A Grown-Up Restaurant

Sophisticated and delicious fare in a chic city setting

Peter had gone all-out with his burger -- it comes with lettuce, tomato, red onion, and a choice of cheese for $10, but you can add bacon for $1, avocado for $1, and truffle cheese for $2, and he did. It looked as big as the sun. A bite convinced me that it was a burger to return for. I'd pointed out to Suzanne that her blue-nose sea bass came with the same mushrooms as the tart, but that sounded fine to her; in the event, she found the thick cream sauce they arrived in a little overpowering for the delicate, lightly pan-seared fish. My linguine was topped with a baker's dozen of sweet clams in the shell, in a bit of white wine broth, with the usual garlic assisted by several whole, bright scarlet De Arbol chilies, lemongrass, basil, and spinach. The bartender's work did not live up to the Frank Sinatra quote on the specialty cocktails list, the one about pitying the nondrinker because "When he wakes up, that's as good as he's going to feel all day." Our day was not appreciably improved by the oddly unsweet Mojito and flat-tasting watermelon Cosmopolitan we tried. We much preferred our cosmopolitan desserts: a chocolate croissant bread pudding with brandied cherries and crème fraîche and a witty apple crisp "hot pocket," with Calvados crème anglaise, maple-caramel ice cream, and granola-walnut crumble (yum).

I returned for dinner with Anita and her two houseguests, Joe back in town from Wellesley, Mass., and Amy up from Los Angeles, confident that we were going to have an excellent meal, and we did. We started by sharing a sublime Caesar salad, a stack of crisp romaine leaves drenched with a brave dressing sharp with anchovies and salty with Parmesan, topped with silky white anchovies and oily croutons. (Joe said it rivaled his favorite Caesar, at Zuni.) Among our four starters and four entrees I could find only one flaw: The daily changing seafood chowder (ours was tomato-based, with salmon and halibut chunks) was a bit pallid and needed salt under its puff-pastry cap. But the velvety-thin slices of seared ahi tuna came with a bright-tasting vinaigrette full of chopped parsley, cilantro, and garlic sparked with orange and lime juices and lots of adorable tiny fingerling potato chips; and the lush soft meat of the baby-back ribs, not just glazed but deeply imbued with cilantro, ginger, and soy, fell right off the bones and was well-complemented by its crisp cabbage-apple slaw. Joe moaned with pleasure at every taste of his decadent, luxurious ravioli, the fresh pasta stuffed with a smooth paste of chicken and foie gras, drenched with a pearly truffle sauce, and topped with a few truffle slices.

Joe was moaning quite a lot, actually. Most of chef Ola Fendert's (late of the dependable mussel house Plouf and the excellent Baraka) main courses -- including the bass we'd had and that night's salmon, steak, and chicken -- pair simply seared or roasted flesh atop carefully cooked and well-thought-out vegetable accompaniments. The wild salmon was roasted under a layer of bread crumbs and came served on top of a lovely tomato-bell pepper stew, the best soffrito imaginable; the sliced grilled sirloin, in a bit of red wine-sage gravy, came with tiny french fries dusted with Parmesan and drizzled with truffle oil. And we finished off every frite. The juicy flattened chicken (cooked "under a brick") was perched on equally juicy fennel confit, and was redolent of sherry, lemon, and rosemary.

Fashionable Fare: Dark, stylish Oola has a compact 
but alluring menu.
Anthony Pidgeon
Fashionable Fare: Dark, stylish Oola has a compact but alluring menu.

Location Info

Map

Oola Restaurant & Bar

860 Folsom
San Francisco, CA 94107

Category: Restaurant > French

Region: South of Market

Details

Foie gras $14

Mushroom tart $11

Caesar salad $10

Roasted salmon $23

Chicken "under a brick" $17

Lamb two ways $22

Apple crisp $7

995-2061

Open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., Sunday and Monday until midnight

Reservations accepted

Wheelchair accessible

Parking: valet, $10

Muni: 12, 27

Noise level: moderate

860 Folsom (at Fifth Street)

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As if to prove that wasn't all he could do, Fendert served the fat, crusted two-rib lamb rack that Joe ordered with a side of heady, long-cooked lamb daube, with a brunoise of vegetables enlivened with whole white beans and bacon, awakening dreams of other stews we might find as the seasonal and largely organic menu evolves.

We finished, happily, with Joe exclaiming with pleasure over his apple crisp; Amy equally beguiled by her sugar-crusted, caramelized fresh pears happily mated with an extravagant chunk of superb Roquefort; Anita only slightly perplexed by a dish described as banana Oreo crepes that looked like a plate of chocolate California Roll sushi; and me defeated by the overwhelming richness of a dense cream cheese crème caramel resting on a round of chopped coconut. Its promised accompaniment of an almond macaroon was nowhere to be seen. Maybe Sontag was enjoying it.

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