San Francisco is a city of only 49 or so square miles, though when you are thinking of going out for a bite to eat, you have a tendency to stick relatively close to home because driving and parking in this town suck and riding MUNI most anywhere really sucks. Every now and then however, me and the SO manage to pull it all together and make actual reservations to try a place that's gotten raves and is quite literally on the other side of the city from where we live. In this instance I mean Outerlands. While many folks know this as a go to brunch spot for the Sunset set, they have recently expanded the restaurant and are doing the full on dinner service. So on a recent Sunday night we made our 30 minute way across town to give them a try.
I'm not sure what the space was like before but if it was only one side, then man that was tiny and I can see why folks had to wait so long in line. Now it's a more open, inviting space with LOTS of what looks like reclaimed driftwood, which would fit since it's a stones throw from the beach. It wasn't too crowded as we were escorted to our tiny table at the back of the restaurant. It was like a wood block jutting out from the wall with metal bar stools to sit on and I will say it felt cramped and uncomfortable. We barely had enough room and I kept bumping my elbow on the wall. Dinner is a compact menu and in this instance I was okay with not being overwhelmed with choices and me and the SO could get 2 from each section for a good overview of the food. Now if only we could get a server to actually stop by our table. At close to the 10 minute mark a woman brought us water and said our server would be with us. Something that took close to another 12 minutes. When she did show up I recognized her as she had passed by our table at least 4 times without so much as a greeting. Not a good start but hopefully the food can make up for so far lax service. Once she came by we just ordered all our dishes at one time...just in case.
It was a cool night so why not start with squash soup with berbere spice, ginger, yogurt, sesame butter and carrot puree. This is what a warm comforting bowl of soup should be like. Thick, creamy, colorful, hearty and full of flavor. Not too sweet or salty, it was just right. I liked it more than the SO did. Serve it up to me with some toasted buttered bread and I could just curl up on a couch and yum it away. Only thing missing was a roaring fire and flannel pajamas.
We decided to go a little different and got the beef carpaccio with fermented soy beans, yuzu, scallions, mixed greens, radish and a medjool date crumble. We liked the salad portion of this with the tangy citrus of the yuzu and the sweet of the date crumble mixed with the sharp radish and greens--very light and refreshing. What you don't see here is the beef which is underneath and while it was pounded tender and cut easily with a fork I think it threw both of us for how thick it was for a carpaccio. Normally you expect almost paper thin slices of meat, here it was like the slices you get on a cheese steak sandwich as far as thickness. It paired with the salad nicely, but even sharing, we couldn't eat that much raw beef. When we left so much on the plate we thought our server would ask but there was nary a word when she eventually took the plate away, though it did sit there for a bit.
Mid course was fettuccine with crab, lemon, chard, tarragon and chili oil. This was delightful. Both me and the SO were all over this dish. The pasta was perfect, the tarragon and chili oil were lovely hints that emboldened the flavor and off set the chard without overwhelming the delicate crab. It just hit all the right notes. What I really could have used was a nice piece of bread to soak up the sauce. I wanted to lick the plate, but the restaurant wasn't that dark for me to pull it off, oh well.
Next up was a grain salad of wheat berry, quinoa, beets, cucumber and ricotta. Sadly, this was my worst picture of the night (I noticed too late) but was by far the favorite dish of both me and the SO. It had both warm and cold elements, was slightly sweet and salty, had some crunch, had some softness, heartiness, a wonderful combination of flavors. I know I'm just a sucker for beets and cheese, but this is so much more than that. I would have been more than happy to have this as an entree, it was just delicious. If me and the SO can agree and rave on a dish then it's good. By far this was the best dish of the night.
First entree up was the pork belly with frisee, potatoes, bagna cauda, carrots and mandarin. Yeah, I know, I'm going for the pork belly again, but what can I say, I just can't resist. In this case, I probably should have. It's not that it was bad per se, but it was on the dry side. The top was nicely crisp, however, the once you got down to the meat it was all a bit stringy and dry, not melt in your mouth. This was most definitely overcooked. Also, again, it was served with a sauteed frisee, which seems to happen a lot. It's like the bitterness of the greens are there to offset the sweet creaminess of the pork fat. Frankly I'd like to see something different. The potatoes were perfunctory and the baby carrots were overly sweetly glazed. As for that bagna cauda, well, looked more like a garlic olive oil drizzle on the plate and didn't really add anything for me. I'll stand up and say this whole dish was a miss for me. Next time I see this on a menu somewhere else I think I'm gonna skip since my track record recently hasn't been up to par.
Next was clam stew with sausage, red chimichurri, spinach, cannelloni beans and fried bread. There was a generous portion of clams in a garlicky thin red sauce that was rather tasty--the sauce that is. The clams were cooked perfectly and overall is was a decent tasty dish, not exciting, just good. There were no real flavors that popped out here. The most interesting thing was the fried bread. It reminded us of a funnel cake you get at state fairs. Deep fried dough which did a good job of soaking up the juice at the bottom of the bowl. If that was it's main goal then mission accomplished. Otherwise, again, it was just fried dough.
As is my want, I was hoping to end the night on a good dessert since the chef/owner is known for being a spectacular baker. Sadly, at dinner they don't offer the breadth they do at brunch and of the 4 item dessert menu, the ginger cake thing I wanted to try, seems they were sold out of. Aaagghhhh! My restaurant curse rides again. What is with these places running out of stuff? Since I was determined to try something I went with the chocolate honey. A dish the server described as a block of chocolate covered in honey and puffed black rice. And that is exactly what it was.
It was a square of chocolate ganache with covered in puffed black rice, sitting in a pool of honey, with a smear of burnt caramel around the side of the bowl. The puff rice is meant to give it crunch, otherwise this would all be one note texture wise. Problem here is that the honey had a citrus bent to it and that overwhelmed everything else in the bowl. It was all I taste bite to bite and it became cloying. I managed to carve out a small piece with just the chocolate and caramel and crisp bits and that actually had promise to me, sadly, I couldn't come up with another bite like that. For me, had the honey not been there I might have enjoyed this (the SO wasn't a fan either), as is, not so much.
Between the service, which got a little better as the place cleared out, and the food, Outerlands was an uneven affair. Which is a shame, considering it's not the cheapest place to dine and you can drop a pretty penny with drinks and tip when all is said and done. However, a couple of the dishes were outstanding enough to attract me back there. I mean that grain salad, I can't express more how much we loved that dish. At this point though I think I'd like to give brunch a try and may try to make it there during the week since I'm not a fan of waiting in line. Till then, I'll just think about it wistfully and not try to think about the long NJudah ride I'd have to take to get out there. Grain salad yes. MUNI no.