The story: The popular Belden Place is known for a handful of restaurants in an alley of San Francisco’s Financial District that on a beautiful day harkens to European nights when people ate outdoors in makeshift tables in an alley. Toy Soldier opened last month in the popular tourist spot in the former space of Belden Taverna, and several of the former restaurant’s key players, including chef Fred Turner and general manager Franz Meis, continue in the new Toy Soldier.
Why I went: I was invited by the restaurant to check out its new operations, so I visited for a weeknight dinner with my niece Margot. Being Belden alley, we sat outside to enjoy the patio dining even though October’s Indian summer tricked us on this night with cooler temperatures.
The vibe: A handsome spot, the interiors had a clubby feel with leather booths and warm golden wheat color on the walls. It wasn’t a busy night, and many of the diners seemed to be either friends of the owners or people hanging out for happy hour.
The booze: A prominent happy hour menu, there’s a nice selection of wine and beer. The specialty cocktails include 10 special drinks, and our server brought me the “O Pear,” which turned out to be exactly what I needed: pear vodka with pear nectar with a nice subtle kick from muddled jalapeno. There are also special spins to classic drinks like a Manhattan and Moscow Mule.
The menu: A standard concept of appetizers, soups, salads and entrees, the selection also seem familiar with typical dishes like clam chowder, deviled eggs, beef stroganoff, fried chicken and pork chop. Because of the chill in the air, Margot and I gravitated to the New England clam chowder ($12), which was comforting with baby buttermilk biscuit bits serving as croutons. A warm Brussels sprouts Caesar salad ($14) was warm, but a bit bland in the almost steamed Brussels sprouts with typical bacon, shaved egg and parmesan cheese.
Margot’s entree of grilled salmon ($27) had a balsamic reduction as a glaze that leaned slightly on the sweet side, but my braised rabbit ($33) with pancetta and creamy polenta had a nice ragu-like flavor that was very flavorful. For desserts, our sweet corn creme brulee ($9) had a balanced taste but the texture of the brulee was on the pudding side and needed to be more firm, while the strawberry biscuit shortcake (also $9) was like a deconstructed strawberry shortcake that was enjoyable.
My favorite dish: The braised rabbit was a hit at the table, not just for the flavor but the overall balance in the plate’s component of meat, polenta and roasted cauliflower. Rabbit seems to be a popular ingredient as it also appeared in the appetizer section as rabbit arancini ($14).
The last bite: Because I was invited guest, I’m not giving my typical ratings. But Toy Soldier seems to be a restaurant with the right ingredients but doesn’t seem to have a distinctive voice yet. The menu is predictable, and doesn’t reflect any innovation. Other than the al fresco dining of Belden Place, Toy Soldier needs to refine its dishes in order to find a long-term future in this popular alley.
The deets: Toy Soldier, 52 Belden Place, San Francisco. PH: 415.906.9048. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 4 a.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.toysoldiersf.com
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