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Levende

One Stop Amusement

The concept of combining a restaurant with a nightclub is certainly nothing new, but the idea has begun to reassert itself in San Francisco's dinning scene. One of the latest additions is Levende, which has taken over the old Butterfly spot on that oh-so-awkward corner of Duboce and Mission. It's not really in any neighborhood and not really in the company of other destination spots, which would appear to make it a hard place for a restaurant to succeed. But Levende has combined all of the elements of a great night out in one place.

Start with an enticing cocktail at the bar toward the back of the somehow cozy warehouse space. Exposed brick walls and a soft amber light that makes everyone look amazing set the scene for a great evening. The Ginger Drop, vodka and ginger syrup, and the Diggler, dark rum with fresh OJ, mango nectar and a splash of Champagne were only the first two cocktails (each a startling $9) that caught my eye. The bar is long and open, so no matter how packed it gets those that might be waiting for your seat never really seem to be hovering.

After a drink move on to dinner. With some awkward tables for two in the middle of the dining room, larger groups seem to be the way to go here. You can fit quite a few friends on those overstuffed leather benches that flank the larger tables. And with a menu full of small plates, sharing is a no brainer.

On our visit we dug into the heirloom tomato salad/cornmeal crusted green tomatoes ($10). It was an eye-catching presentation with a stack of bright yellow and red tomatoes on one side of the rectangular plate and a stack of fried green tomatoes on the other side. Unfortunately, the presentation was the best part. The heirlooms didn't have as much flavor as they should have and the use of dill was a strange and somewhat unpleasant flavor paired with the tomatoes.

The salad with roasted beets, arugula, and candied pecans ($8), on the other hand, was a hit. The arugula wasn't overdressed, and its natural peppery spice was a great compliment to the earthy sweet beets. A fine balance of flavors.

From there we moved on to the housemade charcuterie plate ($11). All the meats are cured in house and are outstanding. However, the duck rillete was definitely the standout. A creamy texture and rich meaty flavor cut through with a vein of smoke. Truly decadent!

We were swayed by the halibut special ($16) for one entrée choice and selected the hangar steak ($16) to round out the meal. The halibut was pan seared with chanterelles and summer truffles with just a touch of white wine broth. It was a delicate but intense dish that won us over. The steak was cooked to a perfect medium-rare, sliced and served over a cheesy potato gratin with huckleberries. An interesting combo that worked and is a true testament to Chef Jamie Lauren's ability to surprise and satisfy.

After dinner it's time to get your groove on as the tables are pushed aside and the music gets turned up. With Kiri Eschelle, former Vice President of Om Records, Ben Doren, co-owner of nightclub promotion 2nd Sunday, and Dirk Kahl, former co-owner of South Beach hot spot Ajaxx as the brains behind Levende, the music and atmosphere are sure to inspire at least a bit of dancing. Drinks, dinner, dancing: a full evening and you only had to find parking once. Maybe there's something to this trend of restaurant/nightclubs.

California Cuisine
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