A Night of Revelations at this Castro Spot
4063 18th St., San Francisco
Open nightly for dinner
Reservations, major credit cards accepted
A couple of weeks ago, I organized a dinner with a group of gay men for the annual Dining Out for Life, a fund-raiser for the Stop AIDS Project. So I thought it would be appropriate to eat in the Castro area. Yes, I am that predictable.
Problem is, I don’t really have a favorite restaurant in Castro. That was a topic of discussion during our dinner about the lack of buzz-worthy restaurants in a neighborhood that supposedly has the audience with the discretionary funds to support such restaurants. Then I remembered that my friend Foodhoe had a couple of nice dinners at Eureka Restaurant and Lounge, so reservations were made and notices went out.
Eureka serves American cuisine in an elegant but cozy spot on 18th Street. The place looks like a former home that was turned into a restaurant, although that was probably many years ago because there were several restaurants in that spot before Eureka opened up a few years ago.
I always felt Eureka seemed a bit on the high end — both in price and styling — so it kind of intimidated me. But lately, in tune with the economy, Eureka has been offering special deals and value portions to attract the crowds.
I was joined for dinner by Tom, Billy and Peter, who all met for the first time. Meeting strangers for dinner can make you feel apprehensive, but the casual and friendly setting of Eureka struck the right tone to help us feel at ease. And of course, we could always talk about the food.
After a few starter drinks and orders of wine, we each ordered some first courses. Tom got the Beet Salad with Frisee, Arugula and Ricotta ($9), which was a huge plate of ruby red beets. Billy ordered one of the daily specials, which was a plate of Grilled Fresh Sardines with White Bean Puree ($10) served with crostini. The sardines looked huge, and Billy liked the way it was cooked but had to work a lot to get out the tiny bones.
I ordered the Marinated Shrimp with Arugula, Crispy Shallots and Capers ($12). This huge salad was lightly dressed in a lemon vinaigrette that punctuated the cacophony of flavors on the plate. The crispy shallots provided a crunchy contrast to the meaty shrimp. I was really surprised by the simple but elegant way everything worked together.
For our main courses, I ordered the Grilled Duck with Wild Rice ($19). It was served with grilled sweet gem lettuce and eggplant pear fritters. Some of you might know that I’m not a fan of eggplant, which I often call the cardboard of the vegetable family. On this dish, they actually looked like burnt hash browns because they were nearly blackened. But ironically, burning the eggplant helped mask the fact that they were eggplant, so I guess that’s a good thing?
Otherwise, everything else on the plate was done well. The duck was glazed with a balsamic-cumquat concoction that was sweet and tart but not overly so, and the meat was cooked to the right level of medium. And there was enough of everything to be quite filling, not unlike the Wild Mushroom Ravioli with Truffled Mascarpone ($18) that Billy ordered.
I joked with him that I never feel full eating ravioli because you undoubtedly get just a few ravioli pieces in a big plate drowning in sauce. Billy’s plate actually did have quite a few raviolis and he says he was more than filled with his course.
Both Peter and Tom ordered the Roasted Pork Tenderloin with braised Savoy cabbage and garbanzo beans ($19). The dish looked great, and Peter seemed to enjoy it more than Tom because of the cumin. (Peter=cumin fan; Tom=not)
We topped off our evening with dessert, which continued to build on the evening of good conversation and food. Tom ordered a chocolate cake and Peter and Billy both got the bread pudding, which everyone enjoyed. I went with the Meyer Lemon Tart (no surprise) and was immediately impressed by the presentation in which the luscious-looking tart was offset on a frosted glass platter.
The platter was beautifully decorated using a stencil that created negative leaf patterns using powdered sugar. I’d never seen such a creative approach to plating. The tart itself was just as impressive, with a nice balance of sweet and tart all in a flaky crust.
We sat in the back of the restaurant, which faced the patio that must be popular during the spring for brunch. This somewhat private room was oddly situated past the galley prep kitchen — so every time you walked through, someone in the kitchen had to yell out an alert so everyone would stop and avoid pouring hot liquid on you. I didn’t really mind this because the professionalism of the service staff really made you feel that you’d always be taken care of.
Eureka really was a eureka moment for all of us, especially me who never knew there could be a place in the Castro that was both comfortable and entertaining while delivering on the food.
I guess I do have a favorite restaurant in the Castro after all.
Single guy rating: 3.5 stars (Cozy in Castro)
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, May 13, 2009
A Night of Revelations at this Castro Spot