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School’s In! For! Summer! - May 16, 2018 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

School’s In! For! Summer!

Fideos, clams and mussels with angel hair pasta dressed and aji amarillo aioli. Photo by Peter Lawrence Kane

On evenings when you have to set the alarm early enough to grab a Pop-Tart and put your Trapper Keeper in your Hi-Tec backpack, there is a new place to indulge your inner child’s thirst for quality booze.

School Night takes over part of Dogpatch venue The Pearl on Sundays through Wednesdays, offering high-end Mexican-Peruvian dishes and craft cocktails with explanations as silly as the ingredients are serious. A project by Traci des Jardins along with Enrique Sanchez (the bar manager at des Jardins’ Presidio restaurant Arguello) and Pearl co-founder Adam Mendelson, it’s a private event space on the other three nights of the week.

While Dogpatch’s clutch of bars contains a few fancy dives — The Sea Star and the Dogpatch Saloon come to mind — it’s gotten bigger and fancier in recent years, with Third Rail and Mission Rock Resort establishing themselves as draws beyond the occasionally inward-facing neighborhood’s boundaries. By its very nature, School Night seems pitched to an industry crowd, but it’s banking more on the quality of its food than on the ability to eat it at 12:30 a.m. on a Tuesday. Even chefs de partie can’t always ditch first period.

So why should you venture out on a weeknight to a place on Third and 19th streets that might be very far away from your couch? Well, for one, a stadium is undergoing rapid construction not too far away. But there’s also some extremely spicy cebiche juiced up in a proper leche de tigre marinade and broadened with corn nuts and hominy, alongside a big bowl of fideos, or clams and mussels atop angel hair pasta dressed with an aji amarillo aioli as thick as any cream sauce and with just a hint of lemon. (If only it came with chorizo!)

When a wood-fired oven is named Bertha, as School Night’s is, you’re going to want to treat it better than some disposable substitute teacher and order two skewers of anticuchos, Liberty Farms duck hearts and gizzards with a few potato slices to balance out the fat. Try them in the leftover leche de tigre.

In spite of des Jardins’ secure place in the S.F. pantheon, School Night feels more like a bar with food than a restaurant with cocktails. Sanchez’s pisco-, tequila-, and bourbon-centric menu offers charming blurbs on creations like the foamy Teacher’s Pet (bourbon, raspberry, Cappelletti, egg whites, and soda), which reminds him of a red bug called a Cochineal that was formerly part of the Capelletti formula and also part of a prank a fellow student pulled to get the teacher to sit on them. You might not want it up your nose with a rubber hose, but the Mr. Kotter — Tapatio blanco tequila, a hibiscus ice cube, lime, dry Curacao, and agave — is a margarita variation you will certainly welcome back. And if you want to keep it even simpler, go with the nod to San Francisco’s original name, the Hierba Buena (an aromatic julep made with rye, lemon, Fernet, and mint).

The interior is dark and slightly moody, but not so self-serious that one wall isn’t treated like an enormous screen to project television onto. San Francisco schools let out for summer vacation on Wednesday, June 6, so you better hurry before the fourth-graders find this place and start barging in, demanding cutlets and Capri Sun.

School Night, inside The Pearl, 601 19th St., 415-903-5427 or schoolnightsf.com