Thursday, May 5, 2011

Outta the Burbs: Straw (San Francisco)

Every once in a while, we leave suburbia. And while this blog is about all the great things you can find without crossing a bridge or going through a tunnel, we'd be remiss in not mentioning some truly amazing things going on outside our bubble. Things worth paying a $6 toll or a $25 parking garage fee for. Which is what brings us to Straw, our first Outta the Burbs post.

Straw's carny cuisine started gaining buzz on local blogs like Grubstreet and Eater months ago, but just got its liquor license last Friday, which was enough to finally prompt a visit. We were lucky enough to sneak in before another duo could swoop the Tilt-a-Whirl table, seating made out of one of the carnival attraction’s retired red chairs. Newly outfitted with bright patterned pillows and a vibrant blue table, it took up a good corner of the already small dining area. The owner mentioned his desire to make the space feel more like a friend’s dinner party than a formal dining experience, and the collection of kitsch, low lighting, and tightly packed tables transforms the small space from cramped to cozy.
Real straw!
Other décor and whimsical touches included a mason jar lighting fixture, beers served in milkshake glasses (look for sangria slushies and pale ale push pops in the future), and water presented in recycled milk bottles. A pyramid of cartoonish vegetable cans (each with a big “yuck” on its label) stood stacked in one window, while a wide-eyed kid gleefully awaited cotton candy on a One Shot Harris print mounted on the wall across from us. But while the décor was playful and eclectic, the real fun came with the menu.
Don't mind the finger, focus on the wings
It’s intimidating in the sense that everything looks so inventive and playful that making up your mind sounds as daunting as sword swallowing. We settled on the Fireball (Marys free-range cinnamon sriracha buffalo wings served with a cinnamon cream) and the Mac Attack (mac n cheese with apple and Niman ranch maple-glazed bacon) for starters. We both loved the Fireball, especially the cinnamon cream dipping sauce, which D urged me to scoop up with my wing “like a nacho.” While he could have used more of a kick from the wings, my wussy mouth loved the restrained use of spice. The apples in the Mac Attack were a nice, crisp counter to the rich cheese and bacon, making the dish addictive, flavorful, and hard for our server to pry from our hands.
Mac Attack: Apple and Bacon Mac N Cheese
Main course selection posed even more of a problem for our indecisive minds, with D struggling to decide between the Bearded Lady (pulled pork, blackberry coulis, chipotle bbq, and citrus slaw) and Boxcar Children (Niman Ranch pork belly with peanut butter satay and jalapeno jam), while The Ringmaster (Niman Ranch ground chuck burger with cheddar in a house-glazed donut) and the Fried Chicken-n-Waffle Monte Cristo (Marys free-range chicken breast with raspberry jam and swiss on a Belgian waffle) duked it out in my dome. We ended up deciding on the Bearded Lady and The Ringmaster, shoving our childrens book-covered menus out of reach to prevent further wavering.
Bearded Lady
I loved the Ringmaster. Ever since watching the episode of Man Vs. Food where Adam eats a Krispy Kreme burger, a craving for burgers wrapped in pastries has remained deep-seated in my psyche. The simple combination of salty burger and sweet donut, and omission of any other ingredients (it's seriously just burger cheese and bun), results in a balance of tastes, leaning slightly more towards the savory initially but finishing with a subtle sugar-glaze taste. Like all the best foods, you can feel your arteries slowly clogging and your organs slowing down. We both subbed in crispy sweet potato tater tots for the chips that come with the sandwiches, which were served with a bbq sauce and used as a breather between burger bites. I was already well past dangerously full levels, so I couldn't bring myself to sample D's pulled pork, which he assured me was delicious in the meat department but lacking in the slaw, which is served on the side.

Funnel Cake, with Cotton Candy and Corn on the Cob Gelato in Background
We finished with a powdered sugar-dusted funnel cake with three different dipping sauces. One was a very thin chocolate sauce, not unlike what the Spanish serve with their churros, and the other two consisted of a vanilla pudding and chunky strawberry preserves. The orange blossom cotton candy (tufts of spun sugar the color of a blue slushie) dissolved almost instantly in our mouths, leaving lingering hints of sugary goodness and summertime nostalgia. I had to ask our server what the deuce corn on the cob gelato was, and out came a scoop of creamy gelato, mottled with bright yellow pieces of corn destined to end up between your teeth. I couldn’t hang, but D (disclaimer: he likes the buttered popcorn jellybean) was a fan. So take from that what you will.

Conjoined twins, guarding our bill
We did it big at Straw, and our bill was about right for being gratuitously gluttonous, to the extent that I felt the need to take a nap on the car ride home (at approximately 9pm), and I couldn't even look at nearby liquid nitrogen ice creamery Smitten. For two appetizers, two entrees, two desserts (the corn on the cob gelato was a sample , which due to a kitchen mix up ended up a full-size portion), and two beers each, we rang up about a $75 tab. Not exactly cheap, but I'll gladly eat poor people salad (not the organic kind, but the kind you get from Target) and live off the memory of donut burgers and sriracha wings until I can afford to eat out again next week.

203 Octavia at Fell, San Francisco
(415) 431-3663
Mon-Fri 5-10pm
Saturday 10am-3pm, 5-10pm
Sunday 10am-3pm, 5-9pm

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