Add Indian fusion to the trends food trucks and pop-ups are driving in San Francisco. It started last year with the Curry Up Now truck, is swirling around Kasa's plans for the Kati Roller, and earlier this month got a boost with the launch of Juhu Beach Club. That's the lunch pop-up from Preeti Mistry, best know for her run on Season 6 of Top Chef, and an ex-chef with Bon Appétit Management Company. Juhu Beach Club set up weekdays at the Garage Cafe, the late-night falafel and shawerma place in the midst of SOMA's hammer zone, the stretch of 11th Street writhing with Slim's, Butter, and DNA Lounge.
Mistry's cooking a short menu of mostly sandwiches, influenced by her mom's cooking and her own research, that draw heavily from India. "I learned to cook professionally and it was all French, then Californian," Mistry tells SFoodie. "At the same time I ate all this other food: Indian, and then burgers and pizza. What I'm doing now is an amalgam."
It's an amalgam that includes a version of pav bhaji, the Mumbai street food Mistry calls the Sloppy Lil' P (an Acme bun spread thickly with a puree of cauliflower, potato, tomato sauce, and masala spices Mistry toasts and grinds herself. Also the Chowpatty Chicken, nicely marinated thigh meat juxtaposed with turmeric-spiced cabbage slaw, again on an Acme bun. "A lot of it is the expression of an experience that a lot of Indian Americans my age probably have," the 32-year-old chef says.
It's clear Mistry is still tweaking some of the dishes. Take the potato-and-pea-filled samosas: "There's a woman who makes them for my parents," she says. "They would always be the most amazing samosas ― I think I'm 99 percent there." Mistry's been adding items as special. A dal soup last week, this week a salad with chicken and samosa strips. Iced chai might make an appearance later in the week.
When will Juhu pack up and go? It's unclear ― Mistry says she's month-to-month with Joe, owner of the Garage Cafe; she says she'll decide in a week or so if Juhu stays for another month. If she does stay, she might expand to Saturdays, though not Saturday nights.Bar crowds probably aren't the right fit, reckons Mistry, who lives in the neighborhood. "They probably would want something cheaper, and don't care about the quality of the ingredients," she says.
Juhu Beach Club at the Garage Cafe: 320 11th St. (at Folsom). Open Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Cash only.