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The Richmond

In a World Far, Far Away

San Francisco is the one place where a neighborhood mom and pop restaurant might have a menu of organic vegetables, foie gras and short rib crepinette, and a grumpy French waiter who makes guests feel like tourists in their own town. And this on a quiet street in the humble Richmond district, where the fog is often the first to arrive and the last to leave.

But there are aspects of The Richmond Restaurant & Wine Bar, which has embraced its area in letter if not in spirit, that make it feel like the perfect place to hide away on a Saturday night -- if you can get a table. There are two dining rooms, both cozy but stuffy, each barely larger than a good-sized living room. Eating at this restaurant can feel like staying with a big family in a too small house. The people aren’t perfect, and nothing goes unnoticed, but every once a while something wonderful can happen.

Like the crispy sweetbreads ($9). For those who believe sweetbreads are what good eating is all about then this dish will only invigorate. They are served atop a green, buttery mound of melted leeks, larded with hidden kernels of bulgur wheat that pop off in textural contrast every other bite or so, the whole thing drizzled modestly with a veal reduction.

Its polar opposite in every way except satisfaction is the juicy, austere scallop ceviche ($10), which might make some believe that a scallop should never have heat applied to it, but instead be simply sliced into two discs and given a mild dose of fresh lime juice, as they are here.

The sweetbreads and the ceviche make the salads seem less appealing. The heirloom tomatoes and the roasted, chilled beets (both $9) felt more obligatory than inspired, though, technically, one should not live on offal and raw fish alone.

For main courses, the flat iron steak ($20) was juicy, metallic, and accurately medium rare. Unfortunately the arctic char ($19) had languished at the stove until it was the far side of dry, saved, perhaps, only by its crisp and fishy skin.

And though we decided to go two for two and order the other Alaskan fish on the menu, the halibut ($19), we were told it was petrale sole instead. It was juicy and tender but prepared the way it is at most places, simply sauteed or roasted, seasoned with salt and black pepper, and largely robbed of its delicacy.

At The Richmond the coffee comes in individual French presses, something every restaurant without a professional barista and expensive espresso machine should take the care to do.

Unfortunately both the desserts we sampled were disappointing. The banana fritter split ($8) tasted like green banana, which is an odd and unpleasant sensation. The panna cotta ($7) was stuck inside a dish, instead of flipped out like a quivering custard, as it traditionally is served, and was covered in a sweet peach puree better suited for an infant.

But these are minor hiccups. They only serve to round out this restaurant, giving it a character flaw or two. Chances are most people who eat here end up leaving sated, content that the pocketbook didn’t take too bad a hit and ready to greet the world again, starting with that brisk Richmond air.

California French
Richmond District

Reservations Essential? Yes