The flavors of Louisiana are making their presence known in the city by the bay with restaurants like Brenda’s French Soul Food, 1300 On Fillmore, and the planned Presidio restaurant Dixie. And it’s no wonder, during this economy, that people would be looking for the comfort of southern home cooking.
The French-Creole styling of New Orleans has always intrigued me, but the reputation of the cuisine scares me too because of the perception that everything that comes out of the bayou gets battered and deep-fried.
So when I considered visiting the latest Louisiana-style restaurant in San Francisco – the Boxing Room in the old Citizen’s Cake spot in Hayes Valley – I knew I needed back up. That’s why I recruited a regular blog reader, Julie, who always commented that she would be there if I needed a taster of deep-fried goods.
The Boxing Room is from the group behind nearby Absinthe, and the focus on Cajun and Creole dishes comes courtesy of the executive chef, Justin Simoneaux, a native of Southern Louisiana. Chef Simoneaux, most recently from The Moss Room at the California Academy of Sciences, has pulled together a menu that showcases common Louisiana ingredients in sophisticated preparations.
The room itself is a classy, upscale pub circling around a brightly lit open kitchen, with New Orleans jazz playing softly early in the evening and growing into party-ready bluegrass as the night goes on. As for the food, there were plenty of options for a non-deep-fried foods eater like myself, such as a BBQ shrimp starter with a kick and gumbos and stews. (They also serve a long list of beer and is one of the few places joining in on the trend of serving wine on tap, which Julie tried and found refreshing.)
The menu also features a nightly special, called the “boucherie,” and the night Julie and I were there featured a cochon au lait, or slow-cooked pork in milk. The tender pork was served up with tasty braised greens and corn bread, and speckled with cracklins.
Of course, I “made” Julie eat several fried foods, from the deep-fried alligator with creole remoulade to the southern fried chicken to the beignets. The deep-fried alligator has a slight chew like calamari, but with a mix of clever herbs in the batter. (Yes, I tried a bit of the alligator, along with one of the fried lemon wedge that tasted like preserved lemons.)
Julie also said the fried chicken ($20), which actually looked a bit small, was some of the best she’s had because of the incredible crispy skin. It’s served with a sweet potato puree and pickled escarole that Julie did feel was the only down side to the dish because it was too tart.
One thing of note about the Boxing Room is the kitchen, at least on this night, seemed like it was on supercharge. Dishes arrived at our table just minutes after we ordered them. In fact, I would say the beignets for dessert probably came less than a minute after we put in the order. (Because of the neighborhood being near the Civic Center, our server did ask if we were headed to the symphony or ballet, but we weren’t. Still, the food came out so quickly that we could have made an 8-p.m. curtain call if we needed to.)
Chef Simoneaux is doing his birthplace proud, creating dishes that are packed with flavor and presented in a refined but approachable manner. And the menu at The Boxing Room definitely shows there’s more to southern cooking than fried chicken.
Rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps
The Boxing Room, 399 Grove St. (at Gough), San Francisco. PH: 415.430.6590. Open daily for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. boxingroomsf.com
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