Burning Dimly

Glow

Glow is the kind of restaurant that makes me think back to last summer, when out of 20 places I reviewed, 16 were new, often barely more than a month old. Obviously, the year 2000 was a bit of a boom time here in the Bay Area, and most of those new places leaned toward the higher end of the spectrum: You'd have the standard $6-12 appetizers, $16-24 entrees, a 50-plus-bottle wine list, not to mention fancy house cocktails, swank décor, themes ranging from brilliant to lame, and, other than a few fusion holdouts, some slightly new take on California-American cuisine with Mediterranean influences and/or the occasional global riff.

Of course, since I love that kind of food it was a wonderful time for me. I ate a seemingly endless parade of eight- (and preferably 12-) course meals, often for two, and discovered that no man is friendless when he always pays for dinner. I also had plenty of answers to the ultimate San Francisco foodie question: Where have you eaten lately, and how was it? Back then, you needed to hit a new place every week just to keep up, and among the few people I know who actually attempted this, the consensus was as follows: 1) Established restaurants are almost always better than new ones, and 2) As for the rookies, the food, concept, and pretty much everything else had to shatter your universe to be worth returning even once.

From what I've seen, Glow is not worth returning to. Though nothing (OK, some things) sucked beyond what is reasonable at a new establishment, I must say it was a bit disappointing when, after I told my friends Leah and Chloe we'd be dining Classic American with a California twist, every cliché came true. Leah predicted we'd see seared ahi (it was the special) and infused vodka (everywhere), while I guessed the menu would contain goat cheese (in an omelet), seared foie gras (OK, grilled), and dayboat scallops. Dayboat scallops -- i.e., scallops that came in on the boat that day -- have made a lot of money for a lot of restaurants in this town, but I doubt Glow will be among them: It doesn't matter how fresh scallops are when you overcook them to just short of the texture of chewing gum.

Lights Out: The space is promising, but Glow's kitchen needs to try harder.
Anthony Pidgeon
Lights Out: The space is promising, but Glow's kitchen needs to try harder.

Details

982-6666. Open for dinner every night from 5 to 10:30 p.m., 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: valet for $10, otherwise difficult. Muni: 12. Noise level: moderate.

Glow Cocktail $7.25
Crab cakes $10
Bacon-wrapped rabbit loin $9
Clams casino $9.50
Pear-stuffed trout $17.50
Devil's food cake $7
Vin du glacier $6.50

498 Broadway (at Kearny)

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Perhaps, as some have said, the newest addition to Broadway has opened in a cursed location (formerly, and briefly, Moonshine) -- a site where, by some strange force of geography, the food will always be so mediocre as to piss people off. Or perhaps, as is more likely, Glow's kitchen needs to try harder. It's a shame, really, because the restaurant itself seemed eminently promising, a sweeping, horseshoe-shaped dining area set around an open kitchen, with gorgeous drop fixtures suspended over a pale wood bar. When we arrived, a sultry jazz-and-blues soundtrack suffused our souls with the warm, soothing aura of immortal divas.

As for the theme (luminescence, I suppose), it managed both to please and annoy. Thankfully, our food was not laced with phosphorus; instead we found ourselves surrounded by abundant golden hues as we slid into a big, cushy booth illuminated by tiny, intensely focused lights. Those lights looked pretty at a distance, but when we sat under them for a while it felt like we were being interrogated. At first, Leah complained that the wattage was unflattering -- "I mean, you look OK," she said, "but ... (insert uncomplimentary silence here)." Eventually, the lights wore her down, and as our appetizers were cleared she suggested quite loudly that Glow change its name to "Aggressive Spotlight."

Granted, Leah isn't always the best-behaved diner, but in this case her discontent probably had more to do with the way the most egregious mishaps of our meal occurred at her end of the table. For example, Chloe and I, at one end of the table, managed to down four house cocktails with mixed results. We had an excellent, lightly fruity Glow Cocktail with aquavit, house-made sweet and sour mix, and mandarin liqueur, followed by a fairly good Frisco Sour (bourbon, benedictine, sweet and sour, orange juice), a syrupy, grape-infused vodka Metropolitan, and a Jim Beam Mint Julep that made me wonder why, for $7.75, I wasn't drinking a higher-quality bourbon. At the other end, Leah ordered a Stinger Mist (brandy, white crème de menthe, crushed ice) and got a concoction so bitter and acerbic she had to force herself to take a second sip before abandoning her drink entirely.

Can one bad cocktail ruin an entire meal? Maybe. But for me, at least, all was forgiven when I sampled Glow's spectacular crab cakes. Yes, everyone does those too, but when they're crisp, rich, perfectly browned on the outside, flaky and melting within, then served with a zesty watercress aioli and tomatoes poached in olive oil, it's impossible not to harbor kind feelings for the kitchen. A second appetizer, bacon-wrapped rabbit loin skewered with sprigs of rosemary, showed a remarkable cleverness -- though we didn't taste the rosemary, it exuded a subtle, piney bouquet -- and even our clams casino hit pay dirt, combining buttery little bivalves with bacon, chard, and a perfectly appropriate squeeze of fresh lemon.

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