Four standout meals: Aziza, Prime Dip Sandwiches, Grill House Mediterranean, and the Haven preview dinner at Plum
APPETITE Here are four recent standout dishes or meals, offering affordable hole-in-the-wall charm or upscale creativity.
Anticipating the opening of Daniel Patterson's restaurant (currently slated to happen by year's end), Haven in Jack London Square, there have been a series of preview dinners on Tuesdays at his Oakland restaurant, Plum — the last one is Tue/15. Haven chef Kim Alter has been on hand to cook a five-course Haven dinner, applying the indelible signature style she established at Sausalito's Plate Shop.
While I saw Alter's promise there, I find myself more excited by the Haven preview. It seems her meticulous artistry is making space for comfort in a way that satisfies, yet is neither routine nor predictable.
Three cheers for her bone marrow dish, possibly my favorite bone marrow interpretation ever. A trail of garlic scents the air as two hefty bones come out. Vivid, pickled watermelon radishes brighten up the marrow visually, while leeks and yuzu juice add unexpected layers. Smeared over crusty bread, it was so perfectly indulgent we wanted to applaud. A main course of duck breast and tender duck confit delighted with the accompaniment of beets multiple ways, including dehydrated beets ground up with rye grain, or in German sauerkraut style.
Cocktail king Scott Beattie put three classics on the preview dinner menu, getting creative with ingredients in keeping with a gin theme. Old World Spirits' Rusty Blade gin made a lush base with maraschino liqueur and Carpano Antica sweet vermouth for his take on a classic Martinez ($10). Smooth and sexy with the duck dish in particular.
Patterson's flagship is the much-lauded Coi, and Coi's pastry chef Matt Tinder took care of dessert, winning me over by filling buttery brioche with warm Brillat-Savarin cheese, topped with crispy honeycomb. Savory, creamy, with gently floral honey, it's a dessert exemplifying the spirit of the entire dinner: inventive yet ultimately gratifying. I'm left expectant for what Alter and crew will cook at Haven.
Plum is located at 2214 Broadway, Oakl. (510) 444-7586, www.plumoakland.com . For the final Haven preview dinner, Tue/15, simply reserve for dinner for that date.
After moving around to various Tenderloin and North Bay storefronts, gifted Turkish chef Vahit Besir's started at the new Grill House Mediterranean, only to leave a few weeks later. I caught him on one visit to this humble hole-in-the-wall, no longer there on my most recent stop. Though other food writers have deemed their visits inconsistent, my tastes here have been steady and as such, I find it a worthy place to pick up Middle Eastern bites when in the 'Loin, though missing Besir.
Shredded chicken, lamb, or beef shawarma ($9.99 plate, or combo of all three: $11.99) fills out a toasted lavash wrap ($6.99-7.99) quite nicely, companion to lettuce, tomato, cucumber, hummus, and tahini sauce (as spicy as you wish).
The menu runs $10 or less with ubiquitous starters ($3.99 each) of baba ganoush, tabouli, dolmas, piyaz (white bean salad), and lahmajun, essentially Middle Eastern flatbread topped with ground beef. The most addictive bite is feta cheese pie ($3.99) straight out of the oven (or stuffed with beef, chicken or spinach). Tomatoes and warm feta ooze from a roll sprinkled in sesame seeds. A supreme Middle Eastern treat.
533 Jones, SF. (415) 440-7786, www.grillhousesf.com 
Blue collar workers and Civic Center government staff line-up at Prime Dip, a new sandwich shop on Larkin. No frills, just hefty dip sandwiches ($6.99-7.99) on French bread, including a popular prime rib dip. Under $8 is a deal for such hefty rolls, including a choice of sides like mac n' cheese or mixed veggies. There's a loaded lobster dip ($12.99) with hot dill butter, though I find my New Jersey (NY) roots push me straight for the hot pastrami dip. Crusty French bread softens when dipped in meaty jus, while spicy mustard and melted Swiss cushion thinly sliced pastrami.
518 Larkin, SF. (415) 800-8244
A meal at Aziza is never boring. Celebrated Chef Mourad Lahlou (whose new cookbook Mourad: New Moroccan was just released) puts such an artistic spin on Moroccan food. Some dishes achieve greater heights than others — but all fascinate, reinterpreting traditional elements. Although Aziza's anticipated downtown location just fell through, the hunt for a new building continues.
Savory, garden-fresh cocktails were the highlight of a recent visit, but on the food front, juicy, little meatballs ($14) on skewers with grapes play the sweet-savory card to winning effect, accented by herb-tossed jicama. I adore Lahlou's basteeya (or bastilla), to me the ultimate Moroccan dish. This visit it was tweaked from the usual chicken or traditional squab, filled instead with duck confit. Tender, shredded duck is encased in phyllo dough ($22), sweetly contrasted by raisins, cinnamon, and powdered sugar, plus slivers of almonds. Savory-plus-sweet gets me every time.
5800 Geary, SF. (415) 752-2222, www.aziza-sf.com 
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