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Live Long - By pkane - October 27, 2016 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Live Long

Fried chicken bao (Peter Lawrence Kane)

Apart from a brief bout of madness my junior year of college, I’ve never worked out in a gym.

I don’t treat this as grounds for feeling morally superior — apart from being pleased I’ve never affected a faux-tough posture in a status update, anyway — and I do bike almost everywhere so that this job doesn’t put more meat on my bones than the pound-every-other-month I’ve made my peace with. But it does mean that, as with a vegan cafe or a cigar bar, I am not the target audience for a restaurant that shares space with a gym — so I just want to be up front about it.

Prosper, which cohabitates with an Equinox and a juice bar above Market and Fourth Streets, is such a place. Chef Bronson Macomber has called his pan-Pacific menu “elevated gym food,” and a lot of it feels like chicken soup for the lean-chicken eater’s soul (including a drink called a “Lululimada”). But even though I’m more into subterranean moral turpitude, there are things on this menu to bridge together practitioners of self-denial with people for whom every day is cheat day. Yes, you can order a $5 chicken breast or tuna poke from a menu category called “protein only,” but there are also tamarind-and-honey baby-back ribs and guava-mustard glazed chicken wings.

Start with the fried-chicken bao with cotjia cheese, kimchi, and red chilies ($10 for two or $15 for three), which were pillowy-soft and quite good. Presented on a log, they lacked a true depth of flavor, but they were very gratifying — far too comforting to assuage people who subsist on green smoothies. A falafel collard green wrap ($14) was also beautiful, stuffed with faro and portioned out like a sushi roll that’s heavy on the ginger. Oddly, the dominant note was anise, but it worked. I would’ve left out the purple chips, which feel like something you get on JetBlue.

A grass-fed burger ($16) ordered medium-rare came out very nearly well-done. It was crumbly, bereft of any pink, and very lean — but I have to say I enjoyed it all the same. (A brioche bun can save almost anything, I’m coming to realize. Sweet potato fries, too.) There were pickles and pickled onions, roasted tomato, butter lettuce that hadn’t withered from the heat, and a judiciously applied aioli, plus we threw on some Manchego for three bucks. It was like the Platonic ideal of burger accoutrements, all in the right ratio, no gloppiness whatsoever.

The very tender chicken terrine ($21) felt like much less than the sum of its parts, of which there were many. Pistachios, baby squash, shiitake mushrooms, a caramelized onion and roasted apple puree — the ingredient list went on and on, but it was like a circular firing squad. Even an inventive carrot top-chorizo pesto couldn’t nudge it out of the mild category.

And pretty though it was, the grilled strawberry, burrata, and lentil salad ($15) was confusing. The grape-apple vinaigrette had snap, but the lentils were pasty, and the burrata was bland. It had a curious licorice bent, close enough to the anise in the faro that I had to wonder about the origin of these mystery flavors. Were Lexans left uncovered in the walk-in fridge overnight?

Still, the grilled albacore ($24) was the best item, in philosophy and execution. Seasonal and hearty, it had a full complement of smoky broccolini and tomatoes over polenta, on a plate that looked like the night sky when you’re camping. It came closest to embodying what most people would probably imagine “elevated gym food” to be: nourishing and flavorful, unostentatious without being spartan.

On the whole, the $13 cocktails were unusual. Unless you’re just a huge fan of amari, full stop, I wouldn’t recommend the Creole, which was struggling to be a spicy Manhattan but came off as a sort of Fernet-with-cola (and therefore more digestif than aperitif). If you’d placed the Soleares de Jerez (Amontillado, rum, allspice dram, honey syrup, and lemon) in front of me alongside apple cider, I would not have been able to tell you the difference. I followed those with a Fat Cat’s Monocle, which was a big, round, warming drink made with dry sherry, Créme de pêche, Banane du Brésil, dry vermouth, and Peychaud’s bitters, and served in a snifter. It was one of the most creative, fulfilling things on the entire menu, food or drink.

The presentation is generally excellent, with lots of color on the plates and a general fastidiousness throughout. Otherwise, Prosper is casual. Very casual — but very friendly. Someone was liberally handing out drink tickets throughout the evening — maybe because the place is still newish? There wasn’t a special event taking space — and I got fatigued by the workout of trying to burn through them all. But I did schlep my own chair over from a communal table.

What also stands out is the location. Prosper is on the fourth floor, a rarity in this town. I wish more than anything else that San Francisco still had a revolving restaurant — and also that the Starlight Room, 21 floors up in the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, hadn’t just torpedoed Juanita More’s Wednesday evening cocktail soiree — but I just want more opportunities to eat above street level. It’s inherently glamorous. Second-floor Hakkasan is only a block away, but its layout has an inward-facing quality. You won’t get pleasantly distracted by the cityscape there the way you can at Prosper, where the windows overlooking Market Street and Grant Avenue take up an entire wall. That’s not to say the space is ingeniously laid out; there are dead zones toward the back, and a nagging feeling of incompletion. The color scheme is the wan, pale gray color of corporate wellness.

It struck me as odd for a new restaurant to tout longstanding relationships with its purveyors on the menu, but Macomber’s better dishes prove that he’s no newbie. I routinely unfollow most people after the second or third gym selfie, but this place is worth following up on once it grows into itself.

Prosper 747 Market St., fourth floor. 415-525-4536, no website. Hours: Mon-Fri, 5-9 p.m.; Sat-Sun, closed.