When the Hi Neighbor Hospitality Group signed a contract to open two places in the newly developed 100 Van Ness apartments, Mid-Market seemed like the pot of gold at the end of a restaurant rainbow.
Twitter, Uber, Dolby and other companies had settled in. A wave of condominiums and apartments were newly opened or under construction. The location appeared to be a sure bet.
Construction was delayed for nearly 18 months, and by the time the quick-service Corridor Cafe opened in February and the more ambitious restaurant — named Corridor — opened in June, the pot seemed to have been filled with fool’s gold.
Cadence, an ambitious restaurant across the street from Uber headquarters, opened and closed within six months. The expansive Bon Marche Brasserie closed last month, and a few blocks away in Mint Plaza, Oro drew its last breath.
The Hi Neighbor team consists of Ryan Cole, chef Jason Halverson, Tai Ricci and Jason Kirmse. They also own Stones Throw, Fat Angel and Trestle, where diners get an amazing three-course dinner for $35. Cole lives five blocks away and conceived the restaurant as a place he’d like to see in his neighborhood. That type of personal connection almost always makes a difference.
While the Mid-Market situation looks shaky for some restaurants, Corridor should be on solid ground because the restaurant delivers on many levels: a unique service model where those in a hurry can order at the counter, and those wanting a more leisurely experience can make a reservation for full-table service. It also delivers a well-executed reinvention of American classics and a modern design by Abueg Morris. The restaurant exudes an urban feel with plate-glass windows that extend up more than 20 feet and overlook the now bustling intersection of Van Ness and Fell.
Corridor is a couple of blocks closer to the theater and performance venues than other Mid-Market restaurants, so it should benefit from nighttime activity in the area. In addition, the 100 Van Ness building now houses nearly 1,000 people — and Corridor may well become its cafeteria.
But that’s not a ding, because the food is so good, featuring popular items such as chicken and avocado Cobb salad ($15), a rich vegetable pot pie ($17), and intensely flavored French onion soup ($9) made with beef short ribs.
Another riff on comfort food includes meat loaf Wellington ($22). The fat roll is cut into three pieces and plated with tomato-braised green beans and crushed potatoes. Cheddar and chive monkey bread ($6) is also a successful reinvention, turning the traditionally sweet pull-apart rolls into a savory creation with a crackling top and a puffy interior, not unlike Parker House rolls.
Halverson, with the help of chef du cuisine Kevin Schantz, knows where to cut corners without impacting quality. Instead of a lobster roll they use shrimp ($16), and it’s just as good with the firm seafood tucked into a crisp brioche torpedo roll with avocado and Old Bay aioli.
The Shrimp Roll at Corridor in San Francisco, Calif. is seen on September 1st, 2016.
One of the most popular dishes at Trestle — garganelli Bolognese ($16), with a rich meat sauce embellished with burrata, basil and Calabrian chiles — translates perfectly to the new environs.
At times, they overreach. While I like the idea of the lasagna ($17) in a self-contained package, the layers of pasta were too thick and the combination lacked the gooey essence that distinguishes this dish. The chicken parm sandwich ($14) feels like a placeholder, and while the accompanying brocollini was the best part of the plate, it seemed out of character.
Failures are minor, however. A tomato and burrata salad ($13) is made with three kinds of heirloom tomatoes arranged on the oversize plate and interspersed with burrata, focaccia croutons and pistachio pesto. It tastes as good as it looks. Another successful starter is the flatbread ($12), warm pita-like wedges served with three spreads: crushed avocado, burrata with nicoise olives and smoked salmon. This is a particularly good start if you want to enjoy a glass of wine from the modest list that features nine by the glass offerings and nine by the bottle.
The pea risotto ($15) with maitake mushrooms and truffle butter would be right at home on the menu at the more upscale Stones Throw. Meatballs ($10) are smothered in tomato sauce with chunks of red sweet peppers, croutons and whole basil leaves wilted over the meaty-textured balls. Roast chicken ($19) comes coated in a garlic-infused sauce that pools on the plate, flavoring chunks of roasted potatoes and spicy, somewhat crunchy broccoli rabe.
Successful plays on classics continue at dessert ($8) with the cherry crostata topped with vanilla ice cream and particularly with the ’Nilla pudding tart with pastry cream, sliced banana and vanilla wafers made into butter.
While the food speaks of fine dining, the service successfully bridges fast casual and full table service, a reaction to increasing labor costs and the desire to keep prices reasonable. Cole was director of operations for Michael Mina and the service has a fine-dining sensibility.
In this economy all restaurants are trying to shave costs, and implementing the partial counter service saves at least one position, says Cole, and more importantly, speeds up service by 15 to 30 minutes. Allowing the restaurant to serve more people — assuming, of course, there are people who want to be served — saves time and that means money. Yet it’s not at the expense of the diner.
Footprints at the door, much like you’d see detailing dance steps, guide people to the counter to order. They’re given a number; from there, servers take over and it becomes a sit-down experience, including presenting the bill at the end. Those who want a more all-encompassing experience can make a reservation for one of the tables on the 32-seat mezzanine, which features the same food but with full table service.
The interior fully incorporates today’s trends — concrete floors and communal seating — but like the food and service it includes refinements such as a finished ceiling on the intimate mezzanine. While modern, the interior has a sense of place.
Sitting at one of the eight seats at the counter upstairs affords a bird’s-eye view of the growing vibrancy of the neighborhood, which is filled with Millennials who come into their high-rise apartments with packs on their backs and buds in their ears. Many emerge a few minutes later with a dog or two on a leash, dodging the Uber cars that are continually dropping off and picking up residents.
It’s an area that a few years ago was little more than a wind tunnel and now shows increasingly vigorous signs of life. Corridor is at the center of the action, and as the area grows, so should its popularity. All that shines may not be gold, but Corridor is the real deal.
100 Van Ness (at Fell), San Francisco; (415) 834-5684 or corridorsf.com. Open for lunch and dinner 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Friday and 3-10 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Beer and wine. 3% S.F. surcharge. Reservations and credit cards accepted. Difficult street parking.
Credit: Michael Bauer