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Local Kitchen and Wine Merchant

Bringing a New Sense of Community to SOMA

Opening the massive front door of this wine bar/restaurant/café just might be the most difficult obstacle to the evening, but once the door's ajar (often the hostess will lend a hand), the 40-plus by-the-glass wine list, wood oven-grilled pizzas, and airy décor will make for a relaxing evening. Perhaps that's why when we visited Local Kitchen and Wine Merchant (sans reservations) for dinner on a Tuesday night, we snagged the last seats in the whole place -- two spots at the 30-foot-long, walnut-topped communal table.

The most notable aspect of this place might have to be the accessible, globe-trotting list of low- to mid-priced wines, created by 25-year-old sommelier-and-partner Mark Bright (Restaurant Michael Mina). Not only are there upwards of 40 wines by the glass ($7-$16, tastes $4-$8), representing regions from Greece and France to India and Japan; but sake and beer also appear on the list. (More than 250 wine bottles are for sale in the shop next door, with a lofty goal of reaching 1,000 later in '08.)

The expected seasonal, organic trend is no stranger here, as executive chef-and-partner Oola Fendart (Chez Papa, Oola) sources his ingredients from local sustainable farms around the Bay Area. The Cal-Italian menu runs the gamut from wood-oven grilled pizzas ($12) and rotisserie chicken ($16) to truffle-and-parmesan fries ($7) and a deconstructed nicoise salad ($12). The nicoise salad was the most pleasant surprise of our dinner -- three hearty chunks of seared ahi tuna were the centerpiece, with sweet peppers, green beans, frisee, olives, quail eggs and potatoes fanned out along the rectangular plate.

The mains were good, but not too memorable. The pork chop with artichokes ($18) was flavorless on its own, and while the accompanying mustard sauce was tasty, the dish would've been better served had the meat been more seasoned. Similarly, the otherwise lackluster pan-seared mahi mahi ($19) was given a boost by the creamy mashed potatoes and fresh artichokes. A lunchtime visit found a brighter version of the mahi mahi dish to be in effect, with a touch more acidity for balance.

Pizzas at Local are fine but not inspirational, compared to the Neapolitan-style thin crust pizzas coming out of Beretta, Gialina, Pizzetta 211, and Delfina to name a few.

For dessert, the special one night -- a Meyer lemon gelato and pine nut crostata ($7) with caramel sauce -- was so good that we practically licked the plate clean. And the tiramisu was another solid, but less memorable, choice.

Our server was sincere and helpful in navigating the wine list, and he successfully steered us towards wines we liked, although a white from India was particularly cloying, in tune with its novelty. The lofty space, designed by John Stricklin, accommodates a small bar off to the side, a kitchen (with its wood oven) at center stage and inviting communal table, which makes this a solid choice for a snack and some wine after work. However, the price-point for dinner seemed a dollar or two on the high side, entrée-wise, for a full meal.

There is a decent day spa above, a wine shop next door, about 70 magazines for sale, free Wi-Fi, and convenient delivery or take-out, making this café/restaurant/bar an oasis for locals residing near this otherwise deserted SOMA locale.