Home Is Where the Corn Bread Is

Even in a new Marina location, you can go Home again

Before I render an opinion that's bound to generate negative mail, let me say I've been a big fan of Home (the restaurant) since its debut in 2002. Home has always seemed very much at home in the Castro, even more so than its predecessor, the beloved JohnFrank. At brunch, social gadflies wait happily in line for the build-your-own-Bloody Mary bar and loll at communal tables on the patio, full of arched eyebrows and delightfully dishy morning-after gossip. At times, the bitchiness, divided equally between the patrons (aptly described on Yelp.com, the community review site, as "homosexuals, hipsters, skaters, and homosexual hipster skaters") and the waitstaff, is almost palpable -- and I mean that in a good way. And while the earsplitting decibel level can neutralize any possibility of meaningful conversation, the combination of inventive American classic food and Castro 'tude adds up to a comfort level that befits the name.

So I was excited when I heard that Home had opened a second restaurant on Union Street (2032 Union, 931-5006, www.home-sf.com), because the only thing better than a plate of Jeff Banker's pot roast with buttermilk mashed potatoes and Lori Baker's corn bread is two plates (unless, of course, you're on a diet).

But here's the rub: It doesn't work for me. The new location feels forced and awkward; as natural as Balboa Cafe taking up residence in the Haight.

I thought about why, as the bleached blonde with the tight-fitting strapless top and spray-on tan at the next table offered air kisses to the guy with the bug-eyed sunglasses perched on top of his head. It's not just the Marina diva clientele and the modern-sleek décor (black tables and a bright red bar that sports a large, flat-screen TV with the sound off -- an irritating trend I have yet to figure out). And it's not just the pared-down menu with pricier price tags and a show kitchen that has white-jacketed staffers standing on the public side of a counter meticulously wiping plate rims. It's not even the service, which while slow and uneven (the place is still finding its sea legs, after all) is for the most part gracious and sincere. (Our server was practically prostrate with apologies for making us wait for our menus and orders. In contrast, the glitter-eyed hostesses seemed downright insouciant after losing my reservation not once, but twice.) It's the cumulative effect of all these factors that guts the smart-campy soul right out of the place. Bummer.

Lucky for Home, the belly speaks louder than the brain. The restaurant's ambience has in no way affected the food, other than the fact that I wanted to eat it quickly -- which, in all fairness, had as much to do with Tour de France highlights as feeling ill at ease.

Banker's signature pot roast -- a dish that's now legendary around town -- hasn't lost a step, and the tender, grilled flatiron steak with intense red wine-mushroom sauce happily tiptoed through my two lips in about three seconds flat. But it was pastry chef Baker's unassuming little corn bread that righted all wrongs: pockets of fresh, sweet corn kernels tucked into a buttery-moist dough with none of the dry crumbliness or bitter metallic aftertaste that can sometimes plague corn bread. Truthfully, it's appetizer, side dish, and dessert rolled into one -- and almost all you'll need to convince yourself that you can go Home again, no matter who's living there.

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