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Jul 8, 2006 10:31 PM

The House in San Francisco

Friday's family dinner was a return to The House in North Beach. As always, we left content and sated by the high quality technique, vibrant flavors, fanciful mosaic-like plates of "tall" food, and good value here.

To start, the six of us shared four appetizers, the only weak spots in a dinner of many strengths. The fried calamari was way overcooked and tough, but it disappeared before it occurred to me to send it back. The asparagus salad was a bit skimpy, but delicious nonetheless, and we split down the middle on whether it was undercooked or just right. The kitchen's best talents were demonstrated in a wonderful grilled fresh fig salad, a mix of mizuna and other salad greens with six halves of sweet, squishy, delicately charred and carmelized black Mission figs. Even better was the seared dayboat scallops appetizer. Described by our server as spicy ponzu sauce, Stephanie found the emulsified citrusy saucing more akin to a beurre blanc styling made with olive oil. This was my mom's first experience to microgreens and she tracked down every last whisp of greenery swabbed in the sauce.

For my sister and brother, I recommended the black cod special draped with Dungeness crab and avocado sushi rolls. They were ga-ga over the perfect doneness of the thick filet of sable, deft searing and the crispy skin. Dad had the braised Niman ranch pork shoulder topped with foie gras, a gilding of the lily if there ever was. Gorgeous crusting, fatty and fork-tender pork, a model for succulence. My father loved the warmly spicy, garlicky, and slightly sweet juices with side of nori rice and Napa cabbage, mixing them together on his plate. Larry pronounced his rib eye and our whole dinner very good with the exception that the vegetables were all on the hard, undercooked side. Mom repeated the rare flatiron steak with wasabi noodles and spicy slaw she had enjoyed so much her previous visit. At $17, that dish is the best bang for the buck on the menu, and even with sharing her serving around the table, we still had steak to take home. I had the fried chicken liver salad and a bit off of everyone's large portioned plates. The creamy-textured and crisp-crusted livers had a garlicky soy marinade like Chinese fried chicken (think kara-age) and were very fresh tasting. The greens were somewhat underseasoned, yet made a good foil for the other assertive flavors around the table.

For dessert, we tried the blueberry bread pudding, mango tapioca, and Scharffen Berger chocolate truffle cake. We found the bread pudding a bit bland. The tapioca had a wonderful creamy texture and fat beads, but would have liked more mango than just the patterned dollop on top. Our universal favorite was the chocolate cake for the deep fudgey texture and the crunchy praline bits.

We enjoyed the 1999 Sanford "Barrel Select, Sanford & Benedict Vineyard" Santa Barbara Pinot Noir from my cellar. Total for five appetizers/salads, five entrees, three desserts, and mandatory service charge for our party size was $235. There was no charge for corkage.

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  1. Thanks for the post Melanie. This place has been on my to go list for at least 8 months now, but with school and low finances I just haven't found time. I hope to get there soon. Does their menu change, or is it fairly stagnant with accents of what is in season?

    Plus, what is your all time favorite dish there?


    1 Reply
    1. re: Jeni Bean

      The menu is quite large with a core stable of dishes. Even the specials recycle depending on availability of prime seafood or seasonal produce, yet the food concepts still stay fresh for me. I'd have to say that the seared fish filet, sometimes hamachi, black cod or other oily fish, topped with the California sushi rolls is probably at the top of my list. Yet, the braised pork shoulder was phenomenal in its own way. They're both priced at around $24. Dinner portions are large.

      You might want to try it at lunch time, when the menu has some lunch-only dishes and lower prices. I haven't been for lunch yet myself but am definitely going to try that strategy to afford a meal at The House more often. It's open for lunch Mon-Sat.

    2. I share your opinion of the restaurant. It's been one of the best finds. The value to cost ratio is high. I had the black cod without the sushi roll. It was just fabulous. Moist throughout, the flavor was perfect not too salty with a slight sweetness to the meat.

      The mango sauce covered creme brulee is a must.

      1 Reply
      1. re: bluecheesewiz

        One of the things we like about it is that the chef's touch hews to our Chinese tastes for less cooked meat and seafood. The steaks are as rare as we like and the fish is so moist and barely cooked through. My brother commented that the kitchen does very well with seared/grilled preps with even charring, nice smokiness, and crisp carmelization. And, I appreciate that the dishes aren't oversweetened and oversoy-sauced like too much "confusion" food out there.

      2. I, too, love The House, which I initially learned about on Chowhound. It's our go-to place for birthdays and the last couple Valentine's Days even though it's not the most romantic place. We just love the sea bass in a miso soy glaze so much. In fact, I'm embarassed to say I haven't ordered anything else. I've been determined the last couple months to get the cod the next time I go, because I've heard such good things about it here - particularly from Melanie.

        I have been disappointed by the desserts the two times I've ordered them. But being in North Beach there are a lot of other dessert options.

        4 Replies
        1. re: katya

          First off, do you love sable/gindara/black cod? If you do, this is one of the great versions. However, recently I was shocked to hear from a couple friends that they didn't like sable (not The House's version), preferring firmer swordfish or halibut-like fish rather than soft and luscious Chilean seabass-like textures.

          For dessert, step across the street to have coffee and tiramisu at the Steps of Rome. Guess I should make a separate post about that.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Actually, I don't think I've ever had black cod. Most of my cod experiences were with my dad's beer-battered cod growing up. Hopefully they're quite different. ;) Is black cod an acquired taste? How is it different?

            I've had Steps of Rome's amazing tiramisu some time ago. Thanks for reminding me to have it again!

            1. re: katya

              Black cod aka sable or gindara aka butterfish is a much oilier fish than true cod. It is even richer than chilean sea bass. You may be more familiar with it as smoked sable of Jewish deli counters. Or try it as miso-marinated and grilled at a Japanese restaurant. My friends who didn't like it described it as slimy when they enountered it grilled somewhere else. I also got the sense that they associate a less than hard and firm texture with being uncooked, and as sashimi-averse eaters, that was too much for them to handle.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Thanks for the information, Melanie! I admit I have never tried black cod before in any of its forms. I will have to try it. :)

        2. i just ate there tonite - and it was absolutely fabulous!

          i had their special entree - seared lamb chops w. Korean five spice and red pepper coulis on mashed potatoes with sauteed greens. Absolutely amazing, i orded them rare and they were juicy and succulent. The mashed potatoes were rustic-ly smashed and divine.

          their flat-iron steak on house-made wasabi noodles is their signature dish - and with great reason, because its wonderful! My brother in law ordered that, and it was perfect.

          My only slight complaint was regarding my appetizer of a cesar salad w. crispy scallops. Although the cesar was good and straightforward - the "crispy scallops" tasted nothing like scallops, and instead of undersalted puffed rice. Didn't add anything to the dish itself, and i ate around them.

          For dessert we shared the bread pudding w. chocolate espresso sauce a la mode, which was wonderful, although it was quite small. Usually the portions for bread puddings are much larger.

          All in all the dinner was wonderful, and its certainly one of my favorites in the whole city!

          1 Reply
          1. re: chefinthecity

            Thanks for the timely report! I'm trying to get my head around what crispy scallops might be. Seems weird to me as the tender texture of scallops is one of its best features, why mess with it?

          2. We're going this weekend ... can't wait. Any ideas for a nearby watering hole to meet up with our friends beforehand?

            1 Reply
            1. re: djh

              For pre-dinner drinks in that area, I've always been partial to Romolo. Funky vibe, quality drinks at decent prices, and it's tucked away just around the block from The House.