Heirloom Cafe

A Mission addition whose cooking is as elegant and understated as its interior design

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Heirloom Cafe in the Mission can come on strong -- but knows when to hold back deliciously, as in this dish with PEI mussels
PHOTO BY RORY MCNAMARA

paulr@sfbg.com

DINE The Gospel According to Matthew offers no restaurant commentary I'm aware of, but it does remind us that "you will know them by their fruits" — the King James Version of the holy book gives us the fruitier "ye shall know them by their fruits" — especially (to make a slight inference) heirloom fruits. Or restaurants. If you want to know what a neighborhood is like and how it might be changing, you look at the restaurants.

Recently The Wall Street Journal ran a story suggesting that the Mission District is rapidly being colonized by techsters who live in the city and commute to jobs on the Peninsula in shuttle buses provided by their employers, among them the colossi Google and Apple. The map showed the corporate bus stops, though not the location of Heirloom Café, which opened in April in a gorgeous box of a space at Folsom and 21st streets. But if the shuttle-bus routes are adjusted so that the techsters can be dropped off there and go straight in to dinner, I won't be surprised.

Heirloom is the kind of place that, five or six years ago, you would have expected to find opening in Glen Park or outer Noe Valley. It is a respectful, conscientious restoration of an old Victorian space, with wood-plank floors, cream-colored walls, lots of natural light, ceiling fans, and tables (including the long communal table) simply but handsomely dressed with white linens. Its menu is refreshingly brief and implies a lineage, at least in spirit, from Chez Panisse and Zuni Café.

But it is an odd experience, I must say, to stand on the sidewalk outside the door and watch the local world go by. Heirloom sits in the very heart of the Mexican Mission, and might as well be the embassy of some faraway country no one has heard of. The neighbors pass by with scarcely a glance at the place or the menu card posted in the window. The people who do pause, and then step inside, all seem to be wearing Dolce & Gabbana eyewear, or at least look as if they've tried on a pair or two. Worlds collide, sometimes, but they can also coexist, in the same time and place, as if in parallel universes.

The cooking is as elegant and understated as the interior design. Small touches make a big difference, as in the wonderfully crisp matchstick frites scattered over a salad of smoked trout ($12), frisée, and haricots verts. The fries brought a lovely lightness and crunch to an already complex salad. A mushroom tart ($10) was similarly, subtly enhanced by the tang of bacon. The pastry crust had the tender snap and tastiness of real butter.

On occasion, the magic ingredient goes missing, as with the mussels ($10). These were served with a classic white wine broth, which was a little sharp and sour, especially if you've been spoiled (as I have) by such innovations in this area as Thai-style red curry or beer-with-chorizo broths.

And some special ingredients won't be to every taste. The burger ($12), for instance was served on an English muffin in the presence of pickled carrots, but the dominant reality was the epoisses cheese, whose ripe pungency gave pause. At first bite I wondered if the meat had spoiled — the cheese was that strong. I continue to question the French-style cheeseburger, I must say. High-quality beef generally doesn't need much support, let alone interference.

A nice illustration of knowing when to leave well enough alone involved the poached halibut ($22), which turned out to be nearly as rich and creamy as the potato purée it was served on. Halibut is something like the perfect fish — meaty and substantial, mild-flavored but not bland, wild but taken from well-managed fisheries. To find it handled with restrained grace is the jewel in the crown.

Comments

This review is ridiculous. I ate at Heirloom Cafe recently and had the most amazing experience. Great service, Great food, Great wine, Great atmosphere. The place was rockin' and I loved experiencing what will soon be a restaurant with a long wait-list to get in. I don't know why they have a picture of a salumi plate headlining the review. Heirloom does not even serve salumi. I ate the delicious Halibut that is NOT poached and does NOT come with potato puree. The muscles were the best I have ever had and their wine by the glass and old vintage wine list is impressive. This review does not even mention their wonderful wine program. Also, the service was so down to earth, friendly and intelligent. How can a review not even mention the service. This is one of the most inaccurate and sloppy reviews I have ever read. If you have a chance, go by Heirloom and you will not be disappointed. I can't say enough about how unintelligent this review is.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2010 @ 11:25 pm

I fixed the picture above, sorry we accidentally put the wrong one in. As for the rest of your gripes, I'm not sure where you're coming from. Paul covers as many aspects of a restaurant as he deems fit in the space allotted, and this is a positive review. Thank you for sharing your views on the aspects that you enjoyed.

Posted by marke on Jun. 24, 2010 @ 10:46 am

Well, not sure who's written any of the first three, but this is Matt Straus writing, I'm the owner of the restaurant, and because there are now two implications above that perhaps someone on the inside penned that first one, I'd like to say it wasn't me.

I'm very grateful for the attention--this piece included--that the restaurant has received. I'm sorry that Mr. Reidinger didn't love everything he ate here, but pleased to say that the overwhelming majority of feedback to dishes like the mussels and the Epoisses burger has been very positive.

To each his or her own, thanks all of you for your perspectives.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2010 @ 2:25 pm

For replying. I'm removing the implications above.

Posted by marke on Jun. 24, 2010 @ 10:12 pm

I really enjoyed my meal at Heirloom Cafe. I thought the interpretation of the mussels minus the shells was great and while I didn't try the burger, I saw one go by and it looked great. Here's my Yelp review so people don't accuse me of working for the restaurant, too!

http://www.yelp.com/biz/heirloom-cafe-san-francisco#hrid:ecuZTQPpWyedLh6...

ps...do your really think guest #1 would spell mussels "muscles" if they worked for the restaurant?

Posted by phil on Jun. 24, 2010 @ 8:00 pm

Not a bad review at all, but not totally accurate. Like other commenters mentioned, the hallibut is neither poached nor on potatoes. Saute'd obviously, with the crust to prove it. The puree of Cauliflower was the most interesting part of the meal, in my opinion, it has a silky smooth, creamy texture, like nothing you've had before. It's so simple, tastes like like concentrated cauliflower, simply delectable. The texture is truly amazing, but if you're calling it potatoes, you're missing the point of the whole meal. You can't write a piece about such a simple menu and make mistakes all over the place, people are reading this stuff and getting their impressions from your view! It's very unprofessional, amateur even. This is not the forum to discuss the gentrification of the mission, and again, it's not an accurate depiction of the people eating here. Again, not a bad review, but all credibility is lost with these simple over simplifications and blatant inaccuracies.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 25, 2010 @ 7:14 am

Matt,

Thank you so much for opening Heirloom! I am a fellow restaurant owner in the Mission, and I am absolutely delighted to have you in the neighborhood. My boyfriend and I had one of the best meals we've had in a long time at your restaurant; with amazing wine and wonderful service. We found the quality of the ingredients, the friendliness of the staff, and the general sense of pleasant humility to be refreshing. You guys are doing a fantastic job and I wish you the best.

We sat at the counter and were guided wonderfully through the menu by the chefs. We really enjoyed seeing them work and tasting the food and the wine. As the name implies, Heirloom really is a very special gem for those of us who love to eat and drink well in the company of really nice people who love what they do.

Posted by Deborah on Jun. 30, 2010 @ 7:36 pm

Same ole swill from the dark ages. Hard to believe this is the Bay Area with the Guardian pushing this fossil fuel crap food.

Posted by Guest ❖❖❖ on Jul. 06, 2010 @ 11:14 pm

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