Wednesday, March 17, 2010


We weren't in the Mission (though we weren't far from it), just on a mission. The object: lunch. Requirements included good food and good beverages, but not too all-consuming a focus on either. Large party accommodation and kid friendliness were also musts. The recommendation from a local friend — we're talking about San Francisco here, just in case my silly intro didn't make that clear — was Starbelly. We went for it, arrived as happy campers and left even happier campers.

Starbelly's space is inviting from the get-go: high ceilings, open duct work, loads of natural light from the large windows at either end of the long space. A bar immediately to the right of the entrance flows into the communal table (really a double-sided bar) shown in the picture above; the room then opens into the main dining area, followed by, weather permitting, a really inviting looking outdoor dining patio.

The first four to arrive, myself included, landed at the equally inviting if smallish frpmt bar area, where we found much needed relief to a certain collective thirst. The beverage program at Starbelly is compact and eclectic, featuring an international wine list that, though not incredibly exciting, offers a thoughtful array of bottles with most options in the under $40 range. There's a creative list of signature and traditional cocktails, as well. The Diablito, a beer-based concoction blended with tomato and lime juices, served in a spice-rimmed tumbler, was bright and refreshing.

The real strength, though, is in their beer program. Again, it's compact, but the beer list offers a well-balanced mixture of local and global selections, ranging from the light and crisp to the heady and intense. Drake's Blonde, a kolsch style ale brewed in nearby San Leandro, CA, was a great lead-off, so good in fact that I stuck with it for the duration. Crisp, clean, thirst quenching; golden and spry in its flavor and oh-so-easy going down. Between myself and the rest of the group clamoring for sips, the first pint disappeared in a flash.

As tempted as I was to make this an episode of A Burger and a Beer, it was pizza that I craved. From a lunch menu offering small plates, salads, sandwiches, a few more elaborate dishes and, yes, pizza, I went for the house-made chorizo pie, topped with over-easy eggs and whole-leaf cilantro. The herbs and chorizo put a southwestern spin on an otherwise northern Italian classic (think cotechino in place of the chorizo and scratch the green stuff), while the light, cracker-y crust kept the amply sized pie light enough to be tackled by a single if hungry eater. (I'm told the Prather Ranch burger was quite tasty too, by the way.)

No one claimed to want dessert yet nobody seemed ready to leave without it. Two orders for the table then... a slice of warm toffee cake with mascarpone and medjool dates, and a dish of caramel pot de crème (pictured above), accompanied by rosemary cornmeal cookies. I focused primarily on the latter — it was at my end of the table, after all — and have to say it was hard not to horde it all for myself. To top it all of, a couple of large pots of french press coffee, brewed with beans from Oakland-based roaster Mr. Espresso. I can't drink much of the black stuff after noon but what I did sip was rich, comforting and deeply balanced.

Is Starbelly the destination restaurant I'm given to understand the Castro has been craving? That I can't answer, at least not until a further visit or two at dinner time. For lunch, though, it's a destination worthy of your visit, whether it be local or from far afield.

3583 16th Street (at Market)
San Francisco, CA 94114
Starbelly on Urbanspoon


Marc @ Burgatory said...

Great description of the Drake's Blonde - my taste buds know exactly where you are going with "golden and spry." Wonder if it is on the legal list here in PA?

Pizza looks and sounds amazing, too.

David McDuff said...

Hey Marc,
Glad my descriptors made sense to someone other than myself. I haven't seen Drake's anywhere in PA... nor did I hear word of any bars in California being raided for "illegal" beers.

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