled Calamari and Prawn Salad ($11). The pear salad was elegant and nicely cooked, while my salad was accentuated by an Asian-inspired slaw with a soy-ginger vinaigrette. All the ingredients, from the tender calamari to the meaty prawn, were perfectly cooked and blended nicely together as a starter.
For our entrees, David ordered the Alaskan Halibut ($21), which came with a bacon and lentil salad and a mix of spinach, artichokes and chicory. The dish didn’t look any different than the featured fish dish at any other fine restaurant. It was nicely cooked and seasoned.
I ordered the Mussels and Pork with a Spork ($17) because I love any kind of slow-cooked pork and mussels are always a guaranteed crowd pleaser. While the dish came out looking like some huge mass of food, the flavors from the Belgian beer in the pork to the natural juices from the mussels blended nicely.
I didn’t, however, get the purpose of the spork that came with the plate. While cute and playful for the theme of the restaurant, I kept going back and forth between using the spork to dig out my mussels to using my regular fork to get to the pork.
To end our meal, we shared the Pot Brownie ($6), which despite the name does not contain any prescription-required “grass” (in California only). This was a straightforward brownie served in a ramekin with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The dessert was the least successful of all the dishes. The brownie didn’t taste fresh and the ice cream was a bit icy.
Despite the Pot Brownie, the meal overall was a creative approach to comfortable favorites packed with flavor. The service is also very friendly and there were nice touches from beginning to end (such as the tiny burger candy made in Japan that comes with your check). The only desperation around these parts may well be customers desperately waiting for a table at Spork.
Single guy rating: 3.5 stars (flavorful favorites)
Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Not Your Grandfather’s KFC