Long Bar on Fillmore Street impresses with good (but not too fancy) food at reasonable prices
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If you're old enough to remember Loongbar and I'm too polite to ask you might experience a moment of confusion about Long Bar. You might wonder if there's a familial connection, and why did the name of the restaurant split in two (some kind of verbal mitosis?), and what happened to the other O? But ... no worries, as the Aussies say. Long Bar (whose principals are Alan Walsh and Bill Garlock) has nothing to do with Loongbar, the Mark Miller venture of the late 1990s that lived its brief life in a spectacular Ghirardelli Square setting before ending up in the hands of the actor Don Johnson under the name Ana Mandara.
Long Bar was, until spring 2007, the Fillmore Grill, a stalwart of that stylish street and a pubish sort of place. If your idea of a smart pub includes a long bar, then you won't be too disappointed by the morph. Long Bar is aptly named; its bar (of Honduran mahogany) might not be quite the match of the big daddy that helped make Stars famous, but it is sizable, with seating for at least a dozen atop posh-looking stools, each with an unimpeded view to the large flat-screen television mounted on the wall, a window on the world of sports.
As impressive as the bar is, it takes up only a quarter or so of the dining room, with the rest given over to the usual suspect (tables and chairs in various configurations), a color scheme heavy on a cayenne or burnt-sienna hue rich and warm, if under inflected and, most appealing, a small selection of U-shaped, low-rise booths in a far corner. Long Bar isn't what you'd call beatifically quiet (another sense in which the name is spot-on; will anyone ever open Quiet Bar?), but the noise level in the booths is far from unbearable, even as the restaurant fills up with Pacific Heightsers, some fresh from a movie at the Clay Theater across the street.
They're hungry, of course, the P.H. crowd: they want good food but not fancy food, and they want it at a reasonable price, since, like everybody else, they must be feeling the wind a bit these days. What is a reasonable price? That, as Hamlet might say (in a yet-to-be-imagined turn as restaurant planner), is the question, and it's a tricky one to try to answer in the midst of our present economic maelstrom. I will note that Long Bar's main-course prices range mostly from the high teens to the mid-20s, which isn't exactly bargain-basement country, but could be worse. A strong theory of relativity obtains in restaurant pricing, and any calculus must consider where the restaurant is located and who's likely to go there.
So while it seems quite possible that the bulk of the clientele vigorous, middle-aged-looking people who don't appear to be poor would consider Long Bar moderately priced, I would have to cogitate a bit before agreeing. Then I would agree. A grilled salmon filet perched on a bed of quinoa salad dotted with cauliflower florets, for $22? That's not bad for casually sophisticated cooking.
Of course, no bar would be complete without a full complement of bar food, and bar food is so often deep-fried and greasy, maybe on the theory that the grease helps soak up excess alcohol, as if it's some kind of blotter. (A friend recently told me a similar story about the therapeutic powers of tripe, which, prepared in a stew called menudo, is commonly served in Mexico on Sundays, when some people might need help clearing away the haze left by the previous night's revels.)
Fried onion rings are often a spectacular example of this kind of cooking. Hence their migration to fast-food-land. But executive chef Ryan McDonald's version ($6) was notable for its restraint. The rings were cut from red onions, for one thing, then given a tempura batter, which fried up strong and dry, without sogginess or a sheen of grease on the plate. We dipped the rings in the companion ramekin of plain ketchup, which was fine, though not quite as fine as the rings themselves.
Monterey calamari ($12) was a more typical item, with the rings and tentacles swaddled in a heavy golden coat of bread crumbs. Despite the slightly lurid look, the seafood itself was tender and gently sweet-briny, with a colorful salad of frisée and slivered carrot and lime aioli on the side for balance.
Comparably golden, though not as heavy, were crab cakes ($16), a matched pair of plump pucks made with a generous amount of actual crab meat (filler is a perennial problem for crab cake aficionados) and plated with a fabulously tart little salad of apple threads and tendrils of watercress. Lemon-caper aioli provided a final zest kicker.
Yes, the Long Bar kitchen has a flair for salads, of all things. Even the caesar ($9) was excellent, despite a lack of anchovies. The croutons were crunchy and plentiful, the Parmesan shavings were piled up like drifts in a blizzard, the dressing was notably lemony, and the romaine spears were immaculate and crisp. I did wonder why, given the considerable scale of the caesar, why no grilled-chicken upgrade is offered. With a little protein, this salad could easily pass as a light main course.
Desserts, we were told, are due for an upgrade, from a pastry chef whose arrival is imminent. In the meantime, the choices are a bit TGI Friday's but perfectly serviceable: mud pie ($8), a fluffy chocolate mousse under a glossy cap of dark chocolate; and mango cheesecake ($8), also fluffy, in a graham-cracker crust that's worth its weight in ... well, graham crackers, at least.
Dinner: Sun., Tues.Thurs, 510 p.m.;
Fri.Sat., 510:30 p.m.
2298 Fillmore, SF