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Dinner at Canteen

Tonight, I finally found a time when Canteen (817 Sutter Street near Jones) had free seats for my girlfriend and me. I had somehow thought that the place was so small it didn't take reservations. It took an aborted attempt to find out that it does! (Cade, lead waiter tonight, told me that the 7:30pm seating is usually reserved two weeks in advance. The other two seatings are at 6:00pm and 9:15pm.)

Wow! We had (and we just had to share) Sweet Corn Soup with spicy prawns; #1 Tuna marinated in lemon, with cucumbers, dill, and horseradish; Porcini Mushroom Fricasee with smoked onion orzo and pea puree; Lamb Shoulder Confit with chickpeas, apricots, and dried tomato. Desert: Peach Cake with verbena ice cream and Indian Pudding (an old N.E. recipe). Cade, the lead waiter, served us different glasses of wine with each course, based on what we ordered. His ability to match wines is really outstanding: For instance, he matched the Muscat (I think the Allimant-Laugner 2004) with the Sweet Corn Soup and it was perfect. GoingOutAgain found the mushroom fricasee too subtle (i.e. not tasty enough), but I thought it was smashing, particularly the combination of the pea puree and the mushrooms, although the orzo was neutral. The lamb was just plain outstanding. And the peach cake was delicious, enhanced by that ice cream.

Dennis Leary, the famous chef, pretty much stuck to the kitchen, which everyone can see but can also be watched by everyone at the counter.

We'll be regulars if we can figure out how to schedule ourselves in. It's clear that there are regulars, including one lady of advanced years who had to count out her pennies in payment but who also clearly enjoyed the lamb dish. The wait staff treated everyone exactly the same: friendly and attentive.

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  1. Are they still serving those amazing butter brioche rolls for dinner? How good were they?

    Try it for brunch too. What's amazing is that Chef Leary is there bright and early the next day also.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Porthos

      I went to Canteen for the first time last week and the rolls were outstanding. They are probably the butter brioche rolls as that would be a good description for them I think! I asked for seconds on the rolls as I finished it before I could use it to sop up my entree juices.

      1. re: Porthos

        Thanks for reminding us! Those butter brioche rolls: I did nearly the same thing as Celeste, finished them before the starters came and really wanted to order seconds, but didn't want to fill up first....

        1. re: StewartsDinDin

          I hesitated to ask for seconds because I was afraid there wasn't enough for everyone. They bake that treasure one tray at a time. The second the last person was served though, I asked for another. I could have a meal out of those brioche rolls alone...if the spring pea soup and halibut I had that night weren't so stunningly good also.

          1. re: StewartsDinDin

            Indeed, I have no idea about the desserts at Canteen as I was too stuffed after my starter and entree. And double bread portion. I didn't realize that maybe I was stealing bread from the next seating though. whoops!

            The fresh corn soup with shrimp on top was, by the way, amazing. Simple yet unforgettable!

        2. Cade ... thanks for mentioning him. He worked at Bizou for years, but I rarely sat at a table, so he was one of the waiters I knew the least and I was always embarrassed I would forget his name. He's just excellent. Very professional and knows how to pair food with wine.

          Do they take walk-ins anymore or is it just by reservation?

          1 Reply
          1. re: rworange

            They do not have a policy against walk-ins, so in that sense they take them. However, with only 4 booths and I think 5 seats at the counter, they fill up quickly with reservations.

          2. Thanks for the report. We're going later this month. Does anyone know..for saturday night is it a select or prix-fixed dinner?

            6 Replies
            1. re: berkeleypie

              It's never a prix-fixe except on select nights (e.g., NYE, Whole Hog, Salmon Dinner).

              There will be four or so choices in each the app, entree and dessert categories.

              1. re: answerman

                I don't think that has always been the case. I gave up the only reservation I ever had there because I was told on that day of the week a fixed menu was served, and I had a very picky dining companion.

                1. re: Chris Rising

                  If that happened soon after it opened, perhaps.

                  I've been going for about 1 1/2 years now and stick by what I said.

                  1. re: Chris Rising

                    For a while, Wednesday nights were prix-fixe dinners. Evidently, it's history?

                    here's a quote, "The night I'm at Canteen, Leary is hosting a prix-fixe dinner, a monthly event aimed at his regulars that's a remarkable bargain at $50."

                    1. re: Cynsa

                      Yeah, this was definitely the case when I went there back in June 2009. Too bad, I was hoping to make it there for the prix fix when I return later this month.

                      Wait...I totally didn't read the dates of the post that I was responding to. Does anyone know if they still do a prix fix menu one day a week? Thanks!

                      1. re: ziggles

                        They do. Just call and leave your # and they'll call you back with the details.

              2. The rolls are amazing. Never having been there before, I don't know if these are the butter brioche ones, but I am not capable of imagining a better predecessor!

                1. Glad to hear other people had a good time there--I was utterly unimpressed with everything except for the brioche rolls. My coq au vin was bland, my mashed potatoes were grainy. Very disappointing!

                  The service was terrific, though.

                  1. I, too, enjoyed my virgin experience at Canteen. We sat at the counter, on a special Tuesday Prix Fixe night. we loved our meal. i liken the quality of the ingredients, the care in preparation, and the inventiveness of each dish to someplace like Gary Danko or Rubicon (well duh, that's were Leary came from,) but in a relaxed, homey setting.

                    we started out with the buttery soft rolls, which were served warm even though the server had to serve everyone their wine before she could gt to them. then we were served an amuse-bouche of a patty pan squash stuffed with gorgonzola, dressed with a pomegranate gastrique and pumpkin seed oil. The squash was a bit bitter to me, but all-in-all a nice little starter.

                    First course was a creamy and very fresh tasting cold spinach soup - you could taste the grassiness of the spinach, and the soup the had a creamy texture but without any cream at all - except for a dollop of on top - which was imbued with essence of oyster. this dish was a standout.

                    Next was a sweetbreads course. This was my first experience, and i'd heard they taste like chicken. they did, but were softer, more tender, and meaty, with sauteed fuji apples, very crackly pork cracklings, and some type of tart dressing. The whole dish was a nice balance of tastes and textures.

                    Then came a refresher - a tall shot glass of fresh peach bellini with sparkling wine. A bit warm to be really refreshing, but it was still good.

                    I'm missing a course here, because it was a five-course meal, and i lost my copy of the menu, but what I remember next is the salmon - a filet poached in olive oil. I normally don't order salmon anymore - i don't hate it but it's not my favorite - just lost my taste for it. But the filet was very tender, delicate and moist, and its usual strong flavor was cut by the tomato water it was bathed in. First time experiencing that too, which i'm told is the juice from tomatoes strained through filters for 24 hours, resulting in a clear, intensely tomato-flavored liquid. The essence of tomato. It went really well with the salmon - provided a nice clean tangy counterpoint to the richness of the salmon. There were also other tomatoes strewn around the dish, and a creamy, fresh-corn pudding.

                    Dessert was a dense fig cake, layered with dried figs, topped with whipped cream. excellent.

                    i tried a Rose, a beautiful pale salmon-colored French wine. Very nice, dry, dry, dry, crisp. Then I saw that they had a split of one of my favorite reds, a Provence region wine called Mas de Gourgonnier, Baux de Provence, comprised mostly of cab sauv, grenache and syrah. had some of that.

                    i will definitely go back again.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: mariacarmen

                      Great post! Perhaps you've had tomato water in Mexican mariscos cocteles?

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Ack, i was going down memory lane and checking out my early forays on CH (inspired by Veggo's recent post on Site Talk asking if CH made you a better person) and saw your comment, Melanie, THREE YEARS LATER. I always assumed those cocteles were made with tomato juice watered down with clam juice or something - tomato juice as in that thicker pureed stuff from a can... what I had at Canteen was nothing like that, first of all, it was completely clear, but since a coctel has so many other ingredients, i guess it could have been that, disguised.....

                        1. re: mariacarmen

                          To wander further down memory lane to a dinner at a friend's home more than a dozen years ago . . . she had made shrimp cocktails using a recipe she got from Thomas Keller after enjoying it at the French Laundry. Keller said his inspiration was the Mexican cocteles. Here's an LA Times article from 2001 with Keller's recipe for tomato water and the shrimp cocktail.

                          While I don't doubt that some might take short cuts and use diluted tomato juice, the two Sinaloan-owned mariscos trucks I frequent in Salinas do not.

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            very interesting - next dinner party! thanks for that.