The story: More than a year old, Palm House in San Francisco’s Cow Hollow neighborhood wants you to feel like you’re on vacation but not. So perfect “staycation” dining with cuisine from tropical islands such as the Caribbean, Hawaii, Cuba and Brazil. Recently the restaurant changed chefs, bringing on Chris Ricketts, formerly of the nearby Tipsy Pig, to helm the kitchen.
Why I went: I was invited by the restaurant to check out Ricketts’ new menu, and I was intrigued because I’m originally from Hawaii so I’m always looking for food that can make me think of home. I dropped in for an early dinner on Saturday and brought along my niece, who is also from Hawaii but recently moved to the Bay Area.
The vibe: I didn’t realize until I arrived at the restaurant that it’s in the former Nettie’s Crab Shack location on Union Street. I’d dined at Nettie’s before so was sad to see they’ve closed. Palm House has retained much of the layout of Nettie’s but changed up the decor to give it more an island vacation vibe with the added colorful bird cages for a plantation home feel and sea glass bottles lining the shelves.
The menu: A standard menu with appetizers, salads, mains and sides is sprinkled with tropical ingredients such as pineapple, coconut, and plantains. Fish from Hawaii (mahi mahi and walu) sit next to Jamaican specialties like jerk chicken and roti flatbread. Of course, we leaned toward the Hawaii-inspired dishes and chose to start with the kalua pork shoulder ($13) and salmon lomi lomi ($14). My niece and I really liked the lomi lomi, a bowl chock full of fresh salmon that’s served raw and cured by the citrus of the pineapple. Traditionally, Hawaiian lomi lomi (which means “to massage”) has more of a soy based and rarely has pineapples, but this bowl was still fresh and delightful. The kalua pork, however, had some Jamaican influences with the addition of curried black beans, but I found the shredded pork lacking in flavor (I like my kalua pig salty) and a bit wet (moisture came out of every bite as I bit into the pork with the flatbread.) The signature free-range jerk chicken ($19) had a nice spice level, and the grilled Hawaiian walu ($25) with curried sesame salsita had a nice punch.
The booze: Definitely reflecting an island feel, there are punch bowl drinks and slush cocktails, along with specialty cocktails mixed with island flair. (Along with a selection of bottled beer from the islands.) On the recommendation of our waiter, I tried the Old Cuban ($11), a champagne cocktail nicely balanced with the use of Brugal anejo rum. My niece’s colorful Tropicana ($11) with bourbon and strawberry puree had a nice seasonal flavor with the fresh strawberry puree.
My favorite dish: Hands down it’s the salmon lomi lomi, even though it’s not authentic, it was fresh and a well-conceived dish (if you like ceviche-type dishes). The jerk chicken is good too, and quite filling (in fact, we took leftovers home).
Insider tip: If you like to be in a bustling area, grab a seat and dine at the bar, which seems to always have a crowd.
The last bite: While Palm House didn’t take me to Hawaii, it did make me forget about the chilly air of San Francisco. The friendly service and solid food makes it a nice alternative to the many California-seasonal dining options out there.
The rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: The Palm House, 2032 Union St., San Francisco. PH: 415.400.4355. Open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (till 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday); and Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.palmhousesf.com
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