For the last five years, Chambers Eat + Drink has been anchoring the restaurant space at the hip Joie de Vivre’s Phoenix Hotel in San Francisco, following in the footsteps of Backflip, Bambuddha Lounge and briefly, Miss Pearl’s Jam House.
The space always had a bit of the rock scene, accentuated by the poolside dining and drinking area. The fact that people have to walk through the gritty streets of the Tenderloin just adds to its mystique.
Recently, ownership brought in a new chef, Yosuke Machida who recently worked at the former Ame at the St. Regis Hotel. I was invited as a guest to check out the new menu, so I dined recently on a weeknight with my niece Margot.
It actually was the first time I’ve visited Chambers, even though I’ve been to the space in its former incarnation as Bambuddha Lounge. The 50-seat space includes two bars (a small one up front and a large one in the back) and a retro vibe with a library of more than 1,000 vinyls. Even on a weeknight, there seemed to be a lively crowd that starts at the bar and eventually fills the various tables, including the cozy booths where we dined.
Spotlight on Cocktails
We started out with a couple of specialty cocktails: the “Loving Cup” ($12) made of green tea-infused vodka, elderflower liqueur, and fresh lemon juice; and the “Highwire” (also $12), bourbon, aperol, fresh lemon juice, and agave.
The Highwire had a nice balance, which was like a lighter version of a Manhattan. The Loving Cup, with its orchid garnish, had a sweet taste that seemed almost like lychee. Margot thought the drink seemed tame and lacked a punch, and I generally agreed.
Then came a parade of food since we asked our servers to send out some of the signature dishes from Machida’s new menu. (Note: Also available is a $65 chef’s tasting menu from Tuesday through Saturday, but we dined ala carte.)
While the menu still has the general feel of supporting bar patrons with its bar bites and small plate options, you can see the influence of Machida’s Japanese style of cooking, including ingredients such as shiso, yuzu-soy, and dashi.
The starters of crispy pork belly ($15), confit octopus ($15) and brussel sprout salad ($12) hit all the popular ingredients found in many menus around town. My favorite was the octopus, with a light sauce of preserved meyer lemon and shiso and a bit of Spanish flair with chorizo. The brussel sprout salad surprisingly was loaded with arugula more than brussel sprouts).
For the large plates, we got a taste of the short rib ($30) with braised kale, napa cabbage, sweet potatoes, fried shallot, and whole grain mustard sauce; and then the duck breast ($28) with confit leg, spiced couscous, cauliflower, and pomegranate sauce. Both meats were nicely tender, but the composition leaned toward the predictable and oddly the plates came out cold as if they sat for a while.
Dessert were two beautifully plated offerings of a chocolate pate with matcha whipped cream ($9) and a seasonal apple tart ($9). The apples were slightly al dente, while the chocolate was rich and luxurious.
The last bite
Chef Machida’s new menu seems to hit all the right notes in terms of what diners are eating right now, but in this early round it seems the dishes are a bit too rehearsed, with little in spontaneity and passion. Everything seemed measured and restrained, although overall the experience was enjoyable and the menu goes far for a lounge.
I’m not doing my typical rating since I was invited as a guest. Chambers Eat + Drink definitely has the lounge vibe down, and the menu so far plays a nice supporting role.
The deets: Chambers Eat + Drink, 601 Eddy St. (at Larkin), San Francisco. PH: 415. 496.5178. Open for dinner, Tuesday through Saturday; and Sunday brunch. Closed Monday. Reservations and major credit cards accepted. chambers-sf.com
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