Sit down with Ian Marks, head chef and co-owner of the new Mission eatery, The Beast and the Hare, and you feel instantly at ease.  The red-haired chef flashes a mischievous smile and speaks with his hands, exuding warmth, genuine friendliness, and an almost kid-like excitement.

Born in San Francisco and raised in Cole Valley, the food industry is in Marks’ blood. His older brother worked in the kitchen at Chez Panisse and is now slinging dough at Pizza Napoletana. Ian was convinced by his brother to skip culinary school, and instead opting for on-the-job training as his path to the helm of the kitchen.  After stints at Liberty Café, Hog Island Oyster Company, and Fatted Calf, Ian decided to venture out on his own and partner up with fellow Hog Island employee Dylan Denicke to open up The Beast and the Hare.

The name developed organically.  Initially, the pair hoped to name the restaurant Belly to signify “everything delicious … it’s your soul and is warming.”  However, after walking through the Inner Richmond one night and seeing Belly Burgers, the name was shelved and Ian and Dylan were back to square one.  A trip to New York inspired the idea behind the restaurant as Ian spent time visiting a series of taverns like The Black Rabbits, a spot with “dark wood where you can disappear.”  In a rather creative word association exercise, the partners would take turns saying a word.  “Hair of the dog” was one product of these brainstorming sessions. Then “hair of the beast,” and finally flipping it on its backside, The Beast and the Hare was born.

Menu

Ian Marks is an all-encompassing chef who instills a bit of personality into his menu to keep patrons guessing.  The range is expansive, yet also manages to feel focused and inspired by a single theme.  The food is a cross between American and Italian, with an edge of Asian flair.  If left up to Ian, the self-proclaimed dumpling junkie would probably throw in a healthier dose of the Far East.

Ian is not trying to change the world with his daily menu.  Instead he hopes to provide the Mission with a good neighborhood restaurant that is small and low-key with quality food.  He encourages diners to start the meal with snacks or the house charcuterie plate, which combines chicken liver pate and a heaping assortment of cured meats.  Fun fact: Marks has installed his own charcuterie cabinet downstairs where he cures prosciutto, Coppa, Spanish chorizo, and other meats.

“Smalls” (not really that small), and “Bigs” form the other subgroups.  Ian honors his love for sandwiches and training at The Fatted Calf with The Provisional Sandwich; a permanent fixture based on how he is feeling that day. The rest of the menu is hearty and animal-focused, with a taste for the country and respect for homemade ingredients like the house pate, ricotta, and pickles.  Ian just invested in a steam-injected bread oven, so prepare to add homemade bread to the list as well.

Ambiance

Deep indigo walls and dim lighting wrap guests in comfort at this corner restaurant nestled on 22nd Street and Guerrero Street in the quieter part of the Mission. The back bar crafted from cypress wood donated by the wine director’s arborist father beckons diners to pony up for a glass of wine or Belgian ale.  If you like a crowd, show up on a Thursday through Saturday.  Sundays boast the secret recipe fried chicken that is already encouraging a cult following, and late nights bring in industry people.

What to order

Do yourself a favor and order family style to fully experience the breadth of the menu’s offerings. For two people, start with the smaller serving of house charcuterie where you can select three options like smoked duck breast, ciccoli (pork rillette with arbol chilies and crispy pork skins), and country pate served in a jar. The side of pickled turnip and carrots dusted lightly with curry powder surprised my palate.

I am never one to turn down bone marrow and my evening at The Beast and the Hare was no different. The femur bone, split length-wise and served piping hot, rests in a bed of soft white corn polenta drizzled with rib eye gravy. This is one sexy dish that encourages you to use your hands and your mouth. Smear the bone marrow over the side of crispy toast — superior to just regular butter.

The deep bowl of steamer clams with shavings of fresh lardo and peppery broth is sinfully satisfying and tempts you to waft up the aroma of herbaceous, buttery seafood. Next on the list are definitely the fried chicken wings with tapatio buffalo sauce. I saw a plate of them go by and had diner envy.

If I went for one of the bigs, it would be a toss up between the 10 oz house-aged rib eye with tomato flan or the pressed duck leg with seared duck liver, French lentils and bacon cream. Also, just a head;s up that a burger is rumored to be in the works for The Beast and the Hare — and with the new grinder, Ian Marks plans to grind bone marrow into the patty.  Sign me up!

1001 Guerrero Street, San Francisco

415-821-1001

http://www.beastandthehare.com/

Anne Pao is a contributing food writer for SF Station and Yum.  When she is not satisfying carnivorous tendencies, you can find her adventuring in the Bay area outdoors.  For more Pao reads check out her blog at http://sftaoofpao.com