Fat City

Good for you and just plain good, too: the organic and delicious philosophy at Jack Falstaff

Even though I do, as the lyric goes, love a parade, it's rare that I bestir myself to watch one in the flesh. My favorite parade memories are of accidental, almost tangential sightings: unexpectedly watching the Macy's balloons being blown up the night before the Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, outside the restaurant in which I was having a late dinner; accompanying my friend Lisa, after midnight on New Year's Eve, to the staging area where the Rose Parade floats were being judged by flashlight-wielding, scooter-riding officials, and learning that the best thing about the displays was their incredible fragrance, made up of not only fresh flowers but also the myriad spices with which they were covered.

A few weeks ago, my father and I emerged from the Civic Center BART station, on our way to Davies Hall for a San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra matinee, and were greeted by the tail end of the St. Patrick's Day Parade. We grabbed a sidewalk table outside Gyro King, shared an appetizer plate covered with bright, fresh Turkish dips and salads, and watched dancing tots in wigs of tight ringlets, marching bands, and sellers of a variety of "Kiss Me I'm Irish" goods pass by. "The last time we saw the parade, it was during the opening of the Asian Art Museum," Dad reminisced. "Yeah," I said, "year before last, and we saw most of it from upstairs, framed by the museum windows. We had Korean food after."

When I met my friend Ed, in town for a few days, for dinner, it turned out that he had watched the St. Pat's Parade, too, but at its South of Market beginning. And, while we had enjoyed a wonderful concert of Respighi, Bernstein, and Schumann afterward, Ed left to find that his rental car had been broken into, and spent the rest of the day exchanging it for a new one and mourning the loss of his Palm Pilot, the one thing of value in the vehicle (and probably worth about $10 on the street). He was only slightly cheered by the fact that he'd left his laptop in his hotel room "even though I thought I ought to bring it along with me so I could do some work in a cafe afterwards."

Tasty Oasis: Jack Falstaff is a refuge of luxury and 
calm in its gritty-at-night corner of town.
Anthony Pidgeon
Tasty Oasis: Jack Falstaff is a refuge of luxury and calm in its gritty-at-night corner of town.

Location Info

Map

Jack Falstaff

598 Second St.
San Francisco, CA 94107

Category: Restaurant > New American

Region: South of Market

Details

Pork belly with strawberries $10

Ahi "crudo" $10

Pork shoulder $20

Halibut with scallops $24

Leg of lamb $25

Mashed sweet potatoes $5

Mango Tango $9

836-9239

Open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (weekends during Giants games), and for dinner Sunday through Thursday from 5:30 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m.

Reservations accepted

Wheelchair accessible

Parking: difficult during the day; valet, $10, at night

Muni: 10, 15

Noise level: moderate

598 Second St. (at Brannan)

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He was seriously in need of a good dinner and a little coddling. I was cheered to find Jack Falstaff, the latest offering from the PlumpJack group, an oasis of nicely lit luxury and calm in its gentrified but still dark-and-gritty-at-night corner of town. We were led to a snug table for two at a banquette against the rear wall, with green curtains hanging at its side that could have been drawn, I suppose, to shelter us from the cold, cruel world. Golden wood ceilings and clever green Ultrasuede panels upholstering the walls (and slipcovering the aluminum chairs) were thoughtful noise-deadeners as well as sleek decorative touches. (On this Sunday night the place was only about a third full, and quiet already.)

We were handed an intriguing list headed "Jack's Snacks," a long inventory of what looked to be unusual little house-made cocktail nibbles, each priced at $2. I was dying to try the serrano ham chips and the spicy, crispy sage leaves, but we weren't going to order drinks, so we switched our attention to the even more intriguing dinner menu, divided into two sections, nine Intros and seven Entrees, as well as four vegetables cataloged under Farmers' Market Vegetables and six additional dishes under Potatoes, Grains, and Legumes.

This list of dishes, with descriptions of just about everything that would show up on the plate, complete with provenances, was immediately appealing to me. I knew that chef James Ormsby is proud of his organic ingredients and slow-food methods, but what I read spoke just to my hunger: hunger for the seasons, hunger for comfort, hunger for what tastes good. There were lots of things I wanted to eat right away: a soup made from fresh peas, a duck liver flan, and smoked quail, to name just three from among the starters. But I found the pork belly irresistible, and was happy I did: It came in a big sturdy square, looking far too large to be an appetizer, in a sea of lentils, and it was so delicious that I ate up every bite. (When I'm saddened at the disappearance of foie gras from menus, I comfort myself with the increasing popularity of the meaty yet fatty, almost equally decadent pork belly.)

Ed was attracted to the salads, and I nudged him toward one of arugula and grilled Hawaiian blue prawns that looked more complicated than the compositions featuring spring lettuces or romaine hearts (even tricked out as the romaine was with hearts of palm, ruby grapefruit, avocado, spiced pumpkin seeds, queso fresco, and a citrus vinaigrette). It turned out to be a hot salad, the arugula sautéed and topped with the lightly cooked, soft, slightly smoky shrimp, amped up with artichokes, green garlic, and bits of Meyer lemon.

With the main courses, I had a philosophic revelation; just as modern art is often not about beauty, modern food is often about something other than merely taste. Sometimes a dish can be about texture, unusual ingredients, an unfamiliar cuisine, or even its purported results -- as in the yucky-tasting puréed and juiced wheatgrass concoctions we've all gamely tossed back in pursuit of health. But the fare at Jack Falstaff seemed to be just about being delicious. Certainly the sweet wild salmon in tart sorrel sauce was as good as that dish can be (especially with the addition of a salad of fiddlehead ferns, asparagus, salsify, and black chanterelles), as were the slices of Ed's slow-roasted Niman Ranch pork shoulder, exquisitely sided with chopped Savoy cabbage braised in champagne and an onion compote with Granny Smith apples and guanciale (pig cheek), with a bit of house-made grain mustard. I had gone a little nuts and ordered three side dishes: The sweet potatoes mashed with lime and butter and the baby beets were pleasing, but the organic corn spoon bread was a little dry and underseasoned.

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