The story: AL’s Place on the edge of San Francisco’s Mission District is named after Chef/Owner Aaron London, who previously helmed the kitchen of the now-defunct, vegetable-focused Ubuntu restaurant in Napa. At his own place, London continues to celebrate the greens, and all the good things that go with them.
Why I went: I made an impromptu stop to AL’s Place with my friend Craig, who is a pescaterian (a diet of mostly fish and vegetables) on an early Saturday evening. The restaurant is close to Craig’s home, and with his nutritional needs, I was finally happy to recommend a restaurant that actually caters to his eating preferences.
The vibe: As you can guess, lots of young, slim diners in a very bright space. The small corner restaurant with white walls almost reminds me of a lobster shack off the coast of Maine, but it’s not. Since we didn’t have reservations, we ended up sitting at the bar, which is adjacent to the open kitchen.
The menu: In an innovative restaurant like AL’s, you can expect the approach to the menu to be non-conforming. The sections include snacks, “cold/cool,” “warm/hot” and sides. The overall menu feels light, with only about four dishes per category, and the sides is where you’ll find the few meat items, like a duck with strawberry mole ($15) and another dish of jowl ham with seaweed and anchovies ($14). It can be disorienting because nothing serves as an entree, so it’s one of those place where you eat what you like, and hope that you get filled up.
The booze: There are six specialty cocktails and a full list of wine and beer. Craig and I actually came from an afternoon of beer drinking, so we veered the other direction and I ordered a light Cabernet Franc from Roark in Santa Ynez Valley ($16).
My favorite dish: The asparagus with currant soffritto, burrata, potato chips and skin puree ($13) seem to best represent the style of Chef London’s dishes, and it was my favorite dish because of the complexity of textures of the dish and the creativity. Potato chips are crushed and coats the fresh burrata, which also was a perfect complement to the spring asparagus.
The last bite: While the menu takes some getting used to, the dishes are satisfying and doesn’t make you miss meat (although we had our meat with the duck breast). The flavors are full-bodied, and the friendly service makes AL’s Place a perfect neighborhood spot for San Francisco.
The rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Al’s Place, 1499 Valencia St., San Francisco. PH: 415.416.6136. Open Wednesday through Sunday, 5:30 to 10 p.m. (till 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday). Closed Monday and Tuesday. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.alsplacesf.com
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