Graciousness Is the Operative Word at Bon, Nene

Japanese cuisine and the occasional French pastry.

At Bon, Nene, nothing on the menu embodies the principles of wabi-sabi more than the homemade potstickers. When ordered as part of the Lunch Plate ($12), five of them are served together, side by side. The chef, instead of neatly trimming the excess dough from the bottom, leaves a halo of crispy, golden-brown skin. On an otherwise orderly plate, it looks like a mistake. But it’s a deliberate nod to the art of imperfection, and a tasty one at that.

There are three versions of potstickers, or nene, to choose from: the original ($8), with pork, sprouts, green onions, napa cabbage; vegetarian ($8); or seafood ($9). Though you may want to order all three in one sitting, two orders felt like plenty for two people to share. The lunch plate also includes an onigiri, or rice ball, wrapped in a salty coat of seaweed, a salad, and some bright pickled yellow radish.

Lunch plate (M. McCall)
Lunch plate (M. McCall)

That same pickled radish also appeared inside the Chicken Bun ($12), another item on the menu that triggered my addictive impulses. The chicken is deep-fried, karaage style, and sits on a bed of lettuce inside a freshly baked white bun. I asked for mine without the spicy mayo, which was the right choice for someone with mustard tendencies (I was born this way). The Tofu Bun ($11) comes with a teriyaki sauce that I have yet to try but instinctively approve of. Both are served with a jumbled stack of crunchy, lightly seasoned renkon, or lotus root chips. That they’re not for sale at the counter feels like a small culinary crime.

Also crimini-ally delicious: the daily noodle dish ($12.50), a hearty mix of spaghetti and mushrooms. The buttery strands of pasta were topped with black sesame seeds and ribbons of saffron, while the mushrooms nestled inside. This is Japanese home cooking that is both refined and comforting. Miu Furuta, Bon, Nene’s proprietor and co-owner, says she would like to introduce her “shop” as “a small cozy place. We want to serve local fresh products in a Japanese yet unique way, where you won’t find them anywhere else.”

Furuta not only makes a potent homemade ginger ale ($4) and tisanes ($3), but she also bakes. For dessert, the panna cotta ($8), normally a textural challenge, included granules of granita to offset the creaminess. On certain days, if you’re lucky enough, Furuta will have baked a batch of punitions, those famous French shortbread cookies. If you can’t fly to Paris to pick up a box of them at Poilâne bakery, her cookies are the next best thing.

From the color of the walls to the handmade curtains and lovely cloth napkins, Furuta has meticulously enacted the principle of yugen in her aesthetic choices. There isn’t an exact equivalent of that term in English but the feeling inside Bon, Nene is one of graciousness. The combination of homemade potstickers and frozen beer ($7) will encourage people in the neighborhood to make it a regular haunt. Although, they might be the only ones able to find it. At some point, Furuta is planning to add outdoor seating and an awning. Currently, the newly opened restaurant still feels tucked away on its lonely street corner. Without knowing a gem is nearby, you might walk right past its unassuming red door.

Bon, Nene, 2850 21st St. 415-872-9322.

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