Conduit, San Francisco

You may wonder about the unusual choice of name for this Mission district restaurant. But it becomes obvious the moment you walk in. The square dining room is completely covered, walls and ceiling, in galvanized and copper electrical conduits. The concept is interesting – points for trying something different in a city where dining is usually exclusively about the food. However, it falls short in the execution. The relatively low ceilings, combined with the lack of artistic harmony in the conduit design, gives the room a somewhat claustrophobic feel as you imagine yourself being trapped under a giant game of pick-up sticks.

The palette is undoubtedly dark. Black tables and chairs, graphite PVC mesh floor tiles (strangely matching the placemats) and dressed-in-black wait staff blend together in the dimly lit space. At the far end of the room, the bright open stainless steel kitchen spans the entire wall and offers a few seats facing it. You can also eat at the bar. Both offer conduit-free views.

All in all, the recently opened restaurant was packed by 8:15. Curiously, with a much older crowd than you’d expect in a trendy Mission spot.

The menu

The mysterious menu feels like something to be decoded. Instead of appetizing descriptions, ingredients are listed akin to keywords in a librarian catalog. Pork two ways loin fava shoulder grits rapini. Definitely not a fair representation of the actual dishes that, when described by our waiter, sounded much more appealing. In the end, the uninteresting sounding menu yielded a surprisingly good meal.

The meal

As an appetizer, I ordered the Asparagus preserved meyer lemon bellwether ricotta. What I got was a chilled Asparagus salad topped with mixed greens dressed lightly in a lemon vinaigrette. The creamy ricotta came on the side topped with lemon preserve. The dish was light and tasty.

I also tried the Quail green chickpea risotto bacon relish. Like the asparagus, the actual dish was much more appetizing than its description. The quail was moist and tender, the risotto perfectly cooked and the bacon brought a good smokiness to the dish. It would have made a great entrée if it were bigger.

Instead of ordering a regular entrée, I opted for a pasta course. Fettuccini beef-pork sugo black truffle. The waiter had advised they were small, but I thought I’d give it a shot. He was right. The appetizer-size pasta was served “inversé”, pasta over sauce. The creative presentation unfortunately came with a price. The fettuccini, without the sauce to coat it, stuck together like a tangled ball of pasta. The shaved black truffle wasn’t enough to flavor the dish. But it wasn’t a total loss, the sugo was actually really good.

Another good albeit small option is the Gnocchi green garlic dungeness crab arugula. Creamy and flavorful it comes served with a generous portion of crab.

The dessert menu is equally vague, but since previous portions were small, I had to try two. First, Creampuffs chocolate Minneola pistachio. Or as I’d describe it, crispy chocolate cream puffs filled with rich dark chocolate ganache. Minneola ice cream and roasted pistachios. In other words, it was delicious. Perfect balance of textures and flavors.

The second dessert, Sundae brown butter caramel pecan, was not as luscious. The only descriptive thing in the name was misleading. Two scoops of ice cream toped with a dash of caramel and pecans can’t really be called a sundae. It wasn’t bad though. I just wished it had more calories.

In short

Despite the overdone ambience and the unappealing menu, Conduit surprises on the food. The combinations of flavors and textures are, for the most part, spot on. There are a few mishaps but overall you’ll eat well there. Especially if you don’t mind dining in a giant metal cage.

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