Before i talk about my most recent visits to the house, a short story. When i came to San Francisco for the first time in 2000, i just started working out of school and my new company was flying me in for two weeks of orientation. On the flight out i chatted up an attractive woman sitting next to me (in retrospect i didn’t really close the conversation 🙂 ) and we discussed possible dinner suggestions. I mumbled something about Fisherman’s Wharf (give me a break i was pretty green then…err still) and she graciously suggested a restaurant called ‘the house’ in north beach, but with no address, phone number. Keep in mind this was 2000, before google sms (and really early google) and i had never been to San Francisco, but when i got off the plane that was the plan.
I hopped into the rental car and drove into downtown san francisco, i parked the car in a garage north of market and began walking around. I had lunch in chinatown (yeah, i was that green) and continued walking around, following the signs to north beach. i found city lights bookstore (which i still go to every trip), vesuvios (which is next door to city lights), etc. Well as i walked up columbus i turned up what i later realized was grant heading towards Caffe Trieste for a espresso, and as a came upon an alley i turned to look in the window of a non-descript restaurant, i looked up and i had found ‘the house’ through serendipity.
i still remember that first meal, steamed mussels (which i believe is off the menu now) and the grilled sea bass (which is justly still the most popular on the menu). A funny follow-up story is that the next day i walked into the office and chatted up a colleague about my evening. He sat flabbergasted as i described how i found my dinner location, it’s a mildly kept secret for locals in town, and somewhere he eats frequently as well.
now back to my most recent visit. if you look at the menu, you get a sense what the food is like. i believe the two most popular items on the menu are the deep fried salmon roll (with hot chinese mustard dipping sauce) and the sea bass. I would describe it as pan-asian, which is to say lots of asian flavors, mainly chinese and japanese. in recent visits i’ve seen some branching out with more classical french overtones. the approach is more subtle then the only other comparable restaurant i’ve eat at–which is Momofuku in NYC. There David Chang combines modern french and korean and i think the flavors are more assertive whereas the house tips the line. There are a few stronger flavors like the chinese mustard, the miso soy but they still try to keep things delicate too.
This visit I ate here twice, once with some work folks and once by myself. A list of what i sampled with short descriptions:
- deep fried salmon roll (a hit with everyone, nice and spicy sauce, a little over-done for me though)
- braised pork with cream sauce ziti (i had this, and it was a definite departure from normal for them, but it was also satisfying which some of the light seafood dishes are not)
- diver boat sea scallops (cooked well, but the more interesting thing was the sauce, which hinted of lemon sherbert)
- one person tried the sea bass for the first time which he loved
- one person tried the ahi tuna, also a big hit (as it usually is)
- fried smelt over wax beans with avocado and red onions in a cream (?) wasabi oil dressing (this was extremely interesting, the fried smelt was panko covered, deep fried with no fishiness. the dressing was a touch heavy, and i shouldn’t have eaten the whole thing
- tuna two ways, a small filet of albacore tuna cooked rare (well seasoned too) and red eye tuna sashimi, with rice. (this was nice a light compared to the salad, and although they do sushi/sashimi on par with good sushi places)
Overall i left satisfied after both visits, i’m not sure what it is about this place. When i compare to Momofuku, i always eat there and leave a little confused, as if i’m not sure it was good, it’s always interesting, but when you aim for the fringes, sometimes you miss. With the house, it’s a better combination of experimental and solid dishes, perhaps it’s a little unfair as i’ve eaten at the house 2-3 times a year over the last 7 and only at Momofuku 3-4 in the last 18 months.
Clearly i like this restaurant and cannot suggest it enough. On the weekends you’ll need a reservation, if you eat right at 5 you might be seated, but even then there most likely will be a time limit. They do serve lunch most days, so that’s an option as well.