is little gem a little gem?
Sometimes we get lucky, the SO and I that is. We've been out and about for the day when hunger kicks in. Then it falls to me and my picky tastes to come up with a spot I'll be okay with dining at (that means not bitching about it!). It is that late time of day on a Saturday where it is no longer lunch and still slightly early for dinner in SF. It also is usually a good time to slide into one of those hot spots without a reservation as they are just opening around 5ish. We are on the edge of Hayes Valley when my "I need to try this place" light goes off and I suggest we hit up Little Gem.
It opened to a bit of fanfare in very late 2015 putting itself forward as part of the new trend of fast casual neighborhood spot serving up simple tasty fare made with ingredients from local organic farmers of the Bay Area. All the buzzwords that get millennial foodies hot and heavy. Plus an industrial space full of concrete, metal and wood. Me? I'm like eh, I'll give them time to figure out if that is gonna work and solve whatever kinks will pop up. Well, it has been a good chunk of time, thus now seemed likes a good chance to see how it is. And lucky for us, not only did we get a parking spot right out front (seriously!!), but they were able to seat us without much fuss before the dinner rush. That is a double score for a local.
Nestling into our seats and scanning the menu, it is compact and focused, which sometimes I'm good with as I don't want to wade through pages of options. With neighborhood spots you wanna pare down to the faves people will come back for. Right off the bat the small bites catch my eye for these:
Roasted baby beets. Baby, big, gold, red, purple whatever size and color--I am a sucker for beets, especially of the roasted variety. Here they come with an avocado puree and covered in grated pecans. These did not disappoint either. Perfectly grilled soft yet with still a bit crunchy they had a great sweet earthy flavor amplified a bit by the grated nuts. The avocado, while not my fave, did add some creaminess, but I'd have been perfectly happy with the beets alone and a little dribble of olive oil. They did need some salt, but you know, that is why restaurants put it on the table.
We followed it up with some glazed meatballs of beef and pork covered in a sesame, chili-garlic glaze. From first bite they are tender and juicy with a nice mix of the two meats. Most of the flavor comes from the glaze and I do think it lacked a little in both the chili and garlic. To me it was a tad on the sweet side when I was expecting some heat. They also are not the biggest of things, more like one bite balls. To get four for a price you might pay for a meatball sandwich in town is a bit much from my perspective, considering they didn't knock my socks off.
It was a cool night so a warm bowl seemed like a good idea. Hen of the woods mushrooms atop heirloom beans, tuscan kale and bacon in a tomato stew. It is decent size and tucking into it was like a warm comforting bowl of eats on a cold snowy day. Big 'shrooms, lots of beans and large pieces of bacon in a not too thick sauce--yum. Well seasoned and chunky it was a hearty bowl of sweet and earthy (like the beets) I could enjoy at any outside temperature. It was like a French casserole meets low country Southern dish--that's a compliment--and we could have easily curled up after it.
Never one to let food pass us by, we also got the gaucho steak. A 5 Dot Ranch petite filet with charred broccoli di cicclo with yukon potatoes whipped with celery root, chimichurri sauce and a charred orange half--which I did squeeze over the dish as I think I was supposed to? Though for me, I can't say it added all that much. The was perfectly cooked and the potatoes were super creamy, though you know me, I would have liked some butter. The chimichurri was more like a salsa and supposedly there was mint in it, but we couldn't taste it. There are some good parts here but I'm not sure they all go together as presented. Plus, pricey for a neighborhood joint, though that seems to be par for the course in restaurants these days.
We also ponied up for something they called NON-bread, a gluten free organic thing that looked like a tortilla and tasted like not much. I'd take a pass on it.
Of course we couldn't leave without some dessert right? Even though puddings and creams don't really excite me for dessert since they lack the heft I crave, those were the only choices they had. Making the most I picked the lemon custard with glazed blackberries and toasted oat crumble. I picked the lemon as I like it for its tang and when it is in pie form. The initial bite here was full of tart lemon flavor, though some spice they added came through on the back end that wasn't all that pleasant on my tongue. It was almost like anise or caraway though more bitter. Two bites and I was out. Those flavor profiles go down better for the SO and I was more than happy to let them finish it up.
I think the prices are on the higher side to be a place to go on multiple nights in a week, unless you have one of those kinds of jobs, then good on you! But, outside of that and a few dishes we weren't totally keen on, we did like most of the food at Little Gem. Particularly those beets and that bowl of beans and bacon, they were the epitome of cozy comfort food a neighborhood spot should be known for. Because of those, I will definitely hit the place up again to try some of those other bowls they have on offer. Plus those beets--did I mention I'm a sucker for beets?