Canteen, San Francisco

After becoming a fan of Canteen’s weekend brunch, it was time to try dinner at the small TenderNob eatery.

The night scene is not that different than what you see in the mornings. A casual, warm atmosphere that is anything but fussy. Think classic American diner meets cabinet of curiosities. For more on that, read the brunch review.

Dinner is served in only 3 seatings; 6:00, 7:30 and 9:15pm. Reservations are usually required and it is asked that you arrive on time. The reason is simple; with a small kitchen and only one cook in addition to the chef, service needs to run in perfect synchronicity. Course after course, each dish is prepared and served to every diner, roughly at the same time. After dessert, check and done. The 4 tables and 7 counter seats empty and the next seating begins.

The staff operates like a well-oiled machine. Efficient and straight to the point; no pomp and circumstance.

The menu

Every week, chef Dennis Leary serves a different 3-course menu–the week number is noted on the top of the page. You can choose from 4 appetizers, 4 entrées and 2 desserts. Selections are appetizing and inventive, vegetarian options are usually available. I had reservations for October 31, Halloween night. Instead of à la carte, a 5-course prix fixe menu was served.

The meal

To start, an amuse bouche of Scallops ceviche served on the half shell. Fresh but somewhat plain.

House-baked bread comes next. Directly from the oven to the table, warm and fragrant. Served with butter.

First course, Bigeye tuna with raw vegetables, black olive butter. The star of this dish isn’t the fresh tuna or the lightly dressed raw vegetables like cauliflower and mushrooms. They are good, but it’s the black olive butter that I will remember fondly. Panko-battered and fried, the crispy croquette hides a warm, buttery filling.

Second, Chestnut soup with chanterelles. Simple and flavorful, the best course in the meal. The sweetness of the chestnuts goes perfectly together with the meaty, peppery chanterelles.

Third, Smoked pheasant terrine with cranberry sauce. The terrine has a nice texture, not too dry but not overly gelatinous. Its flavor is on the milder side; the gamy pheasant taste doesn’t really come through. In contrast, the tart cranberry sauce ends up being overpowering.

Forth, Roast sirloin of beef with cippolini onions, butterball potato. I eat red meat medium rare; to me, that’s when the flavor reaches its peak. Cooked beyond that, flavors fade away and texture gives in. Undercooking it does less harm but requires a much tender cut of meat. In this dish, the beef is served rare but unfortunately, the cut was somewhat tough and bland in taste. There was also an exaggerated amount of jus on the plate.

Fifth, Pear and walnut tart with caramel sauce. Despite having good flavors, this dessert is disappointingly dry. To me, a simple scoop of house-made whipped cream or mascarpone would have saved it.

In short

Canteen is a great restaurant for eating well in a casual atmosphere. The chef’s cuisine is fresh and inventive. Some dishes are better than others so don’t expect perfection, as this is not what the restaurant is all about. And that’s perfectly fine. Although I may be back for another try at dinner, brunch is still where I think Canteen is at its best.

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


Chef Ben said...

I think Chef Leary is a genius with soup. I've never had a bad one at Canteen.

Manger La Ville said...

I agree with you about medium rare. And actually rare doesn't allow any of the connective tissue to breakdown at all and the internal marbeling (fat) to melt. So, yeah med rare to med all the way. Amazing review. I think it i so cool they have such a small kitchen.

Lily said...

These sound delicious! Great photos!

Lily @