New Orleans cookin’ comes alive at Boxing Room 

The ebullient Boxing Room gives San Francisco a New Orleans-style restaurant it can love.

Though no chef can replicate the real New Orleans deal here — we simply don’t have the wealth of seafood — Boxing Room’s Justin Simoneaux nimbly incorporates the cooking cultures of both his native southern Louisiana and adopted San Francisco.

At the Moss Room, where he was chef de cuisine under Loretta Keller, Simoneaux used only local ingredients and clean technique to create dishes that possessed impressive depth of flavor.

At Boxing Room, he flies in seafood from the Gulf and does a whole lot of deep frying while lightening things up with San Francisco produce.

New Orleans people don’t consider raw vegetables food, but at Boxing Room, salads are some of the most delightful dishes. A salad of frisee, arugula and shaved fennel in creamy dressing sets off the richness of deep-fried oysters ($11).

A pretty summer vegetable salad ($11) of baby carrots, radishes, beans, cuke, herbs and frisee all tossed together in toasted fennel seed vinaigrette is just the antidote for irresistible deep-fried things such as crispy boudin balls ($5) — fritters of soft, spicy sausage and rice.

Delicate hushpuppies ($5) emerge from the deep fryer airy and tender with a gravelly cornmeal texture that holds onto the sweet red pepper jelly you smear onto them.

These brilliant hushpuppies also come with the queen of deep-fried dishes, po’ boys — a sandwich overflowing with deep-fried oysters ($18) and/or shrimp ($15) on a soft-centered roll dressed with tartar sauce, tomato and pickle. You can barely get your mouth around it.

At Boxing Room, the king — Southern fried chicken ($18) — gets a spice-infused, crunchy, dark- brown crust that almost has a life of its own. The thick carapace keeps the flesh inside hot and juicy.

Of the gumbos and stews, the crawfish etouffee ($13/$20), a wealth of tiny picked crawfish tails in a spicy, creamy, fresh tomato sauce spooned over rice, translates the best here.

Gulf flounder a la meuniere ($21), a thin filet almost blackened on one side, awash in nutty brown butter that also lubricates crusty roasted red potatoes and soft romano beans, is done expertly, a dish after my own heart.

For dessert, don’t miss ethereal hot beignets ($7), even though you might think you don’t want one more fried thing. A pralines and cream sundae ($7) goes over the top with house-made vanilla ice cream, whole candied pecans and hunks of fudge-like brown sugar blondie. I couldn’t stop eating it. You can really be bad here.

The high-ceilinged, bare-raftered room surrounded on two sides by tall windows has been transformed by the Sagan-Piechota Architecture Group. They have cleverly hidden soundproofing between beams and have preserved the drama of loft-like spaces, keeping them comfortable. I love the moment when the west-facing shades automatically rise, letting in the low evening light and a view of the street.

The room is full of people at bars, low counters, high tables and booths. Good music plays. Plates piled with golden food are ferried from the open kitchen.

Boxing Room, formerly the packing area of a pants factory, now is a place for the indulgent pleasures of the Cajun-Creole-California table.

Boxing Room

Location: 399 Grove St. (at Gough Street), S.F.
Contact: (415) 430-6590, www.boxingroomsf.com
Hours: 5 p.m. to midnight Sundays-Wednesdays; 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Thursdays-Saturdays
Price range: $5 to $21
Recommended dishes: Crispy boudin balls, hushpuppies, fried oyster salad, po’boys, fried chicken, gulf flounder a la meuniere, beignets
Credit cards: All major
Reservations: Accepted

Patricia Unterman is the author of many editions of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Guide.” Contact her at pattiu@concentric.net.

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Patricia Unterman

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