Canteen, San Francisco

You may wonder if you’re in the right place as you enter the tiny diner adjacent to the anachronistic Commodore Hotel. I certainly did. Somehow, that was not what I had imagined for the celebrated Dennis Leary restaurant. So I decided to abandon my preconceptions and put my name on the list for Sunday brunch (for a dinner review, click here)

You’ll rarely find open tables at Canteen as the dining room has only 4 small booths. Seven people can sit at the green Formica counter facing the busy stainless-steel kitchen. The space is tight, and every available nook is appropriately taken advantage of. The staff of 5 maneuvers with precision cooking and serving their customers, most local habitués. Even though Leary was absent from the kitchen in my 2 morning visits, his well-trained lieutenants seemed to be in perfect control.

The atmosphere is unfussy and the décor tries hard to give the small space a quirky personality. Around the room, a vintage books library, random antiques and office furniture used to store silverware. A classic American diner turned cabinet of curiosities.

The menu

The photocopied menu features an appetizing selection of egg dishes and griddled sweets. Some of the items change every weekend. Portions are not too big and everything is prepared with a great deal of care and talent. My only complaint is the lack of pastries and side dishes. They will prepare you eggs on the site if you ask, but unlike Prune or Maverick, there are no Merveilles or Doughnut holes to complement your meal.

The meal

Everything I tried was tasty and perfectly cooked, nothing sloppy or gratuitous on the plate.

The Benedict with all the accoutrements is luscious and flavorful. A light and airy hollandaise sauce, perfectly cooked eggs and crunchy English muffins make this a delicious brunch dish.

Another good option is the Steak and eggs, roasted sirloin, spud, spicy hollandaise. The medium-rare meat is very tender, the potatoes are tasty and the sauce brings a nice kick to the dish.

On the sweeter side, try the Blueberry French toast with sweet cream cheese. Unlike some French toasts that shamelessly rely on maple syrup for moisture, this one is prepared like a true pain perdu; creamy inside and crispy outside. Served with a generous portion of fresh blueberries and cream.

Although all brunch dishes are thoughtfully conceived and carefully prepared, drinks lack the same attention. Coffee from Mr. Espresso is brewed on the bitter side and orange juice comes from a supermarket container.

In short

Canteen offers some of the best brunch dishes in the city. Served by a friendly staff in a quirky diner atmosphere. The celebrated tiny restaurant by chef Dennis Leary is worth going, even in the morning when he’s not running the show. Makes me wonder how good dinner should be.

Canteen is at 817 Sutter St.
Reservations by phone 415-928-8870


Cookie said...

OMG those eggs look SO good! (Almost as good as the ones I make! hehe J/K) But seriously though, all the dishes look SO yummy!

Chef Ben said...

You should definitely go for dinner and check out Leary behind the stove. He's more likely there at nights now compared to mornings, although I still think brunch is great at Canteen.