Hetto heaven! Bin 38 raises plate composition to a high art, with beautiful colors, textures, and arrangements
DINE If we agree that the Marina District is a sort of Castro District for heterosexuals — the het ghetto, or hetto — it should follow that food in the neighborhood's restaurants is something of an afterthought. Restaurant food in the Castro has long been a swamp of mediocrity (though there are signs of improvement), and restaurants in the Marina have likewise tended to be more about convenience, speed, and affordability — like refueling race cars — than an experience in their own right.
At a glance, Bin 38 would seem to conform to this pattern. The restaurant and wine-beer bar occupies a narrow storefront space on a run of Scott Street between Lombard and Chestnut streets already chockablock with eating places pitched to the young. From outside it looks like a typical box, but once you're inside the door, you find a dodge-and-weave of rectangles: an entryway with host or hostess, a bar with a nest of intimate tables opposite, a passageway, another dining room rich in alcoves, yet another passageway, and a garden. There is a snug, cave-like quality to the layout — it reminded me of a lost beloved, Rendezvous du Monde, which back in the 1990s occupied a similarly burrow-like abode on Bush Street in which splendid food was served.
I could say that Bin 38's food is as good as Rendezvous du Monde's. That's saying something, and it is as good, but what is most immediately notable about the dishes emerging from head chef Matt Brimer's kitchen is how gorgeously everything is composed and plated. The designs aren't so fussy that you feel like a Visigoth trashing the treasures of Rome when you start eating them, but they are striking in their combinations of shape, color, and texture. I hesitate to describe food as art, but I hesitate a little less here.
Color is perhaps the most arresting aspect of food that has yet to be eaten, and winter, the bleakest season, offers surprising possibilities to the color-minded chef. Beets, for instance, of gold, ruby, and rose. Bin 38's roasted-beet salad (part of a $29, three-course prix-fixe) looked like the contents of a jewel box: an array of richly gleaming disks, arranged on mache with dabs of mild, creamy French feta, and scatterings of equally jewel-like pomegranate seeds. The whole thing is dressed with a citronette, basically a vinaigrette made with lemon juice instead of vinegar. The finishing touch was the platter itself, a long narrow rectangle such as might be used for presenting a sushi roll.
Just as colorful was a wide, shallow bowl of hand-cut tagiolini (also a prix-fixe item), ribbons of pasta a little wider than fettucine, tossed with a colorful mélange of spinach, tomato, baby carrot, turnip, and chunks of braised pork, with flavor amendment provided by olio nuovo and square flaps of Parmesan cheese. What was most remarkable about the sauce was the way in which the various ingredients kept their individual identities while managing, at the same time, to become part of a greater whole.
If I mark down the winter salad — again, prix-fixe — a bit, it's mainly because the color scheme wasn't quite as intense: Belgian endive (white with hints of green), fennel shreds (white with even fewer hints of green), sprigs of watercress (green but small), sections of blood and mandarin orange (gorgeous), and pink peppercorns (too small to add much visually). The arrangement was appealing, though, with the leaves of endive neatly lined up along the platter like canoes tied up in the marina of a summer camp. Dressing: cherry vinaigrette.