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Conduit - CLOSED

Artful Cuisine on the Valencia Corridor

Executive chef Justin Deering, fresh from two years at Boulevard after stints at Jeanty at Jack's, Redwod Park, Fifth Floor, and Tra Vigne, has years of high-end cooking under his belt, and it shows. Presented gorgeously on oversized plates, the dishes at Conduit are rich and intense. Yes, as critics have claimed since the restaurant opened in December 2007, the portions are smallish -- but this much buttery goodness probably needs its limits.

The service rocks. On an early spring visit, we had a personable, funny server, and there was a seemingly endless supply of food runners (a different person for each course!), as well as a sweet hostess by the door. The lighting created a subtle, soft effect upon diners, and managed, strangely, to glare harshly upon the servers, giving each the ghastly cast of a low-budget horror movie extra.

Visually, the restaurant flows seamlessly, from the long windows in front to the exhibition kitchen across the back. Amazingly, there is enough room between the tables to walk two abreast and not have flashbacks to coach class airplane seating.

A quail appetizer with green chickpea risotto and bacon relish ($14) was luscious, with slightly salty skin and juicy meat. We kept hoping the bird would grow on the plate and wistfully moved on to the pork belly with calvalo nero, rillettes, and pistachio apple marmalade ($11). This dish was well executed, but we'd go back just for the cool, soft rillettes, which provided a silky, light contrast to the hot, fried square of pork fat.

A starter of beets ($9) was arranged like a conga line on the plate with tiny shavings of fennel along the top; this was the only dish we found to be unremarkable.

"Party in the Mouth" award goes to the duck breast with a perfect sous vide preparation, served on a mushroom ragout ($22). It was hearty, balanced and heavenly. The potatoes were rich squares, like some of the clientele.

Although the booze offerings are impressive, the bar is visually at odds with the rest of the restaurant. It’s too minimalist-European-apothecary meets mod-bathroom-shelving. In the rest of architect Stanley Saitowitz’s interior, the copper tubing and low, modern fireplace mix warmth with many, many feet of pipe for a serious dose of industrial hipness.

The menu intriguingly reads, “Vegetarian Option Available” without listing further specifics. Our server elaborated, mentioning cannellini beans -- which frankly sounded dull compared to the menu’s meaty delights.

Conduit rightfully deserves its place within the Bay Area foodie universe, but only time will tell if the location is a match for the haute cuisine, considering its address on that sparse, less-traveled stretch of Valencia between Market and 16th. Notably, the bathrooms are comprised of spacious, semi-transparent stalls, so if you liked watching the pastry chefs in action in the open kitchen, there’s more to be seen just around the corner.

Contemporary American