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Reincarnation is a sketchy proposition, even if you're a restaurant. True, you won't come back as a rabbit or a mosquito — a couple of the less juicy possibilities human beings have to worry about in anticipating their next go-round in life — but you will certainly be stuck with a past that, even if punctuated with interludes of glory, has to have culminated in some sort of gloomy closure for you to be available for reincarnation at all. The truth is that the names of successful restaurants don't recycle easily. Two vividly local examples: Stars and Trader Vic's.
For years I would pass by Julie's Supper Club, on Folsom, and I would mean to go there even as I was on my way to someplace else, to many someplace elses. The supper club (opened by Julie Ring in 1987) was a SoMa stalwart in the early 1990s, when the neighbors included Appam, the Acorn, and, just a few blocks west, Hamburger Mary's. All those places had closed by the turn of the millennium, but Julie's soldiered on, though without Julie herself: she'd sold her interest in 1998 and moved along to other ventures. When the end finally came for Julie's Supper Club, about a year and a half ago, it was as if the last veteran of the Civil War had died.
So much for Julie's Supper Club, I thought, RIP. Rumor told of some new loungey deal, with a new name, to open in the space, and rumor, as we all well know, is always true, except when it isn't. The recently opened successor to Julie's Supper Club is ... Julie's Supper Club and Lounge II. I am not sure about the Roman numeral, which makes me think of Super Bowls or people who wear monocles. It seems weighty in a way the new proprietors might not necessarily intend. But it also suggests continuity, a fusing of western SoMa's seedy-glamorous yesterdays with a lively tomorrow.
Since I never saw the inside of the original Julie's, I cannot say whether much has been changed, though I suspect not. The look is very hip-loungey, with a series of warped-L ceiling supports (whose holes of various sizes give one the sense that they're made of colored Swiss cheese) and a long bar backed by a mirror and a battery of pink neon lights that look like they've been salvaged from the starship Enterprise (so often wrecked and reincarnated, like a stock-car racer). The oak floors are simply magnificent; they are a rich coffee color and are immaculately glossy, as if they belong in the ballroom of some posh town house on the Upper East Side.
The biggest change is probably chef Shane Suemori's food. Under the old regime the vittles used to be a mélange of Californian and American influences; now, according to the menu card's terrifying proclamation, it is "fusion cuisine, where east truly meets west." There is also a quesadilla ($9), but pass on that: it consists of a pair of semi-stale tortillas enclosing an undistinguished filling of melted white cheese, diced yellow bell peppers, and chopped chicken. This is the kind of food famished travelers have to eat, at the kind of price they have to pay, while held captive at those prisons called airports. Marginally better (but still airportworthy) is a Japanese chicken curry ($7), which consists of chicken chunks, bits of carrot, and potato quarters in a golden sauce that reminded me of similar sauces I used to make from those soaplike bars of curry paste.
At its best, the cooking is quite innovative. I'd never had anything remotely like the lemon ponzu somen salad ($6), which was like a pasta sushi, with four little nests of cooked somen noodles arranged around a dipping dish of ponzu. And the asparagus cheese tease ($7) turned out to be a kind of vegetarian version of pigs in a blanket, with the asparagus stalks swaddled in phyllo leaves and baked with mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. The ends of the stalks could have used trimming; they were inedibly tough, but then it is not really asparagus season.
The crab cakes ($16 for two) were slightly larger than golf balls and were simply terrific, particularly with the spicy creole sauce, but the presentation was otherwise about as minimalist as it gets, with the pair of spheres sitting naked on the plate like ... like ... I can't say it, but you see what I mean. A little more generous was the oven-roasted chicken breast ($14) stuffed with cheese, cut into quarters, and set atop a mound of cheese mashed potatoes and a mix of sautéed eggplant, zucchini, and tabs of carrot. The sole dessert, meanwhile, bananas flambé ($6) presented in a martini glass, was positively luxurious. The lengths of fruit were swimming in a warm custard beneath whose bubbly surface lurked large chunks of chocolate. There was even an ornamental sprig of mint on the plate beneath the glass!
The reincarnated Julie's prices don't look too high as printed, but when you see what you actually get, you start to wonder. Of course, we live in the age of the $40 main dish, as the New York Times reported recently. Still, should a glass of no-name cabernet sauvignon cost $10? (We were given no wine list, just offered a few banal choices.) Should a doll-size snifter of Rémy Martin cognac — good though hardly regal — cost $8? I might have minded less if plate after plate hadn't seemed quite so abstemiously composed and if I'd never laid eyes on the airport quesadilla. SFBG
JULIE'S SUPPER CLUB AND LOUNGE II
Lunch: Mon.–Sat., 11 a.m.–3 p.m. Supper: nightly, 5–10 p.m.
1123 Folsom, SF