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Nov 10, 2006 04:13 AM

Things to understand about Canteen

I've been seing chatter about this restaurant for so long and excited that we were finally able to visit this mid-week evening. I wasn't sure what to expect and felt that some explanation on this board would have been helpful. I should add that we went for dinner and I have yet to experience breakfast or lunch.

Canteen is a 19 seat diner style restaurant. 2 booths of 2, 2 of 4
and 7 seats at the bar. That's larger groups, no squeezing in, no upgrades from the counter to table. There's just very little wiggle room. If you are looking for an intimate dining experience, choose another spot. This is a breakfast/lunch place turned dinner house with excellently prepared food but not much atmosphere for the $$.

They have 3 seatings per night. 6, 8 and 10. I saw many a diner come to the door mid-seating only to be sadly but politely turned away.

There are only 5 staffers.....2 Chef's, 2 waitstaff, 1 dishwasher.......they all work their butts off!! Efficient and courteous. They know their menu well.It was amazing watching them go through the cycle of a meal (from apps to deserts)for the whole room knowing that they have to start it all over again in a 1/2 hour.

The menu is small and changes daily so it's hard to categorize the offerings. I wondered why there were not listings of "had to have" entrees on this board. They obviously go with what's seasonal and fresh and what suits their fancy for the evening. There were 4 apps (including 1 soup and 1 salad), 4 entrees ( 1 vegi, 1 fish, 1 veal and 1 duck), and 4 deserts (1 souffle, 1 fruit based, 1 choc. and 1 cheescake).I have no idea if this is the norm but it seemed that it was planned to be well rounded. There is a chance, however, since the menu is so small, that you could come on a particular evening and not find something that suits your fancy.

We chose to try many things on the menu to share......something we like to do most evenings to experience the menu without getting too much food. From soup to nuts the food was well displayed and prepared. We sat at the counter with a menu in front of us to make sure we knew what each dish being prepared was. Every ingredient was "prep-ed" immediately before compiling the dish. Everything was fresh and colorful. We enjoyed watching the chefs do their "ballet" in their very tight space.

This was an excellent, fun and quick dining experience but if we had wanted more of an "evening out", it would not qualify. I can't wait to try it out again to see how he handles different menus.

I'm so glad for Chowhound or we never would have known about this quiet little gem.

PS Where's the best place to park in the area?? Yikes!

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  1. so say we miss a seating do we:
    a. wait 2 hours for the next seating
    b. go to _________ ?
    c. curse and beg?

    1. No... d.) Plan ahead and make a reservation.

      1. Architecturally, Canteen is a hotel coffee shop.

        Your post makes it sound like people are being rushed in and out in half an hour. The dinners I've had there have been leisurely three- or four-course affairs, like anyplace else in that price range. Despite the eccentric environment, it's actually a pretty intimate-feeling place if you're in one of the booths.

        The place's future is somewhat uncertain since the hotel's been sold to the Academy of Art for student housing.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          I guess I did feel a bit rushed but the idea had not occurred to me until I read your response. I wrote the review within an hour after the meal and I guess impressions i didn't realize I had came through.

          When we sat down, my husband's first impression was that he felt like we were in Bubba's Diner in San Anselmo. The counter and "quilted" stainless steel walls reminded me of the east coast Diner atmopshere.

          I did say that the next seating would begin in a half an hour indicating that our time there was 1 1/2 hours which I guess is pretty average.

          We ordered a soup, a salad, an appetizer, an entree and a desert to share. They were served as a 3 course meal instead of 4 which would have stretched the meal out. The waitstaff was incredibly efficient and polite when we had their attention but we did feel the need to "flag them down" when we needed something even though we were sitting right in front of them. Maybe their sense of "speed" gave us a rushed impression too???

          The wine list was small but we did enjoy our choice. They did not have sparkling water nor decaf esspresso which would have encouraged us to linger longer.

          We definitely enjoyed our visit and hopefully gave that impression but I believe most negative reviews on this board were from people who were expecting a different type of dining exerience. I thought it would help for people to have a better idea what it is.

          I hope we will have the opportunity to go to Canteen or another incarnation of a Dennis Leary restaurant again. He definitely has talent.

        2. Rumor is that they will be closing :(

          4 Replies
          1. re: Lori SF

            That would suck - Sebby & I went to Canteen this (late) morning for brunch for the first time, and we both agreed it was excellent. Her bene was everything a bene should be - airy, ever so slightly lemon'y, and very velvety (read: buttery), with toothy, smoky, and thicker than average ham.

            My dish, whose name I forget, was an inventive and delectable concoction of rice, eggs, smoked fish, curry, and raisins - wow! I want this dish every weekend morning! I've no idea if it was a chef's creation or something I just haven't heard of (the name was vaguely British Isles).

            Good coffee, hardly any wait, busy, but attentive service - there's really nothing I would change about this place, except that I can't walk there.

            1. re: adampaul

              Was your breakfast dish called kedgeree (or some variant thereof)? Kedgeree is an Anglo-Indian dish with similar ingredients.

              1. re: coriander

                Yep, that's the one - thanks for matching the name to the taste! I've never seen it on a menu before, but it sure was good.

                1. re: adampaul

                  You're welcome. Most of the ingredients you list are part of that -- the main being eggs, fish and rice, all flavored with curry -- but I've never heard of raisins in one, so that's probably Canteen's innovation.

          2. Finally made it to Canteen last night. I was not that impressed with the food. They run a tight ship and are very streamline in their approach, but the food was average.