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Andy Lynes

Canteen

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Lunch at Canteen on Wednesday was the last meal of an 8 day road trip from LA to SF via the Napa valley. I was exhausted through lack of sleep and too many hours at the wheel, my palate and stomach were screaming for mercy after numerous multi-course-matched-wine blow outs and I was fretting about making my plane in time. I felt like I'd had enough restaurant food and service to last me a lifetime and I just wanted to get home. But boy was I glad I made that one final detour.

You can travel the world and somehow find yourself eating the same meal in the same restaurant over and over again so it's refreshing to find a restaurant that is genuinely distinctive, that has integrity and is run with such obvious passion for food. I don't know anywhere quite like Canteen; a converted hotel cafe with a melamine counter and stools, a few booths, St Peppers blaring away in the background and, oh yes, a world class chef, Dennis Leary, beavering away in a postage stamp of an open kitchen in the corner.

The lunch menu of just six items is priced from $6.50 for a bowl of sweet potato soup with herbs to $11.95 for roasted seabass with artichokes, spinach, brown butter and lemon. All the food has a freshness and simplicity to it, no doubt partly dictated by issues of space and the fact that Leary cooks everything with the help of just one assistant. There's a brightness and immediacy to the flavours typified by a tangy plate of scallop ceviche with green tomatoes and avocado or a salad of asparagus, treviso and shaved sheep's milk cheese with a perfectly poached egg.

The food here tastes freshly cooked in a way that few restaurants can achieve. Dishes don't sit around under heat lamps waiting to make their journey from kitchen to table because there are no heat lamps, or counter space for dishes to hang around on. The food is served as soon as it's ready and travels a maximum distance of about 25 feet from kitchen to the furthest most booth.

The dinner menu (not sampled) jumps up in price and complexity with starters ranging from $7.50 to 11.95 and mains hitting $25.00 for duck poached in red wine. Tangerine sorbet with champagne gelee, sliced tangerine and fromage blanc appears on both menus and was a beautifully light and clean way to finish an outstanding meal. The majority of the 18 strong globetrotting wine list (12 of those available by the Riedel "O" stemless glassful) comes in at under $40 but you can splash out $73 on Gaston-Chiquet "Carte Verte" NV, Champagne if the mood should take you. Perched on a stool, watching the action in the kitchen is a great way to spend an hour or so at lunch but I'd probably choose to sit back and enjoy a relaxing dinner in one of the more comfortable booths.

It’s a bold and unusual move to go from head chef of a restaurant like Rubicon with all the resources of the Myriad restaurant group to call on (not to mention a brigade to share the sheer hard work with) to going it alone in a small set up. You know it can't be about making the big bucks, so it's got to be all about personal expression and the food, which makes Canteen a great restaurant and one well worth traveling to.

825 Sutter Street,

San Francisco

P: 415-923-6800

Website (under construction)

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Thanks for the great report, Andy!

Now I remember seeing an article about Canteen somewhere, it sounds fantastic.

Dessert seemed outstanding too.


2317/5000

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We had a really nice Valentine's Day dinner at Canteen last night.

I'd have a hard time picking a favorite dish; but, a couple of my highlights were the borlotti bean and crab soup and the pork tenderloin on licorice stick skewers.

Well, plus the profiteroles filled with molten chocolate. Oh, and the pears served with gouda fondue. Well, like I said, hard to pick.

The Valentine's Day twist was, no cutlery given. It was all designed to be eaten with your fingers.


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Many thanks for your review, Andy and thanks to eje and Carolyn for bumping it up. I'm glad this thread existed! I had forgotton that I wanted to try Canteen and was recently reminded of that in reading this thread.

I think Andy captured so much of what we found wonderful in our first visit there. The interesting and thoughtful selection of dishes on the menu, the impeccable quality of the ingredients and the freshness and quality of preparation all contributed to a superb dining experience. We were there for dinner on Saturday night and ate at the second seating at the counter.

The restaurant is very small (~ 24 seats) but we were lucky to get in at the last minute due to an unconfirmed reservation. Although the restaurant is small, the atmosphere was very relaxed with interesting but unobtrusvie music in the background. The reservations were also spaced out nicely so that we did not feel at all rushed. It felt like one was having a perfect, elegant, home-cooked meal prepared by a great chef.

These were the dishes we had:

Crab and Sole Quenelles with cauliflower puree and red wine butter

Quail roasted with lentils, bacon and sherry vinegar syrup

Shiitake Mushrooms "en papillote" with curry vinaigrette and mint

Goulash: Pork Shoulder and Tenderloin with a sour cream paprika sauce

Vanilla Souffle with creme anglaise

Each dish had such wonderful, clean, intense flavors it is difficult to pick favorites. I was really impressed with his version of the goulash although it was different than the "traditional" Austrian versions I also enjoy. The dish was lighter in some way but still deeply savory and satisfying. (If there was sour cream added to the sauce as mentioned in the menu description, it was added with a very light touch.)

The shiitake mushroom dish was also perfectly balanced in flavor and texture. The dish was comprised of a crispy filo-type pastry envelope filled with meaty mushrooms and flavored with a surprisingly successful combination of curry vinaigrette and mint.

The vanilla souffle was perfect as were the two starters. The seafood quenelles and cauliflower puree were presented in an interesting way with alternalting pale pink and ivory 'quenelles' of seafood and cauliflower puree served on a rectangular dish and napped with the red wine butter sauce.

They served a nice amuse bouche: Cubes of avocado tossed with pomegranate syrup and cracked black pepper.

Oh--and I almost forgot to mention the freshly baked, Parker-style dinner rolls! The texture and buttery flavor were great, and a good accompaniement to the sauces in the various dishes.

We each had a glass of Lucien Albrect Gewurztaminer, Alsace, France 2005 with our first course. We shared a half bottle of Olivier Guyot Pinot Noir, Bourgogne, France 2004 with our entrees. The wine list was very interesting and we appreciated the selection of half bottles as our dinner that evening was bookended with delicious cocktails at nearby Bourbon and Branch.

I'm eager to go back there and see whatever other dishes Chef Dennis Leary has to offer!

edited to add:

Here are the other items that were on the menu that day:

Sweet onion soup with black trumpet mushrooms

Escarole, Quince and Bitter Orange Salad with Manchego

White Bass with roasted pepper salad, braised artichokes and spinach

Steak Tatare

Rhubarb Compote with ginger cream

Pear Upside Down Cake

Crepe au Chocolat

Canteen

817 Sutter St

San Francisco, CA 94109

(415) 928-8870


Edited by ludja (log)

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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Carolyn Tillie's comments from her Discovering San Francisco thread on a recent lunch at Canteen

We ordered a half-bottle of 2005 Sancerre to share and am sorry I didn't write down the producer. J and I shared a salad of arugula dressed in a pomegranate vinaigrette and topped with Carmody cheese. A perfect beginning. She ordered a salmon sandwich which was filled with caramelized onions and a creamy cheese. Being slightly salmoned-out from breakfast, I only had a few bites, but did help myself to the house-made potato chips which accompanied her sandwich. The sandwich slightly messy and there was no problem cleaning that plate. I ordered grilled sea bass served on wilted spinach and artichoke hearts. This was heavenly; perfectly grilled fish with a hint of pinkness inside and both this dish and the salmon sandwich were well-paired with the Sancerre. Discussing dessert, we decided to head out and try the much-lauded Bi-Rite ice cream when our waitress informed us there was one ginger flan left over from the previous evening and would we be interested... Of course we would! Topped with jujubes of persimmon and a light vanilla mousseline, this was ginger at its finest. Not too rich or heavy but just perfect.

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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Lunch at Canteen on Wednesday was the last meal of an 8 day road trip from LA to SF via the Napa valley. I was exhausted through lack of sleep and too many hours at the wheel, my palate and stomach were screaming for mercy after numerous multi-course-matched-wine blow outs and I was fretting about making my plane in time. I felt like I'd had enough restaurant food and service to last me a lifetime and I just wanted to get home. But boy was I glad I made that one final detour.

This mirrored my wife an my own situation so well I just had to quote it. The rest of Andy's report just nailed this restaurant so perfectly, I do not need to repeat it. I will add a few photos from our lunch just before hopping the BART back to Oakland airport for our trip back east. I wish we had gone earlier as I would have repeated it probably several times. I don't know that the food is necessarily that much better than elsewhere, but the love and the soul really shine through. If I lived in San Francisco, I would dine here regularly.

gallery_8158_5320_118089.jpggallery_8158_5320_84527.jpg

gallery_8158_5320_52704.jpg

We actually arrived before the opening time of 11:30 since we didn't have much time and I did not want to get shut out. We were actually the second ones there.

gallery_8158_5320_32088.jpg

My wife had the most purely flavored and smoothest pumpkin soup imaginable.

gallery_8158_5320_46699.jpg

I had outstanding halibut ceviche with avocado, hearts of palm and house-made potato chips for an opener.

gallery_8158_5320_5229.jpg

Chef Leary and one of his two assistants working behind the bar.

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My wife's treviso salad with sottocenare and walnuts was perfectly balanced. The truffle in the sottocenare gave off just the right amount of truffleness without overwhelming the balance of the salad.

gallery_8158_5320_8462.jpg

Piping hot, this carbonara was divine and a prfect example of a dish that just seemed better because of the place and all that has gone into it.

Somehow, I didn't get a photo of the excellent quince tart we shared for dessert.

Let the lightbulb go off in your head gallery_8158_5320_6809.jpg and get to Canteen gallery_8158_5320_36401.jpg.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I've wanted to eat here for a while now, but the Thursday I went for lunch, it was closed. (And on a day the buses were unreliable, too! My poor legs.) I thought I'd misread the "lunch: wed-fri" (I went on a Thursday), but yelp indicates it should have been open. Should I have made a lunch reservation first?


Mark

The Gastronomer's Bookshelf - Collaborative book reviews about food and food culture. Submit a review today! :)

No Special Effects - my reader-friendly blog about food and life.

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I usually don't make lunch reservations, however I *do* call to make sure they are open. Because of how small they are and because it is holiday time, it doesn't surprise me that they might have shut down during the holidays.

Sorry you missed it. I recommended it to some visiting Austin foodies just this afternoon...

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'sokay, Thanks. Eerk, passed by today for lunch (Wednesday) and I just realized they scratched out their store hours to just say "Lunch Friday." I wish they'd update the website to reflect this (I mean, they already update the menu each day...). I'm not sure they're open on January 1 but I'm not going downtown either. Maybe January 8 will be my last shot for lunch there. The December 30 dinner menu was way over-budget for me anyway, at $50. Sounded fantastic, though.


Mark

The Gastronomer's Bookshelf - Collaborative book reviews about food and food culture. Submit a review today! :)

No Special Effects - my reader-friendly blog about food and life.

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(I mean, they already update the menu each day...).

I believe the menu is only updated weekly. When you see the top of the printed menu, it will state "Week 237" or something like that -- indicating how many weeks they have been in business and how many different menus have been developed.

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I went this past November - and I thought the food was spot on. Precise, cleanly flavoured, awesome execution. One of my favorite meals of the trip (easily trumping A16, which felt a little over hyped). One caveat - your seating is for two hours, and they mean it (nicely). There is no lounging around.

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