Sens Restaurant

Uplifting food makes up for gloomy decor
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REVIEW My hot date and I spent about as enjoyable an hour and a half as can be spent in a brown bat cave (without doing it in a corner). I don't know what restaurant occupied this slot on the promenade level of 4 Embarcadero before Sens took it over, but whatever beast it was left Sens with a nightmare dilemma on its hands: how to exorcise California gothic spirits of stone and brown and big buck hunting and death? Sens's answer? You don't. You just try to work around the problem, apparently, starting with strong gin and tonics and continuing with great food.

The Caprese here was a complete success, and when interrogated as to the type of cheese on which it hinged, our waiter Anthony was quick to get back to us with an answer: "Manouri — wonderful texture." The lamb meatballs were plated atop some kind of berry reduction, an attempt at underlying sweetness that did little to contrast an overgarlicky finish.

As for the entrées, there's better halibut out there, but the lamb shank that Anthony brought us was gorgeous and easy off the bone — NC-17 all the way. And dessert? Caramel ice cream sitting on a little cake, all on some wafers. It was gone before we could identify its parts.

The service was politely concerned, not pushy. The Mediterranean spices were authentic, if slightly overpowering. But the hand lamps that adorn every stone pillar seemed straight-up evil. Picture this: put an electric torch in a lamp in the hand of a dead person. Multiply by 25. No joke.

When there's little an owner can do to overcome such a gnarly aesthetic hex, I guess the only thing left to do is simply to embrace it. Or maybe the interior's not such a lugubrious affair at lunchtime. Here's hoping, for the food's sake.

SENS RESTAURANT Mon.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. and 5:30–10 p.m.; Sat., 5–11 p.m. 4 Embarcadero, promenade level, SF. (415) 362-0646, www.sens-sf.com

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