Chef Hoss Vare's hugs are famous, as is his warm, inclusive greeting that makes dining at his restaurant Zare at Fly Trap such a pleasure. Plus, there's just no one quite doing what he's doing with Persian, Iranian and Mediterranean foods.
I visited during opening week of his just-launched, casual, weekday lunches served within Flytrap, a project Zare calls Zare's Grill and Grain. Lucky are they who work nearby and can grab to-go meals. But it's worth going out of your way for lunch here (just as it is for a more formal dinner or cocktails at the bar).
In keeping with his recent health scare (he's doing wonderfully and looks great, post-heart attack) Hoss made his lunch menu as healthy as it is flavorful. You'll find lots of whole grains, fish, lean meats, and wraps. As one who has been known to sacrifice 'healthy' if it translates to flavorless or uninteresting, I found a couple items on the inventive menu downright exciting.
The red awning means you've come to the right place. Photo by Virginia Miller
Two words: sardine wrap. There are many wraps at Grill and Grain, from a crispy bulgur to a lamb ($10-12), all enveloped in lavash bread or whole wheat pita. But the sardine wrap ($10) has no equal. It's hands down one of the best things I've eaten this year. Loaded with grilled Monterey sardines and white anchovies, the wrap is meaty and not too fishy. Fresh and bright with grilled cherry tomato, broccoli rabe, walnuts, and spicy bread crumbs providing a bit of crunch -- and the winning piece that ties it altogether: creamy black garlic spread. I reminded me of days on the Mediterranean coast, an elevated, elegant 'fast' food, a genius menu addition.
Salmon lentil salad: tender, buttery -- all that you need in a lunch date. Photo by Virginia Miller
You won't go wrong with generous plates like the salmon lentil salad ($12), a heaping black pearl lentil salad dotted with fennel, braised endive, and roasted bell pepper. Lemon, thyme, and tumeric lend the dish dimension, while a balsamic vinaigrette pulls together the various tastes. The salmon is tender, even buttery, with a gentle crisp on the outside and topped with a dollop of salsa verde. It felt good to be eating such a balanced plate – one that thankfully does not lack in the flavor department.
Hoss has long done soups and stews right (I still recall his chili from last year's Persian Pub Grub). He continues the tradition with pomegranate soup ($9), a beautiful tart-savory balance with green split peas, French lentils, basmati rice, and mini duck meatballs in the middle.
Rare is the lunch that is this affordable and unusual. Order at the counter and eat in with self-serve utensils and a condiment station, or take it to go.
Zare's Grill and Grain
Lunch: Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.- 2 p.m.
606 Folsom, SF
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