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Chenery Park Update

"Neighborhood Restaurant" Grows Up, Has Kids

Last year, we profiled Glen Park restaurant, Chenery Park, which opened in October 2000. Recently, curiosity got the best of us, so we headed back to this moderately upscale neighborhood restaurant to see what was new. Boy, were we surprised.

Every neighborhood has a sweet little restaurant that's perfect for those nights when you want to spend a little money to eat fancy, but don't want to leave your neighborhood. In the Inner Sunset, we had Avenue 9 (until the owners closed shop and moved to Succotash, which then closed in early 2003). In the Richmond, Q serves up fine cuisine in comfortable surroundings. Noe Valley has Firefly, the Fillmore has the Elite Café, and Glen Park has Chenery Park.

While these eateries are excellent, they aren't usually referred to as "destination" restaurants, places you'd actually brave MUNI or lose your parking spot to visit. Unparalleled service, a creative, rotating menu, a sublime atmosphere and other unique factors usually give upscale spots like Jardiniere, Hawthorne Lane and Kokkari the rights to that title. However, Chenery Park is creeping away from being merely a "neighborhood restaurant," moving upward in the ranks toward true "destination" status.

On our previous visit, we thought the menu just dandy. On our more recent visit, we learned that Chenery Park's American Fusion menu now offered some unique combinations. The Marinated Shrimp with Crispy Onion & Fennel ($8) was the perfect starter, offering a tiny taste of shrimpy goodness, enhanced with savory, crisped onion and fennel; our taste buds were piqued, but in no way satisfied - which was a good thing, considering the feast we had ahead of us. Our Winter Salad of Red & White Endive, Poached Figs, Peppered Pecans, Gorgonzola and Fig Balsamic ($8) was delicious: the rich, textured figs zinged nicely with the peppered pecans, and although spearing the large chunks of endive was a little awkward, it was worth the effort. As we expected, the Grilled Double Thick Pork Chop ($18) was thick, juicy and cooked to perfection, and the Grilled Lamb Sirloin ($18), served a mouth-watering shade of rare, was literally the best we'd ever tried. Warm Chocolate Cake with Chantilly ($6) rounded out the meal, and we wished we'd saved room for the Warm Gingerbread Bundt with Pumpkin Ice Cream & Caramel Sauce ($6).

While we had previously found the service sweet but somewhat uneven (like an eager and endearing - untrained - puppy dog), we had no such opinion on our recent visit. Our server was seasoned, yet unintimidating, presenting each course with flair and sweeping away the crumbs with a smooth hand, never once interrupting our conversation. We felt genuine warmth from everyone we encountered.

The most remarkable change, however, was in the atmosphere. While we'd previously found Chenery Park to be a nice enough spot for a quick, delicious meal, this visit revised our opinion substantially. Whereas before the room tried a bit too hard to be grown-up, it now reflects a quiet maturity, enhancing the meal rather than trying to shape it.

A "neighborhood restaurant" attracts diners from the neighborhood; in Chenery Park's case, this means families with small children, diners no destination restaurant is overjoyed to see on a regular basis. Small children are noisy and seldom have the ability to endure a two-hour meal. To satisfy these otherwise unwelcome tiny diners, Chenery Park has dubbed Tuesday nights as "Kids Nights," welcoming families with children of all ages with a special kid-sized (and priced) menu. So as not to disrupt other patrons, the top floor is given over to these special guests, ensuring a quiet meal for those below. This touch of consideration shows that while Chenery Park has grown up, it hasn't forgotten what helped it mature gracefully: a devoted neighborhood clientele.