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Heavenís Dog

Modern Chinese Brings a Little Heaven to SoMa

Charles Phan has been a busy chef. First, he cornered the market on modern French-Vietnamese cuisine with Slanted Door and continues to expand his mini-empire with two Out the Door outposts and one on the way. Then thereís his recent collaboration with Lorraine Keller at The Moss Room and Academy Cafť in the newly designed Academy of Sciences. And, as if these spots werenít enough, heís now ventured into a new cuisine with Heavenís Dog -- savory food of Northern China -- and a new locale in the base floor of the Soma Grand condo residence tower, not nearly as dramatic as the stunning bayside setting of Slanted Door, or the garden-framed Moss Room.

The subdued urban space is bathed in espresso and orange hues humored with canine portraits scattered throughout. Architect Olle Lundberg, who designed Slanted Door, also designed this stone-tiled space with the entry edged by a woven maple embankment that separates a lounge area and leads to the 28-foot carved cypress bar. Towards the back, thereís also the main dining nook and glass-framed private party room used otherwise for walk-ins. A separate, pristine white space next door is the noodle bar, where you can slurp away while watching chefs deftly pulling, lifting and dropping noodles into steaming broth.

General manager and head bartender Erik Adkins put considerable care and effort into crafting the cocktail menu and wine list. After looking over the dozen specialty cocktails, we tried the Pan American Clipper ($10), a refreshing, bright blend of Calvados with lime, grenadine and absinthe. Similar to Slanted Doorís wine list, a substantial amount of wines come from Germany and Austria, aptly complementing the flavors of Heavenís Dogís dishes.

Even though itís billed as a Northern Chinese restaurant, youíll enjoy it more if you lose all pre-conceptions that Heavenís Dog aims to showcase authentic regional Chinese cuisine. In the vein of his other establishments, Phan and his chef de cuisine Andy Wai, previously of Yank Sing, serve up a fresh twist on Asian dishes using top-notch local organic ingredients and let them shine in the full essence of their flavors. The menu, however, has changed since opening. When Heavenís Dog opened in January, the menu focused on appetizers, soups, noodles in a bowl and stir-fry noodles. Currently, it is coursed out. Several noodle dishes are offered at lunch, but are limited and offered as side dishes for dinner. The portions, which were substantially smaller in the beginning, have also been appropriately adjusted to the prices.

The Heavenís Dog interpretation on the traditional Peking duck ($9) takes braised pork belly, scallion spears, and sandwiches it into rice flour buns. Salt-and-pepper local squid ($13), dotted with red pepper flecks and toasted garlic, fried to a golden crisp are simply delectable. Next came the Shanghai dumplings ($8), which were aptly served in bamboo baskets -- each little dumpling peak brimming with broth underneath the delicate skin. They may not be on the same level of flavor as Shanghai Dumpling Kingís, but they are very good.

Main courses are slightly disappointing in comparison to the enticing appetizer selections. A Niman Ranch flank steak stir-fry ($16) with asparagus and shitake mushrooms was somewhat dull. A better option thatís only available for lunch is a classic dish I grew up loving: red braised beef stew, typically scented with soy, rock sugar and Chinese rice wine. Like the starters, side dishes prove to be more interesting than the mains. We ordered the dan dan mein ($7), thick egg noodles and pressed tofu tossed with a well-seasoned sesame, chili, peanut sauce. Pea Shoots sautťed with garlic and slivers of fried shallots ($9) are refreshing and not nearly seen enough on menus. The sweet finale was a caramelized pineapple and coconut water tapioca ($7), a refreshing, mildly sweet dessert soup that earned our praise.

Overall, Heavenís Dog is a great place to kick off the night with a few cocktails and small bites, or for a well-deserved midday break. In fact, we think the braised pork belly in buns and the salt and pepper squid -- washed down with any of the delicious cocktails -- are a perfect way to start an evening.

As is expected from Phanís restaurants, service is prompt, professional, and consistent. If this is Charles Phanís idea of modern Chinese, itís one we like.

Chinese
SoMa
$$

Reservations Essential? Yes.