Seems my comments about brussel sprouts continue to ferment resentment in the community. While, in some, this has provoked blunt animosity, others have been kind enough to suggest recipes that may persuade me to alter my viewpoint. In the interests of open-mindedness, I decided to give the brussel sprout another go the other evening when I dined with my dear friend and bon viveur Stephen at the latest Mission hot-spot, Range.
Range is one of the select few eateries to recently be awarded a Michelin star (the culinary equivalent of an Oscar), a fact made all the more extraordinary as the kitchen has been open little more than a year. My appetite so whetted, I actually took the unusual step (for me) of making reservations. A slight mix-up meant that Stephen arrived later than I did, and so I had lots of time to observe my surroundings and sneak an additional appetizer in while I waited.
The environment is contemporary and comfortable; bold colors, clean lines, wood and steel; interesting artwork and angled mirrors on the walls, and ambient level Latin jazz rhythms. I arrived at 6.15 p.m., on a Wednesday evening ahead of the stampede. Fellow diners at the early evening sittingâ€”a mixture of Mission-chic, gastronomes and grumpy old queensâ€”was indicative of the new w â€ślow-keyâ€ť San Francisco. On the plus side, the later sitting seemed to lure out a higher fag quotient, and there was a distinct lack of business bores at both. The noise level here is reasonably acceptable, and fabric paneling on the ceiling indicated that the management had noted and paid attention to the issue.
The menu consists of seven appetizers, which might sound like a thin selection, but I found myself torn between six of them. I compromised and had two. Stephen arrived at the tail end of my chicken liver mousse ($9). The high point of this dish were the toast pointsâ€”crisp in the extremeeâ€“which glided through the creamy mousse like hot knives through butter. The peppercress salad that accompanied the mousse was terrifically spicy and had a devilish bite to it that played well with the smoky flavors of the toast and chicken liver.
Stephen, now seated, lost no time in ordering more, and we were soon subsiding into a butternut squash ravioli of exceptional complexity, and a rather too spicy bowl of steamed manilla clams with fennel sausage and garlic toast ($11). They seem to like toast here, and Iâ€™m sure that the garlic toast was lovely, but unfortunately I discovered to my cost that the red gypsy peppers to be found in the broth tended to scorch the palate and annihilate the other flavors present. From my vantage point I was able to observe appetizers on their way to other tables (most are priced around the $10 mark), and from what I could see, Stephen and I had the pick of what was on offer that night.
If the appetizers are thin on the ground, then the six main courses are an even smaller selection. The half dozen dishes on offer consisted of two fish, one chicken, one pork, one beef and a veggie option, all at around the $20 mark. Stephen, like many others I noted, went for the braised pork osso bucco with celery root puree, brussel sprouts and pork jus. Stephen asked that he be given braised greens instead of the brussel sprouts. The great gourmand is not a fan, and as he explained to me, even his beagle (beagles are renowned for eating anything) wouldnâ€™t touch the dammed things. Before resting my case, triumphantly, I was seized by a sudden fit of fair play, and asked our server if I could have (just a few) of Stephenâ€™s sprouts with my own main course. Taking our serverâ€™s suggestion, I ordered the petrale sole with braised endive, fingerling potatoes, beech mushrooms and tarragon butter sauce. The pork was succulent, well braised and sturdy. My fish was better than nice, and the sprouts were, well, letâ€™s just say I still have to be convinced as to their culinary value.
The service here is warm and gentle. A particularly nice touch is that the napkin of those visiting the bathroom is folded during their absence, a small but reassuring gesture.
The desserts (all $8) were, by comparison to what had gone before, a bit of a letdown. I sampled the quince and apple tart with meyer lemon crĂ¨me. Quince is a difficult fruit to balance and the addition of the lemon crĂ¨me pushed the dial firmly into the red zone of sour. The pastry, though razor thin, was pretty ordinary and cooked just a little too vigorously for my liking.
The wine selection is extensive and covers the complete price spectrum. There is also a magnificent selection of original cocktails. The non-alcoholic selection is piss-poor, although there are some interesting teas available. I, for instance, supped on the elderflower nectar. The dessert wine selection consists mainly of drinks for little old ladies and priests; port, vin santo, sherry, Madeira and the like.
All in all, this place is rather nice. The food is pretty good and they use inexpensive ingredients in an intelligent and tasty way. This elevates the rating for this place above others of similar quality, because the price point is unbeatable. I canâ€™t say that the experience was as memorable as Michelin might suggest, and I didnâ€™t feel the urge to burst into applause at anything that came my way when I dined there, but, as the couple seated next to us said, â€śWeâ€™ll probably come back.â€ť
Range can be discovered at 842 Valencia Street. It is open for dinner nightly from 5:30-10 p.m., 11 p.m., on Friday and Saturday. For reservations call (415) 282-8283. There is a website too at www.rangesf.com