Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Dish on Dining: 'wichcraft

Colicchio casts a spell on San Francisco

868 Mission St., San Francisco

8 a.m. to 6 p.m., 7 days a week
PH: 1-866-942-4272

I have to admit a bias, which is I love New York. And anything about New York. So whenever San Francisco gets a New York import, ooooh. I. Am. So. There.

So I had to check out the new 'wichcraft eatery at the new Westfield San Francisco Centre. OK, lets clarify something so as not to lead you all over the new mall hunting for this new sandwich spot. It is not inside the mall. I would say it's on the periphery of the mall, facing Mission Street next to the South-facing entrance to Bloomingdales. So much for mall traffic. But yes, you do get a lot of Mission Street traffic for a view.

'wichcraft is the latest incarnation of the Craft empire of celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, who made his name creating innovative dishes at Gramercy Tavern. (Colicchio can also be seen as the head judge on Bravo TV’s Top Chef.) He eventually struck out on his own with his Craft restaurant, which I had the pleasure of eating at during one of my many visits to New York. Colicchio was pushing the edge when he opened Craft, which delivered fresh, well-executed dishes sold ala carte. The concept gave the eater the chance to "create" his own meal by choosing the main meat, how it would be prepared, and a mix of sides.

Craft has expanded into a bar and now a string of these casual sandwich eateries. There are seven locations in Manhattan, one in the Hamptons, and one in Las Vegas. Now San Francisco gets treated to this mecca to the sandwich, hot and cold.

When you walk into the spacious location on Mission, you feel like you've entered the cafe at the MOMA, with its clean lines and glass walls to one side, giving the space a nice open feel (there's also a second-floor space). You line up to the counter and place your order, and sometimes you may find yourself wishing for a long line so you'll have time to mull over the menu of hot and cold sandwiches offered up by Colicchio. You'll feel like you're reading a menu at a fancy restaurant, with ingredients such as Coppa (a cured Italian pork made from the tender part of the pig), fontina, shitake mushrooms, black trumpet mushrooms, truffle fondue, and aioli.

Not knowing what Coppa was and feeling adventurous, I ordered the roasted pork sandwich with Coppa, pickled pepper relish and fontina on grilled country bread. My friend played the yin to my yang by ordering a cold sandwich, the goat cheese sandwich with avocado, celery, walnut pesto and watercress on multigrain bread. She also got the daily soup, which was tomato with parmesan cheese.

(OK, more disclosures: We were given a number to set at our table, and my friend's sandwich came and the server took our number. But I was still left waiting for my sandwich. As we waited--luckily she ordered a cold sandwich--our server eventually explained that my sandwich order never registered with the kitchen even though it was on our bill. I mention this only because my growing hunger may have affected my feelings toward my roasted pork sandwich when it eventually arrived about 10 minutes later. In fact, I devoured half the sandwich before I remembered I should photograph it for this blog.)

My friend's goat cheese sandwich was a perfect blend of cooling flavors and crunchiness. It would be the perfect sandwich to serve during high tea. The tomato soup was full of color and flavor, but could have used a bit more cream. (It was more like tomato broth.)

For my hot sandwich, I have to believe that anything grilled will be an instant hit at 'wichcraft. The roasted pork and other ingredients melded together to offer this savory comfort sandwich that was perfectly executed. The Coppa was probably overpowered by the roasted pork, but overall it was a satisfying sandwich.

Despite the fancy ingredients, which 'wichcraft promotes as farm fresh and of the highest quality, I wonder if it's worth paying an average $9 for a sandwich? (And yes, it is just the sandwich. There's no side potato salad or cole slaw. Not even a pickle.)

My answer would be yes, but not very often. 'wichcraft is a definite improvement to the Mission Street offerings (it's just a few yards from an aging Jack in the Box) but your pocketbook will feel like you've been shopping at Whole Foods every night if you eat here too often. A nice place to impress a date, but not your everyday sandwich stop.

NOTE: Supposedly this location will serve beer in the near future, which actually might be a nice complement to some of the hot sandwiches on a nice sunny day.

Single guy rating: 2-1/2 stars (perfect for new diners and emerging foodies)

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

'Wichcraft in San Francisco

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