Chef/co-owner Brandon Kirksey told me that “Great Gold,” the name of his newly rewired restaurant (formerly Foxsister, a Korean eatery) refers to the Golden State, and highlights California’s local food and produce. I did not raise an eyebrow, even though our server had informed us on our first visit that the name pays homage to the Italians that came over during California’s Gold Rush. Okay… Either is perhaps plausible as a reason to name a restaurant, but neither makes it a very good name.
I got the sense, however, that Chef Kirksey was tired of talking about the name of his “new” restaurant. From modern Korean to old school Italian, the only thing that’s changed here is the menu – but that’s quite a change! Kirksey and partner David Steele wanted to keep the same décor, because they felt it befits the neighborhood. Noise Pop, San Francisco’s music festival and culture promoter, curates the music played at Great Gold, and each evening you’ll get a playlist on your table of the bands you’re listening to.
Before Foxsister, Chef Kirksey hailed from Flour + Water (the original), so we were hopeful that he knew his way around an Italian kitchen. On our first visit, our server pushed the prosciutto crudo e melone – it’s summer, the melons are delicious right now, etc.
It was a pretty dish, but the melons were sliced so thinly they had almost no flavor, and the whole thing was covered in saba (a sweet grape-must reduction), pistachios, and pickled strawberries. Interesting, but melon & prosciutto is such an iconic dish – delicious in its simplicity: juicy, sweet chunks of melon, wrapped in salty, silky ham … a perfect combination. Here, the melon was completely overwhelmed.
Next we got the “tomato bread.”
The opposite here – a simple, generous hunk of focaccia came smothered in a garlicky, fresh, uncooked tomato sauce. Bright and yet homey, this is what I call comfort food. Even though the garlic had a slightly bitter edge, I’d gladly make a meal of this and a glass of their sparkling rosé.
Oddly, our server kind of tried to talk us out of getting two pasta dishes, saying they were large portions and meant to be shared. We didn’t believe her because a) oink; and b) we like leftovers. BF got the rigatoni with a very fennel-y sausage, piled high with a fluffy cloud of parm.
And, again on the server’s recommendation, I got the cavatelli with “sweet corn,” brown butter, cacio e pepe.
Quotation marks on the corn because there was not very much and not-very-sweet corn in my dish, and the most discernible flavor in the dish was salt. Not that it was too salty, it wasn’t; but there was no nutty browned butter flavor, the corn was bland, and I didn’t get the cacio et pepe vibe at all. Very disappointing. Worse, some of the pasta was undercooked, some was not – quite a mean feat! The BF’s rigatoni was the same — some undercooked, some not. The sausage in his dish was wonderful, though, and the slow-cooked sauce rich and tangy.
We weren’t wowed so far, but we’ve very often been surprised by a second visit to a restaurant, and were willing to give Great Gold the benefit of the doubt since they had just reopened.
On the second visit, we split the “BIG” chop salad.
Nicely tangy, fresh and peppy, with lotsa olives, pepperoncini, big fat chunks of peppered provolone and salami, garbanzos, etc. Quite nice.
Then came a side of meatballs.
These would have been perfect with focaccia but we were saving our appetites. Still, the meatballs were lovely – tender and herby. That sauce (San Marzano tomatoes, cooked low and slow with fennel and other herbs/spices) – so different than what goes on the tomato bread – was even more deeply flavored than in the BF’s rigatoni. They sure know how to do a red sauce here.
For his main, the BF ordered the pork chop saltimbocca.
Wonderfully tender, but sadly a bit too salty, exacerbated by the crispy prosciutto, and not offset by the sweetness of the saba. The sage was very evident, maybe a little too so, and I thought the BF wouldn’t like the perfuminess of it. But he practically licked the plate clean, even after complaining about the salt.
I wanted a simple plate of spaghetti aglio e olio.
Great Gold’s came with anchovies, which rather overwhelmed the dish and made it overly juicy, somehow. The anchovies were so strong that the BF put back the big spoonful he’d served himself from my plate. I adore anchovies, but even for me the dish had no subtlety. Aglio e olio is one of life’s greatest, simple pleasures! This wasn’t that. I ate a few bites and took the rest home, but it was eventually tossed.
There are other classic Italian dishes on the menu to explore – chicken and eggplant parmesan, cioppino – and sides we didn’t even get to, like the charred Jimmy Nardello peppers. They also offer a family-style dinner with all the fixings, just like your nonna used to make. But I’m afraid we’re not going to rush back just yet.
3161 24th St.