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Bar Jules

No Invitation Required

Everyone loves the idea of a “neighborhood” restaurant -- that little gem just down the street where you can almost always snag a table and run into someone you know. In San Francisco, or in any city for that matter, the concept seems to mostly be just that: a concept. In the case of Bar Jules however, chef/owner Jessica Boncutter seems to have created a true neighborhood spot.

The small-scale space, located a few steps past the Hayes Valley bustle, has the feel of your grandmother’s kitchen -- or that little café you always went to on summer beach vacations. The vibe is that of a dinner party in someone’s home, and given that Boncutter’s culinary experience started in Zuni’s kitchen at the age of 18, and includes River Café in London and Hog Island Oyster Bar, you can’t wait to see what’s being served each night. The small menu changes daily and depends on what’s in season and available from local purveyors. Picky eaters beware.

The unmarked storefront isn’t the most noticeable thing on the block, but the neighborhood is well aware of the new addition to Hayes Street. On the night we were in, at least 4 of the 15 or so tables knew each other quite well. We even unexpectedly ran into friends of our own.

The open room is warm and inviting, with simple two-person tables along the two walls not occupied by the open kitchen and bar. A shelf of candles illuminates the one ochre wall, while simple eye-catching details like vibrant green willow branches and a large glass pedestal bowl of tangerines play against the turquoise wall.

As we settled into our table we were presented with olives and celery sticks in a chunky water glass. It was a nice nibble as we read the menu, hand-written on chalkboards on two interior walls.

We started our evening off with a prosecco cocktail, a bittersweet blend of sparkling wine, grapefruit juice and a dash of bitters, then dug into a farro salad ($10). Perfectly chewy and tossed with radishes, fennel, cilantro and a light, zesty buttermilk vinaigrette, it tasted even better than it sounded. From there we moved onto an onion panade with parmesan ($9). It was a reverse French onion soup: lots of bread, soaked in a rich onion broth and topped with melted cheese. We couldn’t have been happier.

The evening’s menu only offered two “entrees” but as luck would have it, they were both undeniably tempting. We switched back and forth between a house-cured pork loin ($24) and a wood-grilled striped bass ($26). The tender, lightly smoked, full-flavored pork was served old-world style with simple boiled potatoes and housemade sauerkraut. Satisfying comfort food done right. The bass was a bit of a contrast, presented in a bright Mediterranean style. It was served on a bed of grilled leeks with a side of tender-but-still-crunchy carrots and white beans, in the most amazing walnut pesto I’ve ever tasted.

To accompany our entrées, we ordered an Argentine cabernet. The wine list is quite limited, with only 3-4 choices each of red and white wine, but a reserve list is being developed and no one minds if you bring your own ($15 corkage). However don’t let the limited selection scare you; it’s been chosen with the help of some of the best in the business. Eugenio Jardim of Jardiniere and Kermit Lynch importers are working with Boncutter to create a simple, targeted offering that complements the food.

Instead of reaching for the takeout menus next time you don’t feel like cooking, head over to Bar Jules and let Jessica Boncutter cook for you. If you don’t run into friends already enjoying the meal, chances are you’ll make new ones.

Hayes Valley