Things change. It's a statement that conveys the ever evolving landscape of dining in San Francisco. We may hem and haw and not like it, but inevitably our favorites come and go or remake themselves into sort of the same but still different than what we remember or loved about them. Nowhere is this more evident than in the recent makeover of HRD Coffee Shop.
While the outside is still kind of the same the inside has been cleaned up, whitened up and turned into what resembles a sleek new fast food joint along the lines of what you'd find at a place like The Melt. The layout is the same but the look and feel is all new.
Gone is the hole in the wall, slightly grubby, old school coffee shop feel of the original that made it feel like an off the beaten track find for neighborhood folk like myself. It was a secret that wasn't really a secret. No more dry erase board menus or formica countertops that gave it a comforting kitsch feel. Now it's all sleek steel, white and orange. An industrial look that totally overthrows the homey feel of the previous incarnation. I'm guessing success breeds discontent and I'll lay some blame on that frosted tipped devil with a loud voice who featured this place on a cable show that sent it from a locals in-the-know haunt to a tourists and hipsters must try place. Creating everyday lines looking for some of the down home Korean and Asian dishes being served up here. Gone also are a fair number of the original menu items that made this place a favorite of mine like the double cooked pork chops, the Mongolian beef burrito and sadly--the Korean pulled pork sandwich with spicy peanut slaw. It was some of the best pulled pork I'd had in this city. Now they've been replaced with a standardized menu of burritos, rice bowls and po'boy sandwiches. Of which most have gone up in price and also no longer includes fries as a side--you need to pony up $2.95 now for that.
Why the change? I overhead the chef/owner (David Yeung) talking to some other diners lamenting the loss of certain menu items. He told them that because of the lines he was having trouble keeping up quality control and trying to move through all the folks without them having to wait forever for their food. He liked to do much of the cooking himself so he could oversee spicing and cook times, etc, but with the increasing business he couldn't keep it up by himself and the kitchen help would all do things differently. Thus he felt he needed to revamp the menu to things that could be put out consistently each time to each customer. He also mentioned he wanted to try new things and to try and keep growing as a chef and keep the menu evolving. All noble ideas I'd say, though unfortunately for HRD, the changes have made the whole place feel homogenized and not the local bargain it once used to be. As for the interior refresh, he said it was just time to do it. I think this ties in a little to the neighborhood too. This stretch of 3rd Street has become more than just a feeder to the ballpark. The area is now chock full of tech start ups and new condo construction. Though there are still vestiges of the old hood. While I sat at the window seats I was entertained by a woman in a track suit who had an argument with a parking meter that turned into a dance and then they hugged it out. Nothing like dinner and a show. I'm not sure what she was on, and I don't think she was either. Moving on.
Bummed as I was about this new development I decided to give one of their new dishes a try. After a moment of decision making, I ended up picking the spicy pork rice bowl for $8.95. It seems this new menu is still being learned by the kitchen staff as it took a good 15 minutes for my food to come out and when it did, this is what it looked like.
Fancy huh. Not exactly what I was expecting and more like a dish at a sit down restaurant space. It's spicy pork, brown rice, kimchee, daikon, sprouts, cucumbers and wasabi apple coleslaw. That's a lot of stuff going on in one bowl. First off I want to say that even after taking a bit to get the dish came out at room temperature. Somewhere along the line the pork didn't get heated, re-heated or whatever enough and while there should have been hot steaming pork and cold slaw I got room temp pork and sort of cool slaw. That aside some of the things I did like about this were the different textures from the pork to the rice to the cucumbers to the slaw. The pork had a nice healthy spicy kick to it and was tender without to much stringy fat that can sometimes occur with this type of thin sliced meat. I also liked the pickled daikon as it added a sweet crunch. I think the wasabi in the slaw, however, must have been cut back as I could barely taste it--too bad--it could have been interesting. The kimchee also wasn't as pungent as I thought it would be either. I can only hope they aren't dumbing things down for peoples palates because folks order this for the heat. I mean it is called spicy pork rice bowl right? They've already generacized the space, they shouldn't be doing that to the food. Unique interesting dishes is one of the reason me and many other folks came here in the first place. As for price value, I will say this is a big bowl of food and it's pretty comparable to others you'll find around town. I did feel mostly full after eating it, but then again, rice and cabbage will do that to a belly. (Plus, it would have been nice if they had put a fried egg on top like some of their past dishes.) Sadly, I can't say the same about value for the sandwiches and burritos I saw being served up.
Overall I'm not sure I would hit the place up again anytime soon and I'll probably stop recommending it as a value eat to try in town. All the changes really have washed that away. Now it's just another okay place with some overpriced sandwiches. When I first walked in the door there was no line, which I found surprising as there always seemed to be one before. In the pics above you can see a line did form but that seemed to be due more to them having trouble getting the food out as opposed to a steady stream of folks. Once that line cleared no new one formed. While the new changes have only been around a few weeks it seems word may be getting around that this isn't the same place we loved and enjoyed. Yes things change, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. It will be interesting to see how this plays out and whether we will see the return of some old menu favorites. I guess only time will tell.