I’m mystified that Rove Kitchen, a new American spot in the Tenderloin open for several months now, has barely been mentioned in the food blogosphere. The food — the fried chicken sandwich especially — is so good, I wouldn’t be surprised if there always was a wait for a table at Rove. But there isn’t.
It makes sense when a server tells me that chef-owner Ryan Yema prefers a quiet PR approach, eschewing press releases and Twitter blasts and preferring word of mouth. There isn’t a phone number on the website, nor a menu, nor an email address.
Rove’s hours are exceedingly limited. It’s closed for Sunday dinner, and it’s closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, too. The sign on the window says “sometimes” it’s open on Wednesdays.
Rove plays a little coy, but that doesn’t stop me from liking it.
The place has a sparkle, with steel gray barstools and white marble counters that harmonize with the foggy glow of the sky outside.
If there ever was a welcoming sight, it’s the two trays of house-made buns – Norman Rockwellian, golden-caramel poofs of bread – sitting on the counter right by the door. One tray has bread sprinkled with black and white sesame seeds, the other has bread that’s shiny, but with a crackled texture on the surface.
Hanging over a small bar is a menu written on a chalkboard. It changes daily, except for three things: a burger, a grilled cheese, and the aforementioned fried chicken sandwich.
I’ve never come across a better fried chicken sandwich. It’s light, non-greasy, and if I dare say, sublime. The bun is soft, pillowy, mildly sweet and lightly fried with butter. It’s easy to bite through, which makes the chicken’s deeply caramelized crunch stand out all the more.
The meat is sweet and juicy, seasoned with herbes de Provence; lavender gives it a floral perfume, thyme a resonant, green pungency. The accompanying, mildly tangy slaw (of red onion and purple cabbage and a few crisp, thinly sliced cucumber pickles) does a tango with the chicken, melding subtly with the other flavors.
I also like Rove’s burger. It isn’t trying to be anything fancy or frou-frou, yet it’s dignified and traditional. Again, the bun is buttered and fried. The patty is made with beef short rib ground in-house. It’s substantial, with good body – not soggy, loose or overly fatty. More savory notes come from aged cheddar and caramelized onion jam. There’s a fresh leaf of butter lettuce. All in all, it’s simple and good.
While the sandwiches are pleasing for the way the ingredients mingle together in subtle ways, the approach doesn’t work as well for the salads. There was no punch to the salad of sautéed Frog Hollow peaches, goat cheese and greens I tried, and it didn’t have enough brightness to wake up my meal. The duck confit salad, while delicious and comforting, lacked high notes.
Such a critique hardly mars the pleasure of a screamingly good fried chicken sandwich, in a place as intimate and as cozy as Rove. The wine list is good, too.
Location: 678 Post St., S.F.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 10 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sundays; “sometimes” Wednesdays
Recommended dishes: Fried chicken sandwich ($11), Rove burger ($14), fries with Meyer lemon aioli ($5)
Price range: $5 to $14
Reservations: Not accepted
Credit cards: All major