Inner Sunset Wholesome

Park Chow
1240 Ninth Ave. (at Lincoln), 665-9912. Open daily 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., until midnight Friday and Saturday. Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The restaurant is wheelchair accessible. Parking: two-hour spots until 10 p.m. in Golden Gate Park; funeral home lot on Ninth & Irving ($5 if no funeral). Muni via the N Judah, 44 O'Shaughnessy, and 71 Haight-Noriega, plus the 6 Parnassus, 43 Masonic, and 66 Quintara all stop one block south.

East West Cafe
1220 Ninth Ave. (at Lincoln), 566-6976. Open Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., from 8 a.m. on the weekends. The restaurant is wheelchair accessible. Parking and Muni as above.

Every San Francisco neighborhood gets the restaurants it deserves. In the Inner Sunset, with hordes of hungry medical students descending from UCSF, many of the new restaurants stampeding into the area feature affordable "healthy" fare and/or rivers of vitamin caffeine. The latest two entries in the cheap-and-healthy race are Park Chow and East West Cafe.

The instant popularity of Tony Gulisano's simple Italo-American-Asian food at his original Church Street Chow almost guaranteed him a second location, and Ninth Avenue was an obvious choice for it. Park Chow now occupies the erstwhile site of Stoyanoff's, a well-loved Greek eatery that closed when its owners retired. In front, Gulisano has added a small, heated sidewalk patio (no smoking allowed) and inside, the formerly sunny premises now sport mellow lighting, closely packed tables, and mustard-colored, poster-encrusted walls. The bill of fare features the original location's tried-and-tested pastas, small pizzas, sandwiches, and grills (plus fresh juices and fountain drinks), with listed entrees all under $8 and a nightly special fish at about $13.

Unlike the Castro Chow's ongoing omnigendered camp comedy, the new branch's patrons run young and straight. There have also been some minuscule menu changes: Instead of the bewitching "Purple Haze" ice cream soda, Park Chow offers a "Blushing Orange Dream" (essentially a liquified Creamsicle, with orange sorbet and vanilla ice cream), and while the Castro's Monday sandwich special is baked eggplant on baguette, the Inner Sunset greets the workweek with (aagh!) tofu and greens on whole wheat.

More significantly, either Chow's vast wood-grill inferno is hotter and better than the smaller one in Park Chow, or the new location's cooks need more practice. On our slice of vegetable pizza ($1.75), the thin crust was slightly soggy. Still, the thick, chunky tomato sauce made a good squishy layer under the cheese. Marinated Roma tomatoes on grilled garlic toast ($4.25) were disappointing compared to the glorious Church Street rendition: Sour and pulpy, their acidic juices quickly turned the crisp baguette base to mush. And the tomato slices accompanying the Burger Royale ($7) resembled pernicious anemia patients. Luckily, they're just one element of the array of condiments and fixings you get with the giant burger, ground in-house and done to order -- you really can have it your way here. The accompanying Yukon gold fries were greaseless but limp enough to prompt a round of Viagra jokes.

The herb-rubbed grilled "1/2 young chicken" ($8) is young indeed -- any smaller, and they could call it poussin and charge twice as much. But "half" is an exaggeration; we received a wee boned breast, thigh, and wing drumette, deliciously crisp-skinned and served with a loose, warm cranberry-plus-mystery-fruit sauce, a heap of chunky, lightly garlicked mashed potatoes, and a scattering of sweet young sugar snap peas. It was comfort food raised to scrumptiousness. However, a rosemary roast pork loin and Crescenza cheese sandwich ($6.50, with a cup of pleasant minestrone included) featured thin-sliced pork so sere and salty, it could've passed for ham.

I've never been crazy about Chow's pastas, least of all the bland-on-bland "Rose's Homestyle Spaghetti Dinner" with meatballs ($7). Fortunately, sweet Sicilian sausages are cleverly offered as an alternative to Mama Gulisano's huge, mealy meatblobs. Rigatoni with wild mushrooms ($8) suffered from chewy pasta and an oily, muddy-flavored sauce of sauteed fungi.

The beer choices are extensive, the wine list brief and cheap ($20 tops). At dessert, a moist, homey warm ginger cake ($4.50) came with coarse-tasting caramel ice cream and a caramel sauce burned slightly bitter. The daily pie ($4) was peach with a fine, not-too-sweet filling, but its flaky shortening crust bore the evil aftertaste of Crisco. Milky Indian-style spiced chai ($2) was untouchable in a scaldingly hot glass.

Weekend brunch is the Inner Sunset's pet meal, and Chow's choices include a truly "classic" eggs benedict ($7), with a delicious lemony hollandaise and perfectly poached eggs. Brioche with asparagus ($6) isn't classic, though: A large, light-textured white roll (not eggy brioche) twists around a filling of asparagus, provolone, and (the menu said) Hobbs' ham. Sauteed mushrooms stood in for the ham that morning, but the cheese had cooked into the dough, leaving the whole concoction rather dry. Both plates came with a green salad and tiny diced potatoes and onions, lovably sauteed in clarified butter. A summer cooler ($2) of pureed and cubed cantaloupe was the nectar of the gods -- but how could the produce-buyer who found such heavenly melons have settled for the shameful tomatoes? Park Chow is a boon to the neighborhood, but it needs Gulisano's continued attention to bring the food up to the grand simplicity of the original Chow.

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