A chef friend, whose opinions always interest me, mentioned how much she likes Chow, her neighborhood restaurant. She drops in after work, hopping off the street car at Church and Market, eats, and then walks home.
So I returned. I hadn’t been to Chow since it opened 12 years ago. After a couple of recent visits, it struck me that Chow remains the ideal restaurant for this busy, residential, pedestrian-dense section of The City.
During the recession, its policy of offering most dishes in small and large sizes works particularly well. This allows diners to have several dishes for the price of one.
Small portions also mean that the dining room is full of kids. Chow is one of the few places in town that really welcomes them. Besides the pricing, parents appreciate Chow’s commitment to fresh, often organic produce and sustainably raised meats.
Everyone is drawn to Chow’s version of quality comfort food.
Who can resist real onion soup ($6.25) — a crock of deep flavored brown broth, sweet onions and a sexy submerged crouton topped with real melted gruyere — on a cold day?
It’s absolutely delicious and almost a meal, especially with a side order of brussels sprouts ($4.95) — quartered, crisp, tossed with bacon and a few cooked apple wedges; it’s a vegetable dish that’s really fun to eat.
A spinach salad ($6.50) is both hearty and refreshing — a pile of bright green baby leaves tossed with moist Red Flame raisins, feta, apple slices, walnuts and a very tart, bracing vinaigrette.
A small hunk of iceberg lettuce draped in creamy dressing ($5.95) gets a shower of crumbled blue cheese and a wholesome garnish of beets, organic cherry tomato halves and carrot ribbons. It’s one of my favorite dishes here.
Then I like to have the lamb burger ($11.95), medium-rare with a tasty char from the grill, topped with creamy shaved cucumber salad, feta and a slice of tomato that all delectably smash together inside the sandwich.
First-rate pizza ($7.95) comes out of a wood-fired oven with engaging crisp-chewy crusts and coherent toppings.
Thai-style noodles ($9.95), nicely al dente, wok tossed with meat and vegetables, get a hot, tart, clean broth and a flourish of chopped peanuts. Though this is my favorite pasta here, many come for big, fluffy Italian-style meatballs with soft spaghetti in pancetta-infused tomato sauce ($9.75).
Pot roast ($12.75) has a tomato sauce — wrong — which is mitigated by bacon and excellent mashed potatoes.
Everyone saves room for house-baked pies and cakes. Don’t miss the warm, buttery, soft crumbed ginger cake, so fragrant and tender, with pumpkin gelato and caramel sauce ($5.95), a Chow signature.
Everything my friend said proved true. The food is tasty and consistent — and a very good value. The service is always friendly and efficient. The hostess greets everyone warmly, genuinely, and ushers them to seats in a long, bustling saloon-like room with a wood floor, tables, chairs and bar where single diners grab seats. The food comes out reasonably quickly and the waiters always check in.
The people who work at Chow feel part of the community they serve. They treat young and old, robust and infirm, regulars and newcomers as one big very San Francisco family.
Chow makes me proud to be a family member.
Patricia Unterman is author of the second edition of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Location: 215 Church St., S.F.
Contact: (415) 552-2469; www.chowfoodbar.com
Hours: 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays; 8 a.m. to midnight Fridays-Saturdays
Price range: $4.95 to $16.50
Recommended dishes: Onion soup, lamb burger, Thai noodles, pizza, blue cheese wedge, ginger cake
Credit cards: All major
Reservations: Not accepted, but diners may call ahead to be placed on the wait list