On the Right Track

Red Herring Restaurant and Bait Bar

Like the wine list, Red Herring's entrees span the globe, with mixed, but for the most part pleasurable, results. The tuna "steak au poivre" ($19.25) with garlic mashed potatoes and cognac peppercorn sauce was a bit of a letdown, since the coarse-ground pepper that coated the meat also overwhelmed it. We could have been eating peppered anything. Better was the grilled jumbo shrimp and braised oxtail ($18.25) -- huge, lobsterlike shrimp and tender, fatty oxtail served with a smoky, almost gamy, sauce diable.

And better still were the India-inspired entrees. The grilled, tamarind-glazed salmon ($17.50) with pumpkin curry was spectacular, the salmon cooked so that just a glimmer of rawness remained. Better still -- in fact, just about perfect -- was the tandoori snapper ($20), a whole fish served with tomato rajma curry and an enthralling banana rajita. Everything about this dish impressed: the color scheme (bright red to orange to mild, milky yellow), the fish itself (so tender that, with a little skilled utensil work, the skeleton peeled off without so much as a whimper), and, more than anything, the two side dishes, the curry sweet but not overly spicy, the rajita so poignant, so soothing, so ... screw it, so fucking good I just don't know what else to add.

At this point, we were all quite full. And a bit tipsy, given the repeated toasts to Dana's departure, which were spoiled only by her protests that she wouldn't be leaving for another month (please, we urged her, let us grieve). For dessert, we chose the eminently shareable Battle Chocolate ($7) -- a magnificent Scharffen Berger brownie topped with vanilla ice cream (which won on three of four score cards), an El Rey milk chocolate frozen soufflé (which won on the fourth), and a far-too-innocent Valrhona devil's food cake, which didn't even make the weigh-in. And, for the coup de grâce, we ordered a pair of cheap dates (49 cents each) -- dates wrapped in crispy chocolate phyllo dough, served piping hot from the oven.

Trafficking in Cones: Celebrity chef James Ormsby with spicy Maine crab and  cucumber salad.
Anthony Pidgeon
Trafficking in Cones: Celebrity chef James Ormsby with spicy Maine crab and cucumber salad.

Details

155 Steuart (at Mission), 495-6500. Open for lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. (bar menu served until 5:30 p.m.), dinner served every day from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: can be difficult. Muni: 14, 32. Noise level: low to moderate

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And then, sadly, it came to an end, and Dana was one dinner closer to being gone. As we headed our separate ways, James and I vowed to dine together again, that I might take advantage of his intimate knowledge of the grape and correspondingly colorful use of verbiage. Which got me thinking about how funny life can be: For example, Steuart Street lost Bistro Roti, but gained the impressive Red Herring. I, on the other hand, will soon lose a very lovely and charming former girlfriend, but can at least drown my sorrows in high style with an equally charming -- though not quite so pretty -- former assistant sommelier.

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