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Feels Like Home

Canteen is so teensy, and so homey, you'll want to tuck it under your arm and find a place for it in your apartment. It just might fit; Canteen already feels like home. On a recent visit, the Magnetic Fields were turned up loudly enough for us to make out each plaintive lyric. Flannery O'Conner had a place on the bookshelf beside my comfortable booth. Five feet to my left, chef and proprietor Dennis Leary, formerly of Rubicon, worked intensely behind the counter, shoulders rounded over the food he was crafting for the dozen or so diners who filled the restaurant.

The nice, compact wine list almost completely skips over California in favor of, well, nearly everywhere else. The menu, like the restaurant, is teensy: just four appetizers, four main courses, and three desserts. I wanted them all. Most menus would benefit from a paring down like this.

While we were deciding what to order, the waiter surprised us with two small glasses of tomato water: concentrated doses of summer itself, and buttery brioche. Great treats. We were thus primed for our appetizers: the halibut ceviche ($13.75) with green tomatoes, avocado, and cucumber juice was bright, fresh and balanced. The delicious summer squashes ($7.50) came with fried almonds, Parmesan, and Aleppo pepper.

My boldly seasoned steak tartare ($22) was comprised of well-chopped, instead of minced, beef. Perhaps this innovation was borne of necessity: not enough space for a meat grinder? No matter, I loved it. The poached egg and potato chips that came with it made for a manly, if pallid, plate. Pork tenderloin ($23), cooked in fat, was as tender as the figs with which it came. Chicharrones provided an exciting crunch.

White peach cake with spiced syrup ($6.50) was one of the best desserts I've eaten this year: unassuming but wonderfully fresh and complex.

Canteen is just the kind of homey, reasonably-priced restaurant you'd want to drop in on frequently, but its small size and burgeoning reputation make that very difficult, except, perhaps, for a great breakfast and lunch. For now, make reservations well in advance and hope its popularity shrinks to better correspond with its physical size.

Lower Nob Hill