A communal table runs down the center of the dining room leading up to the open kitchen.

A communal table runs down the center of the dining room leading up to the open kitchen.

The story: It’s no coincidence that the rise of Outerlands occurred when its kitchen was under the helm of Brett Cooper. Now the chef is back in a more elegant-but-still-casual dining room in the Mission with Aster, in cooperation with the Daniel Patterson Group.

Why I went: The Mission is a lot easier for me to get to than the outer Sunset, so it was an easy decision to pop in to get a taste of Cooper’s cooking. I brought along my niece for a weekday dinner.

First course of chilled golden beet soup with mussels, pistachio and dill ($12)

First course of chilled golden beet soup with mussels, pistachio and dill ($12)

My niece started with this dish of potato-black pepper dumplings ($15) that wasn't the kind of dumplings we expected but still delicious with maitake mushrooms, peas and yogurt.

My niece started with this dish of potato-black pepper dumplings ($15) that wasn’t the kind of dumplings we expected but still delicious with maitake mushrooms, peas and yogurt.

The vibe: It’s rare that a restaurant continues the vibe from its website to the actual dining room, but Aster successfully does that, primarily with the connection of the floral artwork that punctuates the website and comes to life in the warm wood furnished dining room. There are tracks of lights above that almost makes you think you’re at a Disneyland light show, but otherwise the overall vibe is modern California.

The intimate room at Aster features paintings of flowers that are also represented on its website.

The intimate room at Aster features paintings of flowers that are also represented on its website.

The menu: Cooper designed a menu that continues the emphasis on seasonal California ingredients he started in Outerlands but with more complexity. The menu actual works as a four-course tasting menu at $59, with three to four options in four sections. You can also order the dishes ala carte (which is what my niece did) but I believe you get a better value with the $59 four-course price. One note: the menu is pretty much a listing of ingredients. It’s difficult to discern how the plate is presented based on the descriptions. For example, I wouldn’t have known that the milk-fed lamb ($27) with pole and shelling beans and smoked eggplant was actually lamb cooked three-ways, as perfectly cooked chops, loin and something like a sausage.

My second course was sweetbreads with pickled summer squash, charred peppers and thyme ($17). I forgot to ask if it was pan-fried or deep-fried and the sweetbreads were deep-fried, which is not my favorite way to eat them but I still ate them all.

My second course was sweetbreads with pickled summer squash, charred peppers and thyme ($17). I forgot to ask if it was pan-fried or deep-fried and the sweetbreads were deep-fried, which is not my favorite way to eat them (always reminds me of chicken nuggets) but I still ate them all.

My niece and I both ordered the milk-fed lamb ($27), presented three ways along with pole and shelling beans and smoked eggplant puree and nepitella.

My niece and I both ordered the milk-fed lamb ($27), presented three ways along with pole and shelling beans and smoked eggplant puree and nepitella.

The booze: A well curated beverage list that includes wine by the glass, beer, and aperitif. I’m always drawn to Oregon wine so I ordered the 2013 Mouton Noir Pinot Noir from Williamette Valley ($14).

My favorite dish: My four-course dinner started and ended with my favorite dishes, from the surprising and fresh chilled golden beet soup ($12) with mussels, pistachio and dill. The pistachio was chopped into what looked like chocolate bits and added a contrasting texture to the smooth beet soup that had a nice tart twist that brought balance. Dessert was a beautiful chocolate ganache ($12) squares with black caramel and cocoa nib that was so silky and decadent, decorated with edible flowers.

Dessert of summer melon with yogurt, sesame, lemon balm and vanilla ice cream on top ($12). The melon cubes were subtle, and not too sweet.

Dessert of summer melon with sesame, lemon balm sponge cake and yogurt on top ($12). The melon cubes were subtle, and not too sweet.

My favorite dish of chocolate ganache beautifully presented with edible flowers and served with a black caramel ice cream and cocoa nib. There was an added touch of cream that was almost like cream cheese, providing a nice bitterness to the ganache. ($12)

My favorite dish of chocolate ganache beautifully presented with edible flowers and served with a black caramel ice cream and cocoa nib. There was an added touch of cream that was almost like cream cheese, providing a nice bitterness to the ganache. ($12)

The last bite:  The five-month-old Aster adds to the many “seasonal California sustainable ingredient-focused” restaurants in the Bay Area, but Cooper shows some experimenting that provides a glimpse of promise for something special. The polished service matches the polished room, so I imagine things will only get better from this very strong start.

The rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps
3-snaps

 

 

The deets: Aster, 1001 Guerrero St., San Francisco. PH: 415.875.9810. Open daily dinner from 5:30 to 10 p.m. (till 10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday). Reservations, major credit cards accepted. astersf.com

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2 Responses to A Review of Chef Brett Cooper’s Aster in San Francisco

  1. Carolyn Jung says:

    Wow, $59 for four courses is a steal! Especially since the food looks so thoughtful and satisfying.

    • Ben Ben says:

      I agree, that’s why I say always go the prix fixe route, not ala carte. Of course, my niece never listens to me. ;-P