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Dueling Senses

Executive chef and owner Arnold Wong traces EOS' route beyond its current stead in Cole Valley to southern China, from whence his father had immigrated in the fifties. As the family's Haight St. green grocery came to adopt an emerging language of organic and European foods, Wong's fusion vocabulary burgeoned amidst foods gathered in this unlikely of ports.

The EOS space betrays a later chapter of Wong's university life as an architect in training. Trade attention to detail is evident not only in the clean lines of aluminum trimming tracing light wooden bars, but also in the flatware selected to parallel the room's quasi-ascetic sensibilities. The architect's eye also meets spatial challenges to seat intimate couple sets and large groups, rendering EOS fitting for both romantic trysts and office outings. Tall glass windows offer a peek of the bustle inside, though first steps yield but an envelope of plum velour curtains befitting a theater.

Like pampered stars, each dish unabashedly flaunts its plumage. The "Shi-itake Mushroom Dumplings" ($9) make for a difficult act to follow, laid as they are in a sauce pleasantly undecipherable between sweet and an "other" still difficult to label. Vying for the limelight is the extensive wine list (running pages long and regions wide) that alone ranks EOS as a destination spot. (Indeed, the joint wine bar next door holds weekly Wednesday flight tastings.) Among the selection of entrees none vegetarian is the "Fermented Black Bean Crusted Salmon" ($22) which, presented well cooked, is beautifully costumed with a snug black bean crust. The surprising portion of the "Grilled Thai Spiced Double-Cut Pork Chop" ($18), along with sweet black Thai rice and chutney, leaves no room for a standing ovation.

Alas, there is always room for dessert. Especially so the case when a platter of three selections can be summoned for $20 (individual $7). Here the East-West balance tilts to favor the Western palate with a selection including the classic warm "Chocolate Cake," bittersweet for edge and side of vanilla gelato for light finish. The show, however, is utterly stolen by the "Bananamisu." Its breathtaking arrival calls for a moment to contemplate the gravity defiance of its thin, crisp banana slices topping layers of curiously whipped bananadom underneath.

Such expert delight of the senses belies the now-landmark's early days, before neighbors complained about the traffic turning a quiet corner into a hot spot. The ethos of EOS today is one of a generation elapsed. No wonder Wong softly chuckles as he contemplates EOS now as an upscale restaurant, as he had hoped it would emerge as a "neighborhood fixture." He reminisces about his opening year in late 1995, at the tail end of a deep national recession, when EOS infused startle to a city fatigued by both the market and hackneyed tried-and-tired flavors. Wong hints that he is again at a similar cusp of "something new," a revamp of the menu beyond seasonalities and recent downward price tweakings, to "go back" with the food but "move forward" with its presentation. If EOS to date merely has been his rehearsal, the city eagerly waits with our eyes and palates wide open.