There is a hip restaurant-within-a-restaurant in the Mission, and it’s serving unique reconfigurations of East Asian food that occasionally sacrifice authenticity to please San Francisco’s more baroque palates. If that sounds to you like Mission Chinese Food, you’re about half-right. It’s actually Pink Zebra, a 40-seat project from Jesse Koide, who’s been running MCF since Danny Bowien took off for the Lower East Side. Pink Zebra is sited within Tao Lin on 20th Street and, as Eater noted, it’s named for Koide’s headband, but it could easily be called Mission Japanese Food.
Here, the kitchen’s output fluctuates daily, with a $80-ish omakase crowning the wider menu of izakaya dishes. Plates are meant to be shared, and they’re far from skimpy. Crostone (bitter greens, poached Jidori egg, bacon, sage brown butter, and balsamic vinegar on Tartine bread) dresses up something simple into something fairly marvelous, paying subtle homage to Koide’s former employer, Bar Tartine.
The savory clams (an eclectic mixture of lamb chorizo, winter squash, miso dashi, kombu butter, black garlic shoyu, and pickled shallot) might sound baffling, but they work. But in the Department of Things You Know Are Probably Terrible for You But Just Cannot Stop Eating, the hurricane popcorn with pig ears is really something. Buttery and lime-y, it’s not so much a shareable plate as an excuse to, well, pig out.
Remember how Michael Bauer slammed Mission Chinese as “simply a dive” six months ago? While that’s debatable, the odds of getting seated on communal table row and having someone else’s thrice-cooked bacon bump elbows with your ma po tofu are high. No such conundrum afflicts Pink Zebra, where the tables are spaced gracefully apart and the decorative tableaux are a notch above kitsch prints from the Cultural Revolution. Let’s home Pink Zebra takes over Tao Lin as MCF devoured Lung Shan.
Pink Zebra, inside Tao Lin, 3515 20th St., 285-4926.