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Swank, in a Down-Home Way

In 2002, RNM, which was carved out of an unkempt Victorian apartment building in the grimy and energetic Lower Haight, opened to much acclaim. Its pleasures have not diminished. With her bright seasonal cooking, chef Justine Miner continues to deliver cultivated food to discerning diners who descend from funky million dollar houses.

Once you walk in, you feel miles away from the Lower Haight. The roar of skateboards bombing down Waller becomes a pleasant whirr. The modern setting, which is stylish and warm, features long, airy drapes, a handsome loft, and a captivating chandelier reminiscent of tangled tentacles of a giant squid.

Likewise, the crowd is handsome, stylish and boisterous. On my last visit, I sat next to a table commandeered by a talkative novelist whose nuanced, liberal opinions echoed throughout the restaurant. One small complaint: even with the sound off, a television behind the bar was distracting, especially when it framed a young Paul Newman toiling on the chain gang.

Even in this ultra-urban setting, the food looked and tasted as if it had just been harvested from a particularly well-stocked country farmyard, and the service was warm and comfortable. A salad of rocolla (apparently a wild variety of arugula) featured strawberries, fava beans and a wonderful fresh ricotta, and was flavored with a mint and balsamic vinaigrette ($9). This beautifully balanced and exciting salad put fava beans to perfect use. Applewood smoked lamb riblets with summer slaw ($13) were so tender and delicious that I half expected to be able to eat through the bone.

The pan-roasted ribeye ($22), dazzling and robust, came with many garnishes, including remarkable cornmeal crusted green tomatoes and an unfortunate cannellini bean puree, which I mistook for mealy mashed potatoes. The sautéed Muscovy duck breast ($21) flavored with a Bing cherry gastrique (a sort of subtle French sweet and sour sauce) was tender, with a pleasant hint of muskiness. It was served with beautiful fried goat cheese squash blossoms, and a cold refreshing shaved sunburst squash salad.

If you can get your order in before 7:00, try the $25.00 prix fixe menu, which includes choices from a pared-down menu. For dessert, I recommend the bread pudding with dried apricots ($8), which, like the restaurant, is exacting and swank, in a down-home kind of way.

California/Mediterranean Cuisine
Lower Haight