Jessica Bonecutter was very deep in the weeds behind the stove at the opening of the Hog Island Oyster Bar in the then-newly renovated Ferry Building. People were pouring in, orders were piling up and service was breaking down.
I had an anxiety attack just watching her, but this young chef stayed surprisinglycalm. She put her head down and worked through the tickets one by one. Though slow to arrive, the food was delicious.
Jump to four years later on Hayes Street, where Bonecutter has just opened her own Bar Jules. Though not exactly a bar — only wine and beer are served — this breezy place doesn’t feel like a serious restaurant either.
The menu of six or so items is written on a blackboard. So is the wine list. Backless stools rim the doglegged counter in front of the open kitchen, and a hard wooden banquette with square wooden tables traces the periphery of the small storefront located right next door to Suppenkuche. With all its hard surfaces — concrete floor, high ceiling, bare walls — and Cafe Tacuba on the soundtrack, the room roars.
By now, Bonecutter has it down. One night, braised baby leeks in vinaigrette nestled beneath a blanket of sieved egg and capers ($9). Two thick levain toasts slathered with olive oil, sliced avocado and fresh sardines ($11) proved a voluptuous, shareable starter.
Grilled swordfish ($26) a tiny bit overcooked, rested on flavorful cannellini beans and artichokes, all lubricated with smoky red pimenton oil.
Her braised short ribs ($24) on the bone with smashed potatoes perfumed with those harbingers of spring, green garlic and sweet farm carrots, is today’s dream plate.
A ramekin of intriguingly runny, burnt sugar-tinged butterscotch pudding ($8) was so good we demolished it, even after a huge meal.
A Thursday- night menu offered a few more choices: a cumin-scented salad of farro, the barley-like whole grains tossed with shaved fennel, radishes and buttermilk dressing ($9); and a super simple fresh crab omelet seasoned only with scallions so that each bite delivered the sweetness of the crab captured in delicate, buttery egg ($14). What a beautiful little dish!
Moist bluenose sea bass ($25) was paired with a stew of lentils and bacon, and garnished with peppery mizuna, a tangy salad green. Three thick, rare, rib lamb chops ($26) came with a chickpea ragout studded with baby chard leaves, currants and pine nuts, a combination you either love or hate.
Four wines of each color, by bottle or glass, mostly from Europe, turn out to work just fine with a menu of four dishes.
Service is friendly and casual, with a few loose ends. If you want bread — fresh Acme with a saucer of olive oil and a bowl of sea salt — you must ask for it.
One day, we got a dish of spiced peanuts when we sat down. Another day the people next to us got some olives. You never quite know if share plates are coming even though a plate of food is set in the middle of the table.
No matter. Each night everything is buoyantly new — the menu, the wine list, the service, the walk-in crowd.
Bar Jules delivers the surprises and fun of a starter restaurant. And it has a solid foundation of good cooking and a commitment to local ingredients. It is just the kind of place that restaurant insiders want to keep to themselves.
Patricia Unterman is author of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide” and a newsletter, “Unterman on Food.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
<p>Location: 609 Hayes St., San Francisco
Contact: (415) 621-5482; www.barjules.com
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; 6 to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday for brunch
Price range: Starters $6-$9; small plates $12; main courses $24 to $26; lunch $6to $11
Recommended dishes: Menu changes daily; look for short ribs; bluenose sea bass with lentils and bacon, braised leeks, avocado toasts, butterscotch pudding
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express
Reservations: Only for groups of six or more