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Zaré at Fly Trap

Good Food that Sticks

Long a San Francisco landmark, Fly Trap restaurant in SOMA was bought and reconcepted in 2008 by local restaurateur Hoss Zaré, a chef better known for his Cal-Med cuisine than for any particular penchant toward "Celery Victor" or "Oysters Rockefeller" (both mainstays of the former establishment). Still a reasonable spot for a three-martini lunch, the restaurant is now worthy of foodie attention beyond the nostalgic. Zare's Persian roots shine bright, nudging this restaurant beyond the ho-hum and into the SF fine dining pantheon.

The Space
While arcane concoctions like the "Hangtown Fry" have left the building, the décor remains timeless, with a long, wooden bar, antique style prints and a pressed tin ceiling, as well as modern dashes of reddish orange that liven up the clubby space. Seating is comfortable and prices are mid-range; this is a space that will please the expense account set as well as the local dining enthusiast.

The Chef
Owner Hoss Zaré is a chef who came up through the ranks; he began his culinary career as a sous chef at Fly Trap, cooking the restaurant's Barbary Coast classics and continental fare. As he continued cooking, he took on Italian food and showed his expertise with pasta and risotto at Ecco in South Park and at Aromi on Polk Street. Zaré also opened eponymous (and by some reports, unremarkable) restaurants on Haight Street, Sacramento Street, and in Napa Valley.

Now focused solely upon his operations at Folsom and Second, the warm, welcoming chef is hitting his stride, taking the California-Mediterranean style and punching it up with plenty of delicious Persian bells and whistles such as barberries, sun-dried yogurt, pomegranate, and baby pine nuts.

The Bar
The bar program is excellent; not only does bar director Reza Esmaili (Conduit) offer the wine-snob cult favorite Chateau Musar (Lebanon) by the glass, but he incorporates the traditional flavors of Iran to great effect as well. One of the city's finest cocktails is to be had here -- the Minted Memory: Bombay Sapphire Gin, Pimm's No. 1, cucumber, mint, and minted vinegar syrup over ice.

The Menu
Favorite appetizers include a lusciously refreshing and creamy cucumber “linguini” with dill crème fraiche, bite sized chunks of smoked trout, and dabs of trout roe. The roasted baby eggplant ($10) comes in a sauce of deliciously gooey sun-dried yogurt with walnuts and crispy onions.

Tender, milk-soaked walnuts also show up in a brilliant smoked pheasant salad, recently added to the menu, which has a zesty pomegranate dressing. Moist pistachio meatballs are doused in a harissa, honey, pomegranate glaze, and an order of 3 three meatballs along with a cup of soup and some bread to sop up the sauce makes a satisfying lunch. While most dishes are a symphony of flavors, the balance seemed a little off with the "Menage a Foie" on a recent visit. While the foie gras with huckleberry was excellent, the sheep and chicken livers were awkward to eat and perhaps a bit overcooked.

We were, however, quite taken with the tangy flavors in a dish of braised duck legs served with basmati rice, young almonds, barberries and candied citrus. The portion of duck was so large and rich, it could easily be shared. A good way to order would be to share a main dish and several of the excellent appetizers and side dishes.

Also perfect for sharing are the addictive French fries, some of the best in town. Another must-order dish is the marinated plump chickpeas and eggplant with grapes, lime and so many exotic flavors it was hard to identify all of them.

Entrees are very large but comforting braised dishes like duck legs, lamb shanks and short ribs make wonderful leftovers.

Vegetarian-friendly
Zaré at Fly Trap is a restaurant that will please vegetarians as well as meat eaters. There is always a vegetarian soup, and a meal can easily be made of appetizers and side dishes.

Meatball Mondays
If you dine on a Monday, don’t miss the mammoth "Monday Meatball" ($25), a traditional dish from Zare's hometown of Tabriz. It's huge, tender, redolent of spices, and always stuffed with a surprise, most recently a whole squab, sometimes a partial rack of lamb. You might want to call ahead; the meatball always sells out.

Desserts
After all the complexity of Zaré’s food, the best desserts are the cool, refreshing ones like the Greek yogurt panna cotta and the goat cheesecake. The panna cotta comes with a superfluous olive biscotti but is just fine on its own. The cheesecake is marvelously light and fluffy.

Fried torrijas, a kind of cruller doughnut to dip in chocolate milk is great in concept, but unfortunately the hot chocolate was overpowered by way too much rosewater. The quince crisp was fine but a bit stodgy, perhaps not the best fit with the Mediterranean food. I’d love to see a fresh fruit tart with phyllo or the shredded phyllo, kataifi.

Whether celebrating with family or just dining out with friends, Zaré at Fly Trap is a special restaurant to which you’ll easily find excuses to return again and again -- like a fly caught in…oh, never mind.


Mediterranean
SOMA
$$$

Reservations Essential? Yes.