Grub

Valencia Street may be jumping the restaurant shark, but this upscale greasy spoon rides the wave deliciously

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Wild Pacific red snapper with crab and potatoes at Grub
PHOTO BY RORY MCNAMARA

paulr@sfbg.com

DINE When cultural historians of the future gather to argue the question of when and where Valencia Street finally jumped the shark, they might find themselves concentrating on the changes that came to a single block, between 18th and 19th streets, early in the presidency of Barack Obama. They might, in particular, find themselves considering a place called Grub, which sounds like a greasy joint of some kind where people eat with their fingers but is in reality a gorgeously designed restaurant that flows from a plate-glass façade through a nouveau-mod dining room to a glowing blue bar that looks like something from Star Wars, or Las Vegas.

It's the sort of place you wouldn't have found on Valencia as recently as five years ago, and it suggests, to me — along with the nearby The Summit, with its matching plate-glass façade — that a basic shift in sensibility is occurring. Like the Ferry Plaza farmers market, Valencia Street and its establishments now get mentioned in the travel section of The New York Times, and this kind of publicity means tourists, coming as if to some exotic game preserve. Tourists fundamentally change the nature of whatever it is they're coming to experience, almost as in a chemical reaction.

None of this is to imply that Grub itself is an unworthy restaurant. It is highly worthy, with a value-intensive menu that includes authentic grub like burgers and mac 'n'cheese, as well as such highfalutin treats like osso buco. (Is it just me, or has osso buco suddenly become trendy?)

Both the burgers and mac 'n' cheese are offered in "bar" (ie, design your own) mode. Your burger choices include beef, buffalo, vegetarian, ahi tuna, and portobello mushroom. The ahi burger ($12) consists of five ounces of seared filet. You can add cheeses and condiments to your heart's content, but given the priciness and quasi-delicacy status of ahi, we thought it decadent to slather it with pickled red onions and bacon. Our suave server (a godlet who might have just stepped from the set of one of those Twilight movies) recommended the wasabi aioli, which did indeed bring a moistening intensity, though the sandwich remained a little frail, pale, and delicate, like a child who needs to get outside more.

Plunging into the mac 'n' cheese bar, by contrast, is like going to a gym where everyone is insanely worked out. All the variations (base price $9) include white and sharp cheddar cheeses and a gratin of grana padano breadcrumbs — more than enough flavor thrust to reach escape velocity. But you can tart up your crock with everything from truffle oil to grilled steak ($1 per extra ingredient) and some savories in between. Truffle oil is, for me, one of the world's most overrated (and overpriced) food items — with lobster (a favorite of the godlet) not far behind — and I thought it more or less got lost amid the meatiness of the mushrooms and bite of the cheese. The steak stood up better, adding a hint of smokiness and enough weight to make the dish a meal unto itself.

Comments

about 15 years ago a sitting president ate on Valencia Street at this restaurant called the "The Slanted Door". Valencia has had its foofy places near it's dives for almost 20 years.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 4:51 pm

Just FYI, I was having lunch with a friend at the Valencia Slanted Door sometime in the late 1990s (before it moved to its transitional home on the Embarcadero), and a homeless guy drifted in and started shouting. He had to be eased out. Bit of a scene. I don't see this sort of thing playing out at Grub. --PR

Posted by Guest on Mar. 03, 2011 @ 12:52 pm

I'd like Paul Reidinger's reviews a lot better if he wasn't hammering the same old point repeatedly. We get it, dude. You are one of the OG Missionites, you moved there way before it was cool, nothing that's new and/or hip can slide by your food reviewing without this exact same reminder. It's getting old.

Sure, take on a place that seems really out of context in the neighborhood, but your rose-tinted glasses about this hood (that long ago became a destination spot for young/alternative/older/yuppie-but-wanting-edge) are so predictable they color the rest of your writing as being out of step. I could care less about Grub, but I will say there was an oxygen bar not far from there in the late '90s. The Mission isn't a hidden secret, as much as you seem to like couching it that way. If you could focus more on the food (where your writing is much stronger) and save your predictable nostalgia for places where it's really warranted, people would take you more seriously as a critic.

Posted by You Were in the Mission Before We Were Born on Feb. 16, 2011 @ 6:45 pm

Sorry, I'm not an "OG Missionite," as you confidently put it. Have never lived there. And I'm not sentimental or nostalgic about the old days. And, yes, I knew about Oxygen Bar -- wrote about it, in fact. It was nothing like Grub, in food or tone. --PR

Posted by Guest on Mar. 03, 2011 @ 11:43 am

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