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2223 Restaurant

Castro Comfort Food

Most new California cuisine consists of updated comfort food; sumptuous, familiar, generous and rarely all that challenging. It’s the food equivalent of a big, warm hug from an aunt in sensible shoes and strong perfume. Open since 1995 and operating under the guidance of executive Chef Melinda Randolph, 2223 stands out from a sea of mediocre Castro eateries with its spot-on left coast menu. With the autumn leaves swirling and Halloween in the Castro looming, this neighborhood bistro is ripe for a visit.

On a recent stop at 2223, the limey mojito ($8.25) was tart going on -- mouth-puckering rather than refreshing. Luckily, that pucker got filled with the Thai Chicken Spring Rolls ($9.50), which were crunchy, delightful, fried and covered with shredded carrot, watercress and cucumber. The sweet chili sauce on the bottom kept the whole dish from devolving into a vehicle for ketchup. In pursuit of green vegetables and health, the Organic Seasonal Greens ($7) with goat cheese, pickled beets, pinenuts and balsamic vinaigrette was a classic -- simple and satisfying.

We ordered the Jezebel Pinot Noir 2005 ($40) to go with the entrees. As our attentive server promised, the wine “opened up” after a few minutes, smoothing out around the edges, rather like us after drinking it. The Balsamic-Glazed Double Cut Pork Chop ($22) was a grand affair, thick and smothered in a gorgonzola sauce that was initially surprising but quickly became satisfying. Alone, the meat was generous and interesting, but the addition of rosemary polenta covered in fresh arugula, grilled nectarines and fig compote made the plate quite large. We wondered if we were equal to the task of eating all this. We were.

In true California form, all the meats and seafoods are hormone and antibiotic free. The Grilled All Natural Hanger Steak ($24) with mushroom bread pudding and Willey Farms spinach was superb. The spinach was fresh -- none of this tasteless hydroponic green stuff -- but hearty, flavorful and topped with a ripe roasted tomato. The steak itself was slightly chewy but it only served as a reminder to use those bicuspids and floss afterward like a good meat eater should.

One real drawback was the noise level. On previous weeknight visits it was not a problem, but on a crowded Saturday night the decibel level rose above a dull roar to the occasional full-throated scream. Not the place for whispering sweet nothings to your honey, but great for an adults-only birthday party; and there were at least two of those on the given Saturday night.

The other nit we have to pick is about pacing. The food came out too quickly; the entrees came out before we were done with the appetizers. On the other side of the coin, the crowd of diners here reflects the neighborhood: hip, gay, gay-friendly and visually appealing.

Despite its reputation as being good to the last drop, the coffee mainly benefited from being hot, liquid and caffeinated. In the same course, the Frozen Chocolate Parfait ($8) was dense and rich, but the Oreo-ish bottom was bricklike so we skipped it, eating all of the artfully arranged raspberries and fudgy chocolate sauce instead. After all this, we waddled out, fortified for a night out, warm, slightly glazed and happily overindulged.

New California