Over the summer, I had to move (long story). Among the many places my boyfriend and I looked at were a few in some brand-new lofts on Indiana Street in Dogpatch. I’ve only lived in a building constructed during my lifetime once before, for a single year during the depths of the Great Recession when even a barista and an adult filmmaker — i.e., me and my ex — could afford a place like that. While radiant floors and new appliances sure are nice, the sterility and the clusters of unfriendly neighbors who “work in Mountain View” can get you down. Plus $2,650 for a non-rent-controlled studio more than a mile from all your friends is bananas, no matter what the amenities. So on Sept. 1 of last year, the hottest day in the history of San Francisco, we moved to a shoddily maintained building with ugly hall carpeting and an ant problem, like regular people.
But on my second visit to NOON All Day, I realized it’s in the same building we looked at and decided against. Normally, I remember things like that, but on the day we were kicking the proverbial tires there was another building directly across the street that’s already been torn down — plus the Piccino spinoff didn’t exist yet. I’d be lying if I said I wish we’d taken that apartment in light of this development, but the fact of the matter is that NOON All Day is probably the best possible eatery to live next to or above.
Basically everything about it is beautiful or delicious or both. Open to a plaza that’s catty-corner from Espirit Park, it’s basically a car-free-zone waiting for Walk SF to commission a study, and it only has a few drawbacks that I can see. One is the lack of beer and wine, which food this good clamors for. Another is that the prices are high enough that this is more of a treat than a morning-routine type of place. And the last is a metal sculpture of a mermaid-centaur thing in the plaza that looks like an allegorical representation of excruciating pain. Face away from it and you’re set.
There’s almost no way to phrase it without sounding condescending, so I’ll just blurt it out: Even though Piccino is a wonderful restaurant, I honestly did not expect NOON All Day to be quite as imaginative and prodigious as it is. “It’s a cafe, so how good could it be?” I thought. Being a cafe, it’s heavy on pastry, while the Italian, Middle Eastern, New Age woo, and even Japanese influences are light of touch.
Start with the fried chicken bites with rice puff and lemon ($6). It’s essentially chicken karaage with a slow-burning hot sauce, so yea for that. Things get heavier with the trio of pita sandwiches, but not too heavy. The Piccino-style ($14), with includes some delicate pork-and-beef polpette, and although the marinara-adjacent sauce is a little under-seasoned, there’s sufficient parmesan in there to sustain interest. It’s like a fourth cousin of a calzone. I’m a bigger fan of the pocket melt ($13), which comes with braised beef ragu, fontina, caramelized onion, and sauerkraut; need I even mention that it’s considerably more assertive? The NOON style (poached egg, braised greens, chile oil, and cortido, the Salvadoran sauerkraut, $12) is suitable for any noons that fall well short of noon.
To dwell on that a moment, NOON’s conceit doesn’t feel like a retread to me. It’s not breakfast-all-day in that Seinfeldian, hey-I’m-having-cereal-for-dinner-and-you-can’t-stop-me way. It’s more like an expansion of lunch in both directions, with zero infantilization. Rather than adult versions of things kids eat, it’s adult versions of what adults wolf down hovered over their laptops, such as a gorgeous, multicolored roasted carrot salad with brussels sprouts, lentils, yogurt, and a cavalcade of seasonings like fennel and hyssop ($10). There’s something Alice Waters-ish about that, except for the hard right angles and quasi-industrial decor.
Still, NOON All Day’s interior is not cold. There are natural materials like white oak and Carrera marble everywhere, plus black-and-white zigzag floor tile that evokes medieval Tuscany or the Black Lodge from Twin Peaks, and nicely arrayed LED Edison bulbs — L’EDison bulbs? — that shine light directly onto the footprint the central work station occupies. There is no sad refrigerated case humming in the corner with the clear-plastic flaps that keep the cold in, yet there is vanilla Straus soft-serve for $4, with toppings like sea salt and a cookie crumble for 50 cents extra. The staff were playing “Zombie” by the Cranberries and I was feeling sad about Dolores O’Riordan, until suddenly not anymore.
Among pastry chef Sarah Hipwell’s creations, which butt against the $7.50 level, you could make a compelling case that some are not so much savory as cerebral, and the sweet ones run toward the precious, leaving a bit of a gap. (The pistachio nougat financier, made with orange marmalade over a Greek yogurt mousse, could be Exhibit A — although, again, it’s delicious.) I can envision a person standing there in frustration that they just want simple doughnut to go with their coffee. But things like the taro coconut danish ($5.75) are good on their own, with a crunchy outside and plush interior, and better still if you ponder the merits of coconut paired with the (unadvertised) notes of basil.
Further, there were one or two other things that I had because the person I was with ordered them and which may have changed my outlook forever. I’m not a major fan of chia seeds, for instance, since they usually feel like they’re about to hatch into tadpoles in my mouth. But this chia pudding ($6) came with cocoa nibs, various grapefruits, taro shavings, a berry compote, and more. Who puts so much effort into something so small? Of course, I’m glad they do. The sun is up and it’s never going down again.
Noon All Day, 690 Indiana St., 415-619-3240 or noonallday.com