It’s hard to say what could be more comforting in the foggy Outer Sunset than an impeccable bowl of steaming soup. Maybe that perfect soup with some homemade butter and bread, inventive entrees and artisanal cocktails.
Outerlands has it all, and walking into the cozy, woody retreat — complete with a driftwood, Hobbit-hole loft — is a bit like putting on a favorite, well-worn sweater: warm, soft and inviting.
The brainchild of husband-and-wife team David Muller and Lana Porcello, Outerlands originally was going to be a mere soup cart. But when a vacancy opened up a few blocks from their home, they couldn’t resist turning the venture into a full-fledged restaurant and opened in February 2009.
When there is a 45-minute wait for tables (including outside) in the Sunset on a chilly Tuesday night in December, it must mean someone is doing something right.
Chef Brett Cooper (formerly of Rubicon, Coi and Saison) is that someone, and, like many Bay Area food ventures and professionals, he sources fresh, often local, sustainable ingredients for his evolving seasonal menu.
The wait is manageable, thanks to not just a well-curated wine and beer list, but cocktails served across a beautifully finished, curved wood bar.
There are three drinks each night, all $10, using top-notch spirits. A warm ginger-apple-lemon cider with Buffalo Trace bourbon is a fine winter cupful. The gin cocktail with Ransom Old Tom gin (a pre-Prohibition recipe), Dolin Blanc vermouth, Cocchi Americano and orange bitters is a delicate delight.
House-made bread and luxurious butter is a popular starter, as well as soup accompaniment. Moonlike loaves — which can be seen rising in the open kitchen — are spongy, not too dense nor too airy, with a crackling crust. Muller is the bread-man, trained by his buddy Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery.
Golden turnip and caramelized onion soup is silky, smooth and filling, and not too rooty.
Entree-wise, the red trout — with sprouted nut seeds, Thompson grapes, sunchoke puree and pomegranate — is a real winner, mainly for the trout itself. Light, buttery and flaky, the fish is more reminiscent of salmon than its gamier freshwater brethren. But the preserved lemon garnish — too candylike to blend flavors — could be omitted.
Another entree, pulled lamb shank — served with wheatberries, roasted chicories, celery root, medjool dates and Botte Piccola balsamic vinegar — is a filling, autumnal dish. The syrupy vinegar and dates are a sweet complement to the tender, gamey lamb.
Eaters with tender tongues should avoid the warmed spiced molasses cake. Made with baked apples and topped with walnut buttercream and candied walnuts, it has a nice texture, but also overpowering ginger flavor that burns the throat (or clears the sinuses).
As an alternative, dessert lovers might want to try an Asian pear and fig tart or coffee creme brulee, all created by pastry chef Zoe Dering (Coi, Nopa).
Outerlands’ staff is patient and knowledgeable. The decor (designed by Muller, Porcello and friends) is, like many new San Francisco establishments, mostly wood. But unlike Four Barrel, Bar Bambino or other hot spots, the acoustics are soft, without the harsh echo.