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From Simmer to Sizzle, the Buzz is Electric

Named after the apparatus that transforms raw ingredients, Range is the new Mission District restaurant firing up Valencia Street. If you're going out for a special night, Range has your back. It's a chill, comfortable place with pop elements like a sleek bar and elaborate flower arrangements, making the space sexy and classy at the same time. Plus the well-priced menu has a scope broad enough to satisfy both the meat-and-potatoes and the veggie-only diner.

It's no surprise that Range should become a destination restaurant in the short few months since its opening in Summer 2005. Partners Cameron and Phil West met at Cole Valley's Eos; later, Cameron left Delfina and Chef Phil departed Bacar to open Range, their first restaurant. While the restaurant's name refers to the range stove central to the kitchen (no wood-oven fires or grills), there's also the idea that the menu and wine list cover a wide spectrum of tastes.

Stepping into Range, you quickly forget the sangria-filled days of Timo's, the tapas place once housed in this corner spot. The metamorphosis is notable; a small bar space holds up the front, while tables line the walls past the semi-open kitchen, all the way to the celadon, cinnamon, and cocoa-hued back dining room with leathery booths and skylights. While it might feel a bit cramped in the back, the noise level manages to stay at a reasonable pitch.

At first bite, it's evident that Chef West regularly visits the farmer's market and has relationships with various local farmers. The seasonal, organic-inspired menu is comprised of roughly eight starters and six mains and is printed daily, with a few evergreen entrees like the pork and steak. The raw fish with cucumber, melon, and avocado epitomizes freshness. On one visit I had the hamachi, and when I returned, I sampled the Hawaiian Tombo -- both were high-quality fish to make a sushi chef proud. The salad with Little Gem lettuce ($8.75) was crisp, and the fresh figs and toasted pecans added both texture and a sweet and nutty flavor.

The ever-popular coffee-rubbed pork shoulder ($17) is so tender that you only need a fork, and the pan-roasted bavette steak ($19) is cooked to order and pre-sliced. Its accompanying side of cipollini onions, spinach, and potatoes is so good that we were craving more. In fact, it seems like every main was in need of another spoonful of side dish to balance out the generous portions of meat.

Even though the steak and coffee-rubbed pork shoulder were being placed onto tables to my right and left, other dishes like the roasted chicken ($15.50) shouldn't be overlooked. The chicken breast and thigh are boned and roasted with the skin on to produce meat that is unusually tender and exceedingly moist. As with the steak, the accompanying bed of warm carrot, beet, frisee, and walnut salad is skimpy compared to the hefty serving of chicken. As for fish, we found the local king salmon ($18) with corn and chanterelles to be perfectly flaky and moist.

Although always friendly, the service can be hit-or-miss. During my first visit, our server was attentive and professional. She knowledgeably answered questions and confidently advised us on wine and food pairings. I felt like I was in good hands. On a return visit, our server stumbled over descriptions, seemed stumped by wine pairings, and was overwhelmed in general.

Paying homage to its predecessor restaurant, the Timo ($8) is a specialty cocktail that's nothing other than sangria. Ask about the daily special as well, but don't neglect the extensive wine selection -- it's both eclectic and affordable. If you're ordering by the bottle (many between $30 and $40), the list is a bit more comprehensive than by the glass. But try to save your liver for the espresso martini, which is dessert all by itself.

Of course, we didn't stop at the espresso martini, instead we dug our spoons into the chocolate pot de crème (all desserts $7) with little chocolate cookies and the apple galette swizzled with decadent caramel sauce. The dessert list is intriguing, and upon scanning the room, I picked out two other treats that tempted: pistachio waffles with dark chocolate cream sauce, and the peach parfait.

Opened in mid-July 2005, Range deservedly evolved from an unassuming neighborhood and industry dinner spot, to a pre-Opera, first date, parent's visit destination restaurant. With flawless food, sunny servers, and winsome wines, Range is on its way to becoming a San Francisco mainstay.

California Seasonal/Organic