Beast and the Hare is San Francisco’s version of a London gastropub, a friendly, informal neighborhood place that specializes in rich, meat-centric dishes complemented with glasses of artisan beer and robust wine. Its chef/owner, Ian Marks, who worked for two years at the Fatted Calf, has a deep understanding of charcuterie and the ameliorating effect of fat in cooking. Pick any dish on his sexy little menu to explore how skillful manipulation of the no-no’s of lean cuisine create dishes to die for. Better do it soon, because I predict that this new place, with its reasonable prices and self-assured cooking, will become a very tough ticket.
The corner space, on upper Guerrero’s one block restaurant row that starts at 22nd street, has big plate-glass windows on two sides, dark green walls, soft light from wall sconces, and wooden banquettes, tables and chairs–classic and utilitarian. The excitement comes from the food which emanates from an open kitchen at the back fronted by an L-shaped counter with stools.
Of course one has to start with Marks’ charcuterie ($8 each/3 for $16). Rabbit rillettes and country pate each come in little glass jars sealed with pure white fat. You dig down with your knife to scoop up the creamy chicken liver pate or the clove scented rabbit paste to smear on little house made melba toasts. Salty moist slivers of smoked duck breast taste particularly good with sweet and sour house made pickles. Lardo, foie gras and coppa are all made in house.
Beast is simply not a place for vegetarians or light eaters, as evidenced by confit ahi salad ($10), one of two salads on the menu, piled with velvety, moist, slow-cooked olive oil poached tuna, with a few gratuitous lettuce leaves, halves of mild bright green Castelvaltrano olives, sieved egg and a lot of perfect pitch pine nut-scented vinaigrette. Yes, there is a vegetable dish, but it’s deep fried, a smart fritto misto ($10) with an aioli spiked with sriracha sauce, that devilishly addictive bottled chile sauce.
A huge beef marrow bone ($12), about 8 inches long, sawed in half horizontally and roasted in the oven, delivers enough easily extracted marrow for three or four. You pile it on toasts and eat it with a warm salad of pea greens and roasted abalone mushrooms in a blessedly sharp vinaigrette, a counterpoint to such over-the-top indulgence.
Golden crumbed pieces of super succulent fried chicken ($16) are piled onto tender collards and creamy white grits with a dollop of smoky, brown roux, which the menu calls country gravy. A little dab of this solid gravy on each bite adds a new dimension to this southern classic.
Pan crisped confit duck leg ($18) has melting skin and salty, silken flesh, sublimely paired with Italian kale, crisp edged quarters of butterball potatoes and a bracing fig chutney, aromatic with coriander and sweet spices. Its vinegary punch sets up the other flavors, just as the vinaigrette does on the marrow bone.
Once you have gone wild here with foie and bone marrow and fried chicken, you tend to pace yourself on subsequent visits, which allows you to better savor the accomplished rustic cooking of animal expert Ian Marks.
Beast and the Hare, 1001 Guerrero (at 22nd Street), San Francisco
Contact: 415 821-1001; www.beastandtheharesf.com
Hours: Wednesday through Monday from 6 to 10 p.m.
Price range: $3 to $18
Recommended dishes: house-made charcuterie, fried chicken, bone marrow, fritto misto, duck confit, Meyer lemon semifreddo
Credit cards: all major