“Out with the old, in with the new” is what they say, n’est-ce pas? Vestry, the old restaurant next door to The Chapel, arguably the Mission’s premier venue for live music, has reinvented itself with new chef and Mission native, Mario Tolentino (formerly of Fog City Diner and Betelnut), and a revamped menu — Americana bar food — and a new bar program by mixologist Darren Crawford. I’m really not sure about the Curio theme, although it seems to be playing with some surreal Dali-like décor (note the non-melting clocks in the corner).
Frankly, I thought the food at Vestry was pretty terrible and, as my sister once said, “How dare they?” As in, how dare you open a restaurant in the Mission, on Valencia, and suck? So I was thrilled to hear about Curio.
On our first visit, the BF and I split the deviled eggs.
Topped with Fresno chilies, pork rinds, chives and chili oil, these were super tasty and creamy, with just a hint of heat, although the pork rinds made it a little hard to take a bite. But hell, pork rinds, so STFU. I’d definitely get these again.
We also tried the little gems salad.
It sounded fantastic, with charred broccoli, radishes, buttermilk dressing and a grated cured egg yolk. But it was very underdressed, and the service was SO. INCREDIBLY. SLOW. that I did not want to wait for them to bring us more dressing. It certainly gave me pause when our server said that our drinks would be out in “Five to 10 minutes.” It actually took 20 minutes — the drinks came out after the eggs and salad.
To be fair, there was a big show next door that night, and there were people milling in and out and sitting at the bar (where we were having dinner). But even those who walked in after us and ordered from the bar got their drinks well before we did. We had to ask our server and another server twice before we received our drinks. When they finally came, mine was quite lovely — I’d ordered a Paper Plane, as their specialty cocktails sounded over-wrought to me. The Paper Plane was quite balanced.
BF got the flatiron steak for his main.
It came with chimichurri, garlic mashed potatoes and sautéed veggies. I thought his steak was great — super-tender, with a good smokiness, but he preferred it cooked more. The server hadn’t asked him how he wanted it done and the BF didn’t volunteer, and for once, I didn’t chirp “Medium-rare please!” See what happens when I don’t butt in? He felt the meat was too chewy (undercooked). He was wrong. He liked his mashed taters, which I found a bit gluey. The veggies were fresh and nicely cooked.
I got the burger.
It came with a tomato jam that was a little too BBQ-y for me, and it was liberally stuffed with crispy fried onion strings (a good thing) and Raclette cheese. Crimini mushrooms, listed on the menu, were undetectable. Pretty good, but could have used a little salt. I learned later that the burger is also available with an Impossible patty for vegetarians and vegans.
All in all, not bad. Service, again, was terrible because, we thought, of the performance next door; but after it started and the bar emptied out, our server didn’t really come check on us again, and it took 15 minutes to bring our check after we asked. Hopefully we can chalk this up to growing pains.
Oops, spoke too soon! On our second visit, the food was much, much better, but they were still ridiculously slow with our drinks, which again came out after our starters arrived. Our server said that the drinks were coming from the bar in the restaurant (we were again sitting in the BAR — why would we not get our drinks from the BAR, right in front of us??), and that the bartender there was “no good.”
But my oysters were super-fresh, briny, and yet creamy.
And only $1 each, because happy hour! Should have had a martini and a dozen and called it dinner.
We split the shrimp hush puppies.
These luscious fried balls came with a pimento cheese-y butter with a wonderful tang to it. On the downside, there was only maybe a teeny nugget of a piece of baby shrimp per hush puppy. But they were still very good, and I’d recommend them.
We also had the fried burrata.
It came with wonderful smoked tomatoes and a perfectly dressed arugula salad. The cheese itself was buttery-melty-crunchy-goodness. The flatbread was kind of a snooze, and I wished they’d given us good bread to smear the burrata on instead. No mind, this is a good dish.
The BF got the smoked beer-can chicken for his dinner.
I am usually not a restaurant-chicken person (except fried), but this bird was THE SHIT. Juicy and smoky (and by the way: I confirmed, they have a SMOKER onsite. So where the hell’s the pulled pork, Chef Tolentino??) The chicken came with a BBQ sauce, a grainy mustard, and a rather bland “Mornay” sauce that tasted more like a floury bechamel. All three were unnecessary. On the side were perfectly cooked and seasoned lemony veggies, and fries (the BF subbed “regular” fries for the truffled ones; why am I with this man, again?). But they were good. Winner, winner … oh, you know.
For my main, I got the appetizer ahi tuna tartare with chili oil and avocado mousse.
Fresh, tasty — but the tuna needed just a hint of acid, or something, to make it pop. Still, I’m eager to try their seafood towers, having been teased by those two titillating oysters.
I actually did have one of their specialty cocktails this time, which I have to say sounded like a mess. The Phoenix is a concoction of rye, mezcal, Jamaican rum, Curacao, green chartreuse, vanilla, ghost pepper, and mole bitters. What, no Aperol?? It was actually pretty good, despite the mishmash of ingredients, but mostly tasted of the rye and a little vanilla. I’d try something else next time, if Mr. Crawford would rein it in a little bit.
Curio is certainly a few cuts above Vestry, though I hope to see that the menu changes once in a while. It would be grand to have a destination restaurant to go with the Mission’s destination music hall.
775 Valencia St.