Ambitious newcomer Company is coming up short

Beth Laberge/Special to the S.F. ExaminerRich risotto: Company’s take on risotto

‘Can’t a little restaurant have its chance at being themselves, without people’s expectations and desires [messing] up the whole damn thing?”

Someone wrote this on my first negative review, as part of a lengthy comment that boiled down to: “Hey, at least they’re trying!”

Company, a new restaurant on the Mission-Noe fault line, is certainly trying. Though the sterile name may seem like an afterthought, the owners are putting a lot of sweat equity into their menu.  

To wit: The chefs cure their own salmon, grind their own chuck, bake their own buns and make their own cheese and ice cream in-house.

All this at a little neighborhood eatery — how lucky the locals are! It’s tempting to give a thumbs-up for effort and call it a day.

But this is San Francisco, and the stakes are high. Company may be a modest spot, away from the maddening noise of Valencia Street or Hayes Valley, but it has aspirations.

When you start cranking out your own cheese, pickling your own everything, and — let’s face it — charging $16 for a burger, you’re subjecting yourself to the scrutiny of The City’s monocle-wearing critics (and amateur fussbudgets).

Let’s start with that burger, laden with all sorts of price tag boosters: triple-cream brie, oxtail mixed in the chuck, pioppini mushrooms. The patty was a springy little puck. The meat wasn’t salted. And the cheese, rich enough to stand alone as an hors d’oeuvres, all but overpowered.

Balance was also a problem in the lunchtime grilled eggplant. The tender eggplant and house-made ricotta struggled to assert themselves under a briny romesco sauce.

I’ve been on a squid kick, and Company’s visually arresting grilled squid dish built high expectations. Sadly, the heap of potato cubes didn’t jell with the squid, and the promised pancetta was MIA. The dish was texturally incongruent, without much verve.

A lunch entree of three brisket toasts contrasted the sweet of an apple-cabbage slaw with some horseradish bite. It’s a shame the braised meat crossed into unpleasantly fatty terrain (just over the line from sumptuously decadent).

Only one savory dish left me wanting more: a hearty Brussels sprouts and delicata squash risotto. The creamy carnaroli rice was used sparingly, binding big, tender vegetable chunks into a pleasant stew. Roasted fennel and Parmigiano-Reggiano provided just enough flavor.

Besides a remarkable sweet-tart yogurt sorbet, nothing from the dessert menu really stood out.

Service was inconsistent, alternating between two-minute tableside check-ins and long dry spells in which I briefly considered if our server had gone home.  

Individually, none of the snags were enough to ruin a meal. But overall, with daintily portioned entrees in the $20 range and two chefs with Four Seasons backgrounds, there were too many off moments. I didn’t expect perfection, but I expected better.

I have friends who live near Company, and they were very excited by its opening. Walking by the old Flying Saucer-Tao Cafe space on Guerrero Street, the interior beckoned. The warm lighting and layout were seductive; they could imagine a dinner date going quite well.

Perhaps, when I peered in Company’s windows, read the appealing menu and imagined the meals I wanted to have, I simply allowed my “desires and expectations” to get the best of me.

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