A Round of Jazz Hands at B-Side

SFJAZZ Center's lounge has a full kitchen, too.

Tater tots (Photo by Tina Salter)

B-Side wouldn’t be out of place in an early-1960s Michelangelo Antonioni movie. Whereas the Italian director kept his characters waiting for the arrival of love or fate, the patrons inside SFJAZZ Center’s remodeled lounge are merely waiting for the next performance to begin. In that respect, it’s as utilitarian as a high-end airport restaurant, a plush-industrial weigh station, a temporary stopping point on the way to your ultimate destination.

Formerly known as SouthCharles Phan’s detour into Southern and later Mexican cuisine — this incarnation is managed by Salt Partners’ Tiffany Yam and Hanson Li. They’ve abandoned a chef-centric kitchen model in which a cooking star’s singular verve becomes the attraction. Instead, the menu is designed to serve the needs of customers who are pressed for time.

This doesn’t mean the cocktails and small plates haven’t been thoughtfully considered. It’s just that the menu reads as straightforward rather than innovative. When it came to execution, this serviceable approach succeeded in almost every dish. Take, for instance, the fried eggplant. That purple nightshade can be slimy as an eel or burnt, sour, and tasteless. Served with a braised pork shoulder ($16), it soaked up the Mediterranean-influenced pomegranate-chimichurri sauce. When speared with a forkful of pork, the flavor combination became even more complex.

A black-currant cider from Washington ($10) sweetened the dish’s slight heat. Like the best apple ciders, it was tart and refreshing, not sugary, and a lovely shade of midnight. From the all-$14 cocktail list, another diner tried the 9 Wood, which consisted of gin, lime, grapefruit, cardamom, vanilla, coffee, and sparkling wine. If it sounds as though there are too many ingredients, it’s because there are. The coffee notes — whose beans are soaked in Everclear — overpowered whatever lightness and subtlety the drink might have otherwise possessed. Appetizers like herbed falafel ($9), hominy posole ($7), tater-tots ($6), and a roasted chicken salad ($13) are served family-style. What you’ll remember most about the chicken salad is a plethora of freshly shredded purple and orange carrot slaw, because the ratio of chicken to greens leaned heavily in favor of the cabbage. This can be a good thing, though, when you’re about to contemplate two plates of fried food.

The tots justified their place at the table with an irresistible crispness. (Another 90 seconds in the pan and they would have been closer to a cinder.) They came with a yogurt sauce that forever put an end to the need for ketchup. It could have been served as a salad dressing, on burgers or on anything savory that needs a bright, tangy blessing. And falafel plus an avocado-jalapeño dip? Very good. Falafels plus that white tater-tot dip? Splendid. Only the lonely bowl of posole is a must-be-missed. A radish garnish made it pretty — but the red broth was deceptive, turning out to be spice-less and bland.

People flow in and out of the front doors like waves pulled by an invisible tide. The dining room stays jam-packed before a performance and dove-quiet after. As the server cleared our plates from the table, the B-Side had also emptied itself out. Couches now warm up the cool, concrete grays and otherwise profoundly brown decor. Some diners leaned back into them, sharing the fried strawberry pies, and listened in to a late night samba playing gently in the background.

B-Side, 205 Franklin St., 415-287-659 or b-sidesf.com

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