Our meal at Heirloom Café started with an unexpected and resounding thud. It was the back leg of my father’s chair cracking clear through a floorboard, leading to a fall. Thankfully, my father rebounded, and so did Matt Straus’ seasonal, wine-friendly restaurant.
L.A. based sommelier Eduardo Porto Carreiro told me about his mentor’s Mission district restaurant earlier this year, and it seemed inevitable that I’d end up there during my summer-ly sojourns to San Francisco. Straus opened Heirloom in spring 2010 in a long dormant convenience store that last operated in the early ’70 s. [That probably explains the floorboard without structural integrity.] Straus previously worked at L.A. restaurants like Campanile and Grace before moving north three years ago. On an interim basis, he sommed at Jardiniere and RN74 before opening his own restaurant, where he’s chef, sommelier and more.
My father enjoyed the Grilled Marinated Squid ($13) a little more than me. The tiny, tender rings paired well with giant runner beans, crisp endive, tart lemon and oregano. It was a solid seafood salad, but it felt like there was an element of spice or texture missing.
When we told Straus what we ordered, he returned with a line-up of complementary wine pairings: including bold Barbaresco for my burger, La Pialade for my father’s duck confit and Cour-Cheverny for my stepmother’s ceviche. We were all pleased with his picks, and it was hard to stop sipping while waiting for our main courses to arrive.
Fortunately, we had Potato Gnocchi ($15) to pass the time. These especially large specimens were pan-fried, leading to good color and bite. The gnocchi appeared with a winning combination of crumbled fennel sausage, shaved mushrooms and fresh, firm English peas, which to my way of thinking couldn’t appear enough on San Francisco menus over the summer.
Straus developed a fairly unconventional off-menu burger that was kind of a tough sell for me since the ground Golden Gate beef is folded with pungent Epoisses. It was impressive how Straus managed to mask the intensity of the cheese in the burger, which was really pretty good. The English muffin emanated from Berkeley’s Sconehenge and was butter-grilled, but too soft and bao-like. Instead of fries, the burger appeared with pickled orange and yellow carrots, which provided a punch of crisp acidity.
My father’s duck confit sandwich was good, but really, it’s more surprising when duck cooked in its own fat doesn’t succeed. Regardless, this version involved a chewy (in a good way) baguette, crisp slaw and a tart one-two punch from cherries and cherry aioli.
There are a lot of seasonal, local restaurants in the Bay Area lately, and while not every dish was a hit, there was enough happening at Heirloom to warrant a repeat visit or recommendation.