Luques Restaurant and Stable Cafe focus on the long-neglected art of the afternoon repast
In the restaurant pageant, places that don't serve dinner are at risk of being seen as a ragtag contingent. Dinner is glory, while breakfast and lunch, if not preceded by the adjective "power" relic of a pre-bust past are routine. There are time constraints and concerns about drink, not to mention daylight, which, while delightful, can be inhibiting. People are free to dance the night away, but not the noon hour.
One response to this predicament is to be very good-looking like, say, Stable Café, which opened about a year ago in a building that, in the 1870s, actually housed the mayoral stables, back in the days when mayors had stables of horses instead of (or in addition to) floozies. The structure has a Wild West, stagecoach-stop look and has been painted black shades of that sex club on Castro Street in the early 1990s. Inside, though, all is spare, sunlit grace, with ice water pourable from a pewter ewer and a lovely gated courtyard, set with tables and patio umbrellas, on the north side of the building. The quiet style and attention to detail aren't surprising, considering that there's an architecture firm, Malcom Davis Architecture, on the building's second floor, and that Davis and his partner, Brian Lackey, own the property and are its redesigners.
Lackey runs the food operation, which serves both the café and a catering concern called Mission Creek Kitchen. The former's menu naturally emphasizes soups, salads, sandwiches, and panini the last being Italian-style sandwiches pressed in a waffle-iron-like device and served hot. This method is especially effective when cheese is involved, since cheese melts and melted cheese holds things together while adding a gooey voluptuousness that is its own reward. Turkey sandwiches, for instance, can be dry, but Stable's turkey and cheddar panino ($6.75) was enlivened by plenty of melted white cheddar. A vegetarian edition ($6.75) of tomato, pesto, and mozzarella cheese, was like a reimagined slice of pizza margherita. The bread used for the panini is plain french bread, not fancy but pillow-fresh within a tender-crisp crust.
Panini come with a sizable heap of mésclun, tossed with some carrot ribbons and a cherry tomato or two and glossed with a simple vinaigrette. If that doesn't offer enough counterpoint, then perhaps a small bowl ($3.50) of the day's soup, which might be a coarse purée of tomato and roasted red bell pepper a strange combination for late spring, but let's let it go because, even in the presence of out-of-season soup, Stable is as attractive a place to look at and sit in, or next to, in this part of the Mission since the days of the original Citizen Cake a decade ago. If you've missed a haven of sunny serenity since that operation packed up and moved to the Civic Center, then Stable Café might well strike you as paradise regained.
Just off Union Square, in the Chancellor Hotel, we find another handsome, daytime-only spot called Luques. We find it after some searching, since the dining room is well-concealed behind the hotel lobby. Furtiveness does offer its joys, but a restaurant that people have trouble finding is in danger of becoming a restaurant that people stop looking for. Yet those who manage to suss out Luques will find themselves in a comfortably appointed, skylit dining room that, in its remove from the street bustle just a few steps away, can seem almost like a private or VIP facility.
Chef Darren Lacy offers a mainstream California menu with gentle Southern flourishes. You can get po'boy sliders, for instance, or a Creole-style croque monsieur ($10) the classic ham-and-cheese sandwich, made here with tasso instead of ham. (Tasso is an cold-smoked relative of prosciutto, with pork shoulder used in place of leg.) For a bit of added luxury, the bread is brioche, although that cake-like quality is somewhat obscured by a downpour of béchamel sauce. On the side: a mixed green salad for the ascetic or, for the rest of us, delicately golden, crisp fries.
I particularly liked Lacy's cream of mushroom soup ($3.50 for a cup), which was thick with strips of shiitake mushrooms and creamy, although not too creamy, thanks to an expert blending of cream and stock. No Creole influence here (unless the cream counts), or on the California chicken sandwich ($9.25), a friendly get-together of boneless grilled chicken breast, avocado, tomato slices, jack cheese, bacon, and aioli on sourdough. Still, it did what a good lunch is supposed to do: satisfy without encumbering, so that when you leave the secret chamber you're still as fleet of foot and clear of mind as you rejoin the daily pageant.
Mon.Fri., 8 a.m.3 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m.3 p.m.
2128 Folsom, SF
LUQUES RESTAURANT & BAR
Daily, 7 a.m.2:30 p.m.
433 Powell, SF