Jazzy soul food in the heart of the Fillmore

The hottest block in San Francisco now is anchored at one end by Yoshi’s, a top flight jazz club and restaurant; and on the south end by 1300 on Fillmore, an evocative jazz lounge and high-concept dinner house featuring the polished American soul food of chef David Lawrence. Both new places are packed, but with different crowds.

1300 on Fillmore feels like a tony club — masculine, dark, commodious. Quilted brown leather banquettes run the length of the room. Capacious wooden tables and upholstered round-backed New Orleans’ style chairs fill the center. Shimmery curtains drop from the high ceiling as do oversized lamp-shade spot lights. Carpeting and all the fabrics keep the noise level mellow so the live jazz from the lounge can drift into the dining room.

The sexy lounge is furnished with oversized arm chairs and couches. A wall of backlit photos of the old Fillmore from the 1940s and ’50s when it was full of jazz clubs, magnetically draws people in for a closer look.

Lawrence applies French technique and presentation to a Southern pantry of ingredients — grits, okra, cornmeal, shrimp, rabbit, pork chops and oysters. He also cooks California/French — foie gras, pork belly, lamb chops, black bass, arctic char. Classically trained with a Jamaican/British background and 20 years of high-end cooking in San Francisco, he creates elegant comfort food that doesn’t hold back on flavor or richness.

Irresistible crisp-edged triangles of hot cornbread, one per diner, snugly wrapped in a linen napkin, served with sweet/hot red pepper jelly and whipped honey butter, set the tone for the whole meal.

Lawrence also works his magic on grits, a creamy, polenta-like porridge, which serves as a foil for barbecue shrimp ($14), smothered in a pink smoky sauce rife with butter and spices. Even more sublime, his yellow hominy grits enriched with mascarpone absorb and magnify the elusive flavor of sautéed wild mushrooms ($9). Don’t leave without having this dish.

From his French/California repertory comes a lively poached egg salad ($9), the creamy egg yolk smoothing out warm savoy cabbage and hunks of bacon splashed with vinegar. The balance is perfect.

I have to order fried chicken ($23), especially when it is organic, boned and has a crisp, powerfully spicy crust. Truffled whipped potatoes, herb-flecked biscuits and pan gravy complete the picture. Of equal over-the-top pleasure are Lawrence’s maple syrup slow-braised beef short ribs ($28), also boned, molded into a disk, set atop buttermilk-chive mashed potatoes and crowned with big, spicy, cornmeal-crusted onion rings. Oh dear. How to choose?

You can always make a meal out of fabulous side dishes ($7), like surprisingly light and tasty herbed macaroni and cheese, or roasted Brussels sprouts.

Desserts ($9) are as stylish and vibrant as the savory cooking. The stunning sorbet n’ petits fours plate, with nine little compartments each filled with a different bite-sized treat is pure fun, but who can pass up hot beignets coated with sugar and oozing melted chocolate?

An inspired wine list by former Ritz Carlton sommelier Emannuel Kemiji features sophisticated American wines that enhance the food. Some top notch, African-American owned and operated wineries, such as Brown Estate, are represented.

1300 on Fillmore is a complete package, luxuriously wrapped, with a gift inside that I’ve been waiting for — a new, yet resonant, uniquely San Francisco experience.

Patricia Unterman is the author of “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide” and a newsletter, “Unterman on Food.” Contact her at pattiu@concentric.net.

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