Local Mission Eatery, SF (EATS)

September 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

On a bustling block in the heart of the Mission, nestled almost unobtrusively amidst taquerias and panaderias, is a spot that you’ll love if you’re a locavore: Local Mission Eatery. Because this place is hyper-local: it sources all its ingredients from California; it was built with Douglas fir and redwood salvaged from the original site; and the owner, Yaron Milgrom, lives down the street.

Yaron, a scholarly-looking guy (who is, in fact, getting a PhD in Medieval Jewish Mysticism, go figure) with trendy glasses and a friendly smile, and Jake Des Voignes, the executive chef who cooked at Craft in NYC under Tom Colicchio and Fifth Floor with Melissa Perrelo (now of Frances), present a minimalistic weekday lunch menu and weekend brunch menu that highlight what’s in season that moment, plus dinner Wednesday through Sunday.

But it’s not just a restaurant; locavores will be like kids in a candy store here. On a shelf lining one wall is a library of excellent cookbooks that they’ll let you borrow or sit down with to copy a recipe. When I was looking for the best sticky toffee pudding recipe after the internet failed me, Jake pointed me to the right page in the British Beyond Nose to Tail cookbook; the pudding turned out wonderfully. They also offer “learning labs” such as how to butcher an entire lamb (yep, I’ve been to that too!), and there’s a bakery, Knead Patisserie, in the back run by Jake’s wife that offers a small selection of delicate pastries, Four Barrel coffee and Red Blossom tea.

The vibe is cozy and inviting, yet still modern. A sleek wood-paneled facade gives way to a long, open room anchored by a long communal table that’s framed by two- and four-tops and accented with a mix of historical artifacts (simple crystal chandeliers, Yaron’s collection of antique china) and mod touches (Woolly Pockets — planters that are felt-like pouches made from recycled plastic that you can hang on the wall).

I’ve long loved this place for lunch, its library and learning labs and the useful cooking advice that Jake shares with a quiet passion. So I was excited to try it, finally, for dinner this past weekend with friends we hadn’t seen in a while and their sister and brother-in-law.

The dinner menu offered three small bites (think fresh bar snacks, $4 each or $10 for all), eight dishes that could be ordered appetizer or entree size ($7-$14 for appetizers, $12-$25 for entrees) and four desserts ($6-$8, $12 for a large cheese plate). Everything on the menu featured produce I’d seen just that week at the farmers’ markets: padron peppers, melons, figs, eggplant, Gravenstein apples and lots and lots of tomatoes.

We sampled all three bites:

  • Padron peppers came sauteed atop romesco sauce and sprinkled with feta; these were my favorite of the bites.
  • Chicken liver mousse was velvety and rich; I could imagine eating it in a simple sandwich with thin shavings of onion.
  • Almonds were tossed with sugar and lavender. While I enjoy lavender as a scent, it’s not my favorite thing to eat, so I didn’t love these.

My husband and I tried three of the eight dishes:

  • Gnocchi in tomato water with heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella and torn green and purple basil. The gnocchi was made from potatoes, and I must admit that after being spoiled by the fluffy pillows of ricotta gnocchi at Zuni Cafe, it’s hard for me to enjoy any other gnocchi that much; I found these too gooey. But the tomato water was excellent — a golden color, it tasted like the essence of sungold tomatoes. The heirloom tomatoes were barely cooked, hit with heat just long enough to split the skins so that they literally burst with flavor, and the basil was a nice, anise counterpoint. This dish perfectly showcased summer’s bounty.

Gnocchi with tomato water

  • Pork confit with romano beans, green tomatoes and soffrito topped with pickled mustard seeds. The pork was falling-apart tender and encased in pig skin that was lusciously soft with a just-crisp edge, but it was a touch too dry; given the texture, I was expecting more scrumptious juiciness from the meat. The romano beans sliced and sauteed with soffrito were amazing, though: a savory stew of sorts in which the flavors melded together harmoniously. The pickled mustard seeds offered a nice zing — and an interesting texture — to balance the richness of the rest of the dish.

Pork confit

  • Summer squash cazuela with more sungold tomatoes and padron peppers, plus purslane, mint and jack cheese. This sounded really good and included some of my favorite ingredients, but it didn’t do it for us. It tasted like everything was cooked separately and then put in the cazuela (terra cotta baking dish), versus coming together in a cohesive way; the flavors didn’t meld and the texture was, again, too dry.

Summer squash cazuela

We accompanied our meal with a bottle of A to Z Oregon pinot noir, which was very drinkable. By the time dessert rolled around, we felt like we were going to roll out of the restaurant, so we shared among the six of us a cookie plate, which had a tower of crisp, thin cookies: shortbread, chocolate chip and dark chocolate. The shortbread was excellent — buttery with a tender crumbliness and sugary crunch — but I didn’t find the other cookies worth the calories.

Overall, there were some excellent flavors that shone through (the padrons, the tomatoes that were in the gnocchi, the romano beans that accompanied the pork), but personally I find lunch consistently better than dinner.

I’d go back for a casual weeknight dinner with my husband. And I love the combination of great vibe, genuine service (Yaron, the owner, came by to thank us for coming and recognized me from having been in for lunch a few times; our server gave us an extra plate of cookies just for fun) and local, fresh food. But what will definitely keep me going back are their seasonal sandwiches and market-fresh fruit juices during lunch hour.

P.S. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the new page (in the navigation bar): S.F. Farmers’ Markets: The Full List.

Local Mission Eatery, 3111 24th Street (at Folsom), San Francisco, CA. 415.655.3422

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