1550 Hyde Cafe and Wine Bar: a delightful new addition to my favorite San Francisco
I rarely write about casual restaurants I visited only once, especially in my own city. I prefer to give them a few tries so I could do a fair review. 1550 Hyde is an exception, however, as I was so taken with them. I might even go back every week!
I've heard a few things about this place since they opened last summer, but since I was away so much, I hadn't had a chance to try it yet. A mention of this place in the latest issue of Gourmet brought them back into my attention yesterday. A phone call later, I secured a table for 8 o'clock that same evening.
The restaurant is in a charmingly cozy space on Hyde Street, right on the cable car line, just a bit across the street from Hyde Street Bistro.
A look at the menu shows that this is unmistakably an ingredient-driven restaurant. The focus is on local producers who practice sustainable agriculture. The menu changes frequently, depending on whatever is in season or good that day.
Last night, to start, we had tempura battered Chesapeake Bay soft shell crab with cabbage slaw and pimenton aioli and a salad of arugula with aged balsamic vinaigrette, Humboldt Fog goat cheese and toasted almond. The soft shell crab was very fresh, in a light-as-air batter that was not the least bit oily. The pimenton aioli was nicely flavored, and the slaw crisp and lightly dressed. It was a very nice start. The salad was also quite delicious, the arugula had almost a velvety texture to it. The flavors and textures, velvety and bitter arugula, creamy Humboldt Fog, crunchy almonds, paired perfectly with the light but intense vinaigrette. I was in love.
For the main course, I had duck leg braised in Nebbiolo with morels, thyme, snap peas, and spaetzle. Thomas had Niman Ranch rib-eye with sauce Marchands de Vin, wild arugula and potato galette. I drank a glass of Nebiolo with my duck, it was nice except that it may have been just a little too much tannin for my taste. It paired well with the food though, I must admit. Thomas, ever so German, had a beer with his food, a Hefeweizen if I remembered correctly. It was actually quite good.
My duck was fantastic. The meat was tender and flavorful. The morels, which must have been cooked with the sauce, were intensely earthy and flavorful little morsels punctuating each bite of the meat. The freshly snappy snap peas were very sweet and crunchy, providing a surprisingly light touch to the otherwise substantial dish. The spaetzle was also quite well done, creamy without being mushy, even after it soaked up most of the sauce from the duck.
I had a bit of the steak and thought it was quite nice too. It was perfectly medium-rare, as requested, dressed with a little pan sauce and served with a nicely done potato galette and some wild arugula. It was simple and delicious. In fact it was a big enough piece to feed two people!
For desserts, we had the peach crisp with vanilla ice cream and the chocolate pot de crème. I was not so happy with the peach crisp. The topping wasn't particularly crisp, and the peach tasted far too benign. The pot de crème, made with Scharffen Berger chocolate, on the other hand, was wonderful, fantastically smooth texture and properly bitter, with light whipped cream on top. It was simply wonderful.
It would be difficult to say what kind of cuisine this restaurant fits in, except to say that they appear to focus more on the ingredients while allowing influences from many cuisines. There was a touch of French, in the sauce Marchands de Vin, a classic and homely French pan sauce, and a few from Italy, risotto, papparadelle with wild boar sugo, and even a touch of Asia in the tempura better with the quintessentially American soft shell crab. This was not fusion by any means. I run the other direction when I hear the word fusion, usually.
Most main plates were between $15-20, save only one or two that were a few dollars over. First courses were between $7-12. Quite reasonably priced for the kind of ingredients they use here. The wine list is also worth mentioning--not that I know that much about wine--but they do seem to pay particular attention to the wine list and pairing suggestions here, a very nice touch indeed.
I have been looking for a place exactly like this for so long. A neighbourhood place with a focus on simple unfussy food and great ingredients. A place that is market-driven, whose menu changes often so I can go as I wish without getting bored. I love Delfina for these reasons, but going to Delfina is such a production sometimes, making the reservation, searching for the elusive parking space in the Mission. 1550 Hyde has a few seats at the bar. Here's to hoping I can always find one for me whenever I like. Also, this is walking distance from my flat. It's not a walk I could do in a pretty dress and heels, as it's a few up-and-down-hill blocks. But hey, this is San Francisco, I live here, I'm used to it. And heck, who wears a pretty dress and heels to a neighbourhood bistro anyway?
Last night, as I walked out of the restaurant into the cool San Francisco night, hanging in the misty air was that line from the last scene in Casablanca...
“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.”
1550 Hyde Cafe & Wine Bar
Hyde @ Pacific
P.S. The photo of the dining room came from their web site. I didn't get a good shot so I used theirs instead. I hope they didn't mind.