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Yabbies Coastal Kitchen

A Longtime Neighborhood Favorite That Does Everything Right

I remember my first visit to Yabbies Coastal Kitchen, roughly 4 years ago, when I was new to the city and discovering the pleasures of trendy Polk Street. A friend and I stumbled upon Yabbies, and decided to pop in for some oysters and beer. What was supposed to be a snack turned into a three-course meal, as neither of us could resist the allure of the charming and varied menu (and we managed to squeeze in our oysters and beer as well). A lot has changed since then along Polk Street, particularly on the restaurant front, yet not much has changed at Yabbies.

Yabbies is one of those neighborhood favorites that everyone in the area knows about and encourages the new arrivals to the area to visit. Certain items, such as the spicy raw tuna poke ($12), described as the "house specialty," and the Yabbies cioppino ($17.95), are staples on the menu, and for good reason. Yabbies version of the ever-popular tuna tartare is probably the best I've had in the city. Served with homemade sesame crisps, the tuna itself is tossed with sesame oil, scallions, cilantro, lemon juice and, in a brilliant touch, a hint of Sriracha, that delightful and versatile Asian hot sauce. (For those not familiar with the name Sriracha, you are certainly familiar with the rooster insignia squeeze bottle, which sits atop every tabletop in the Chinatown area). The flavor was so wonderful, in fact, that my dinner date and I devoured the tuna and then sopped up any extra sauce with the complimentary bread that had arrived at our table.

One can also see why the cioppino has long been a customer favorite. Huge chunks of Dungeness crab, prawns, clams, mussels, and salmon are tossed in a smoky tomato-based sauce and served with the requisite crab crackers. The smoky dimension of the cioppino was so interesting that my dinner partner and I had a bet as to how the chef had achieved such a complex and rich flavor. In short, the salmon is smoked over alder wood, and when mixed with the other ingredients, the smoky flavor permeates the entire dish. The addition of this element is a wonderful twist on the traditional cioppino. You'll never be able to eat cioppino in Fisherman's Wharf again (and by the way, I won the bet).

The front section of the restaurant is occupied by a full raw bar, which offers up such delights as littleneck clams and oysters on the half shell, cracked Dungeness crab and lobster, jumbo prawns, steamed mussels, and ceviche. Prices vary, but all is fresh and delivered daily by local purveyors.

Other interesting dishes on the menu include the crispy wrapped prawns ($9), with shreds of phyllo dough wrapped tightly around the shrimp and served with a wasabi sauce and chili oil (finally, shrimp done right -- crispy, yet not coated in a dense batter), and the Dungeness crab cakes (no filler here, just juicy crab meat) complimented by an avocado aioli and daikon salad ($6/$11).

There are a selection of salads and a daily soup available as well. A Caesar salad ($7.50), spinach salad ($7), and frisee salad ($8) are among the offerings. On the day we visited, the soup was a potato leek, with a potato crisp raft and a dollop of caviar atop it. My only complaint of the night was that the soup came out too hot, and we had to wait a good 10 minutes for it to become cool enough to enjoy its robust flavors.

The chef informed me that the most popular entrée is the sesame-crusted tuna, served with a sticky rice cake and a ginger soy sauce ($21.95). Not usually a fan of tuna outside of its raw form, I ordered this dish just to see what all of the fuss was about. My verdict? It's a perfect dish -- the tuna cooked perfectly, the sauce a lovely complement to the tuna, the sesame adding texture and crunch. And for all of the serious carnivores out there, Yabbies also offers, among its entrees, a marinated hangar steak ($19.95), a grilled pork chop ($18.95), and an oven-roasted chicken breast ($15.50), all served with yummy accompaniments and sauces.

Desserts are done right here as well, which is quite a feat considering that there is no separate pastry chef at Yabbies. Chef Megan Smith does it all herself, with the help of her trusty kitchen staff. At $5 per dessert, they're a bargain, as such delights as pecan bread pudding, apple filled walnut crepes, and hot fudge sundaes are offered.

The wine list is extensive and well thought out, with all of the obvious whites available that pair so well with seafood, as well as some surprising reds (try the Belvedere Pinot Noir with, well, with just about anything).

Yabbies offers a $25 prix-fixe menu, available Sun-Thurs from 6-6:30, which includes an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert.

All in all, this restaurant is doing everything right, and it's high time that it became not only a neighborhood favorite, but a citywide favorite as well.

Yabbies Coastal Kitchen
Russian Hill