Photographs of food in magazines like Saveur or Canal House Cooking are breathtakingly beautiful. Everyone knows that the food is styled, that experts have a sense of what’s trendy and current, and that they take time and consideration to create these fantasies of unstudied loveliness.
This sort of fantasy is carried out particularly well at Huxley, an on-trend, 25-seat spot in the Tenderloin offering a seemingly ingenious, beautiful ideal of American food that clearly has taken a great deal of thought and skill to create.
The accomplished menu from head chef Sara Hauman, formerly of Bar Agricole, and consulting chef Brett Cooper, formerly of Outerlands, is the work of highly-skilled artisans. The food feels like a direct, personal communication between cook and diner.
Generosity is the byword: a trout spills over its plate, grilled bread oozes with oil, a pot pie has whole herb leaves and big ruffled edges. Diners who enjoy our region’s well-known Mediterranean-influenced spots will find Huxley right up their alley, and be surprised by its unique charms.
A big bowl of English peas utterly satisfied my yearly craving for peas. Some peas were mashed, to lend body and additional texture, but most were left whole, and they popped sweetly between the teeth. Shavings of mild cheddar, though not needed, gave it further body. The dish was festooned with whole leaves of mint, tarragon and lemon balm.
The headcheese was lemony, light and delicate, transcending its roots as a stick-to-your-ribs concoction. Perhaps more wonderful was the pate, made with chicken liver (of the non-disgusting, good variety) and foie gras, which made it fluffy and sweet. I was surprised to find that the accompanying apricot mustard gave it notes of earth and bitterness. The pate itself lacked gaminess.
The poussin pot pie was spot on. The carrots were sweet, the snap peas hadn't lost their texture, and the broth had a richness I thought could only come from rabbit. A minimal amount of broth dressed the tender, flavorful cubes of chicken and vegetables, allowing the crust of the pie to brown and become flaky.
The Mount Lassen trout, dressed with a preserved lemon and caper relish, was massive, and stunning on the plate. Fried whole, its fragile tail and fin bones gave off a mineral-esque, freshwater flavor, and the skin was delightfully salty and crisp. The flesh itself was buttery and rich.
On the whole, my experiences here were so enjoyable, I have to nitpick to find missteps. The clams in a bowl of clams and housemade kielbasa were delectable and sweet, but the broth was a touch too salty. The standard amuse-bouche of housemade pickles contained a dark and bruised-looking yellow beet. Even if you make a reservation for two, you may end up sitting at the bar. Still, I liked everything I ate.
Even though Huxley has a relaxed, youthful sensibility, it’s very self-aware at the same time. I noted the many tiny, thoughtful, pitch-perfect details: the way the drinking glasses fit in my hand, the décor’s modern tribute to the arts and crafts movement, the deftness and knowledge of the servers. The place is tiny, with plenty of space to stretch out for diners sitting at tables. I never felt rushed.
I could go on, but I’ll stop here — consider my praise lavished.
Location: 846 Geary St., S.F.
Hours: 5:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sundays
Contact: (415) 800-8223, www.huxleysf.com
Recommended dishes: Foie gras and pork liver pate ($8), headcheese ($6), poussin pot pie ($21), English peas ($13)
Price range: $6 to $35
Credit cards: All major