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.
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 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.
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.
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 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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