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Sentinel - First look

Dennis Leary, will you be my new platonic boyfriend?

Read the post on Eater http://sf.eater.com/archives/2008/05/... and headed up there for lunch. As advertised, one lunch item - today it's smoked salmon sandwich and corn soup. The soup was light and embraced its corn-ness. The sandwich was $7 and not huge which is fine by me. Nova salmon with cucumber (or something else?) on a nice crumbly roll, but way too much mayo - wait, that's not mayo, it's horseradish creme. Still, too much. He's whipping up some chocolate mousse for later which is perfect. Who doesn't need a mid-afternoon dessert run?

My fear is it will become crowded in short order although it's an easy-to-miss location, much like the coffee/pizza joint previously there. He's greeting and talking to everyone and asking what they would pay for lunch - nothing like feeling out the crowd by asking.

The Sentinel
55 New Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA 94105

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  1. And the place (you think I would learn)

    The Sentinel
    55 New Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA 94105

    2 Replies
    1. re: 5 and Dime Eater

      Dennis -
      We need to talk about the mayo. It's delicious mayo, but too much makes all the contents of the Avocado, Lettuce, Tomato, and Basil (with fennel I noticed) slide around and leap onto my desk. Yummy, but messy, and love the homemade bread.

      I would however like to order 10 gallons of corn soup so I can bathe in it. Slightly creamy, sweet, tasty, summery.

    2. Thank you so much for reporting! As a big Canteen fan, I have been awaiting the opening of The Sentinel. I didn't get a chance to stop in today, but I know the corn soup is excellent and if you get the chance to try the coffee cake, you must - out of this world! The chai is also housemade and quite delicious.

      1. I'll check out the coffee cake in the AM - it's on my way to work ...

        3 Replies
        1. re: 5 and Dime Eater

          If it's the same coffee cake thatI had a few weeks ago when I had breakfast at Canteen, you are in for a treat. I've been trying to replicate the buttery goodness of that coffee cake at home ever since.

          1. re: JasmineG

            Alas, none today, maybe later he said. And I overheard some office guy down the street was complaining that the coffee cake was $3 as in "I bought coffee cake there yesterday for $3!"

            Will be interesting to see if the higher-end treats will fly with the office joes. Works for me just fine.

            1. re: 5 and Dime Eater

              Sorry you weren't able to get coffee cake today. It is worth the $3! Unfortunately it is only on the menu at Canteen about once a month or so, if that. Hopefully it will appear more regularly at The Sentinel.

        2. Went by this morning to check it out. When I walked in Dennis was by himself making a drink order, but openly talking about the business with the customers inside. I ordered a blueberry muffin ($2.50) that was good, though I guess I've had better muffins. Am interested to try their Chai, and am eagerly awaiting savory breakfast fare. When asked, Dennis guessed that in 2+ weeks he'd be able to offer more food once he figures things out.

          1. Man, is that place not easy to spot. For ease of reference, it is on the corner right next to House of Shields. Alas, I got there just as it was closing. Tiny, tiny place. They said they would be getting signs soon. Theycurrently close about 2pm but said that they would probably be open to 3 or 4 in the future.

            3 Replies
            1. re: rworange

              Doesn't sound like they need signs.

              1. re: rworange

                "The Sentinel" is displayed very prominently on the awnings. From the sidewalk, the old cigar signs above the door make a good landmark. It looks like he may go for an old cigar store motif indoors as well. Hmm, a cafe that was once a cigar store. Dennis's Bohemian Cigar Store?

                1. re: Xiao Yang

                  the awnings went up last week. now there's a damn line.

              2. Went yesterday and today, both around 8 am.

                Chai: fantastic. Sweet but not too, with peppery spicing. Easily my new standard for Chai.

                Hot chocolate: good. The chocolate-to-milk ratio is nice and high, but the Valrhona chocolate they use is a lower cocoa percentage than I prefer. I like hot chocolate more bitter, and it could use a pinch of salt. Not quite as good as Cocoa Bella or Christopher Elbow, but ahead of Madeleine.

                Coffee cake: very good. Moist, not too sweet, and tangy. I think he uses ricotta for the tang and the creaminess.

                Portions are very generous. The hot chocolate and chai come in a single size -- guessing it's 18 or 20 oz. Coffee cake must have been a 4x4 inch square. I wonder if such large portions are a marketing error since high quality (which everything clearly is) is usually associated with and signaled by smaller portions.

                4 Replies
                1. re: david kaplan

                  So glad you liked the chai! I had no idea chai was that great until I had it at Canteen.

                  Their portion of coffee cake at Canteen is usually generous, so I don't think that was an error. Did he serve the coffee cake with a dollop of butter on top?

                  1. re: meggie t

                    Thankfully not. The coffee cake way exceeded my 8 am dairy fat tolerance as it was. He cut a hunk off from a pan, still warm, and put it in a waxed paper bag. Since the business is entirely to-go, I don't see how he could manage to package a butter dollop even if you wanted one.

                    1. re: david kaplan

                      Makes sense. I am sure it is delicious without it, but that butter pushes it over the top!

                      1. re: meggie t

                        When I had the coffee cake at Canteen, we got it in a to go box (because we were already stuffed but the coffee cake looked so good that we couldn't pass it up), and when we opened the box later, that little dollop of butter was on top. Delicious.

                2. They have broadened the offering at lunch: in addition to soup (potato leek with horseradish cream, ok but not great) two sandwiches (the mentioned smoked salmon on brioche -- wonderful) and roast pork with carmelized onions, plus an entree-sized salad that I forgot to write down but had apples in it.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: goingoutagain

                    Another strong vote for the chai from me. The peppery after taste hits the spot.

                    They have porcini mushroom soup and the above sandwiches as well as a chicken salad for lunch today.

                    1. re: osho

                      Are the sandwiches on brioche? Dennis was saying that he was trying to perfect a new batch of brioche, and I'm eager to try it.

                      1. re: david kaplan

                        I know the salmon is on brioche, not sure about the one with pork.

                        1. re: osho

                          The pork sandwich with grilled onions and gruyere is on ciabatta - the bread was fantastic!

                          The chicken salad came with a brioche bun. Excellent as always (both the salad and the brioche).

                          1. re: meggie t

                            Cheers for the update, meggie_t. The menu changes every day, and I've got their number so I can call and ask what's for lunch tomorrow.

                            1. re: meggie t

                              I was very disappointed in the chicken salad. Just hunks of chicken. Didn't come together at all. I will do a "Five Easy Pieces" next time and tell them to hold the chicken salad, just give me the brioche.

                          2. re: david kaplan

                            he's been mixing up the bread options, sometimes it looks non-homemade. be warned, everything is gone by 1 it seems.

                      2. Coffee geeks will want to know that The Sentinel plans to offer Four Barrel Coffee as soon as same exists, according to The Tablehopper.

                        1. Stopped by today and chatted with Dennis, he really likes small restaurants, was commenting how large restaurants don't make money and that's why he likes small spaces .... :-) Today I had the pork lunch and a cup of Chai, definitely will return. As previously discussed there are no chairs there, just take out.

                          The previous owner of the space had managed to secure an outdoor seating permit for 4 seats, so it is possible to get outdoor seating if Dennis chooses to.

                          Attache are some quick snapshots of the place and my lunch.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: kleungsf

                            I went by today for lunch. The menu today is chilled pea soup ($5.00), hot corned beef sandwich, smoked salmon sandwich with horseradish cream, watercress and green tomatoes ($8.00), and Tuna Tartare ($11.00). The smoked salmon sandwhich was very good and accompanied by a pickle. No dessert though... I guess you only get dessert with the special (Tuna today). I got there at 11:30 and they said they were just opening for lunch. A bit disorganized but great food. I guess they're trying to work out the kinks.

                            1. re: SanMateoFoodie

                              Not much else to add, except that I stopped by yesterday morning, and sauntered to work with tiny little clouds of air under my feet, having the most delicious chai (what an amazing spice combination) and warm coffee cake ever in my grasps.

                              Funny enough, before I left, some very unaware guy walked up with his girlfriend and small Boston Terrier-type dog. The guy stares at the small menu and says to Chef Leary, "I want to take some baked goods to my office. What do you recommend?" To which the chef looks at those three items in front of him and deadpanly (is that a word?) replies, "The brioche, the muffins, and the coffee cake. But I really, really like the brioche." I bet random guy ended up with a nice assortment (duh!) of breakfast items and very happy coworkers. And next time I guess I'll have to try the brioche.

                              My only qualm is with lunch. I wish Sentinel regularly served a non-soup veggie option!

                          2. corned beef sandwich with gruyere and cabbage on ciabatta.

                            amazing. perfect sized, with a good pickle included. i keep wanting to try the salmon sandwich but i can't pull myself away from the corned beef. looking forward to pastrami.

                            coffee earlier this week plus shared the coffee cake. nice and buttery.

                            excellent place.

                            1. The lunch special today is braised pork shoulder with apricot, a side of cucumber salad, and fresh strawberries with cream. Really good stuff - worth the wait in line, or going early.

                              1. today's menu had a vegetarian soup, corned beef sandwich, smoked salmon sandwich (my coworker replied that it's "delicous"), and bbq pork special with apricots. i asked about a veggie sandwich option, and the woman behind the counter said they have an avocado salad on brioche "when available." they were out of it this afternoon (around 1pm). but my soup was perfect- clean flavors with plump gray mushrooms and other veggies.

                                1. OK, i had the pastrami and sweet corn soup (split) yesterday.

                                  next time, you have to pry that soup from my hands, it was amazing.

                                  1. I'm late on this as I've been out of the office for awhile, but I've been twice this week so far and it is great.

                                    Today's menu when I got in line was a hot corned beef rueben with gruyere, russian dressing and cabbage (gone by the time I reached the order point), chicken salad with raisins, capers and mustard, and avocado, lettuce & tomato. I had the chicken salad and while I dislike capers, it was delicious. The bread (soft, flaky, buttery) is truly fantastic. And those pickles...so good. Monday all choices were still available at around 1:20, but today was much busier.

                                    Puts all other nearby sandwich places to shame.

                                    1. OMG, how did I miss this place until now. I'm halfway through the sweet corn soup and a reuben and I'm in heavan. The soup is silky, smooth and bursting with flavor. The reuben is a reuben, but more. Hard to describe, there's just an extra layer of flavor in there that stays with you after each bite. Delicious. Pricey, but worth it.

                                      Had to post, but now I've got to go back and finish my lunch. Keep this under your hat. If you start spreading the word, the lines will only get longer.

                                      7 Replies
                                      1. re: djh

                                        I had the corn soup last week and did not care for it. WAAAAY too sweet for my taste, and too rich with cream and butter.

                                        However, I did have a chicken salad sandwich that was delicious. Very liberal with the mayonnaise though, but some subtle fresh parsley, and the occasional white raisin. Excellent roll. Comes with house-made bread and butter pickles with shreds of onion, and a bit of a bite.

                                        I was also not blown away by a cocoa chip cookie ($2.50) which lacked the depth of chocolate flavor I crave.

                                        1. re: lmarie

                                          I concur on the cocoa chip cookie. A little disappointed for a $2.50 cookie. I think next time I'd swing by Specialty's and get a cookie from there instead (for less)

                                          1. re: shellshock24

                                            Mmmmmm... That was one tasty corned beef sammich. With gruyere and cabbage/slaw. Despite some other reviewers being disappointed with the portion size, I was quite full after that hefty hot beef injection. Although the bottom slice of rye did get a bit waterlogged from the cabbage, and it turned into a bit of a mess towards the end, it was still a damn fine sammy. I'll definitely be back for more.

                                        2. re: djh

                                          Hint: you can stop by before the lunch rush, say at your mid-morning break, order and pay, and your food will be ready for pick up at the time of your choosing. Then you just step up the counter and ask for it, no waiting.

                                          That's what I did on Monday and my sandwich was ready at noon, as ordered. I tried the Reuben. It's a good sandwich, but I missed the tangy counterpoint that sauerkraut adds. The thick cut slaw would have benefited from more acidity in the balance.

                                          I crossed Market St. and took a seat on the steps to have my lunch. The sandwich was plenty warm.

                                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                                            Great tip; I'd like to know how early I can do that (i.e., can I stop by to order on my way to work around 8:30 am?). Also, how did the bread stand up to the insides after sitting? I had a rare roast beef sandwich a couple of weeks ago and it was very good, but the bread had absorbed much of the juice from the beef within minutes after pick-up.

                                            1. re: Frosty Melon

                                              I was there around 11am and ordered my sandwich for pick-up after my appointment nearby. The lady cashier wrote my name, pick-up time and order on a colored post-it and gave me a receipt. Not sure of this, but I don't think the receipt was noted for later pick-up. If that is the case and you're partly relying on the staff to remember you, maybe you don't want to order too much in advance. Maybe someone else has tried this.

                                              When I picked up my sandwich, I opened the box to check to see that it was hot before stepping away from the counter. It was indeed hot and fresh. Otherwise, I would have had it regrilled to heat it.

                                              Sogginess wasn't much of an issue since the Reuben is buttered and grilled and the inside of the bread is coated with Russian dressing and cheese. There is a little steaming of the bottom bread just from the moisture released by the heat. A tip that I learned from my brother for hot sandwiches is to turn them over immediately as soon as you get your plate. This makes a huge difference for big NY deli type sandwiches which are just hot sliced meat piled on plain bread with no condiments. It stops the condensation of steam on the lower slice of bread and any juices will start to flow in the other direction back into the meat. Your bread will be much less soggy.

                                              1. re: Frosty Melon

                                                You can indeed order your lunch early when you pick up your pastries.

                                          2. Looks like Sentinel's daily lunch menu is online now:


                                            1. Stopped by the Sentinel yesterday morning for a sugary breakfast - the sour cherry muffin was one of the best things I have eaten in a while. Very dense without being dry at all and a lovely slightly crunchy top. Yum. Much better than their coffeecake IMHO.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: lexvegas

                                                What time do you stop by for breakfast? Whenever I pass by at around 7:50 or so there is little or nothing going on inside.

                                                1. re: Frosty Melon

                                                  There isn't much activity in the morning but they're there. They make coffee and two or three types of pastries. Today it was blueberry muffins and coffee cake.

                                                  1. re: junesix

                                                    If only I worked in the city..........

                                              2. Just sitting here eating my sentinel egg salad sandwich and I feel compelled to join the chorus of mayonnaise comments: They REALLY love their mayonnaise at Sentinel, which for a mayonnaise lover like myself is ok, but all of you mayonnaise haters out there, take heed.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: balabanian

                                                  I was there recently for the first time and noticed on the menu that it specifically warns at the bottom that they use mayonnaise so they tell people to tell them ahead of time and they'll accommodate. I had a smoked trout sandwich that was good with fennel and apple, but the trout was lost in the plenty horseradish sauce. (I don't know what kind of bread he uses, but it was kind of tough to eat too, which meant the ingredients can sometimes squirt out. If you check my photos in the link, maybe you can tell what kind of bun it is.)


                                                2. I just am adding my voice to many who love the Sentinel. I've had a few delicious sandwiches there, but I'm still thinking about the roast beef sandwich that I had on Friday. Perfect medium rare beef, delicious horseradishy cream cheese, but oh man, the bread. It was a warm, tender, eggy roll, with some crunchy sea salt on top, and wow, it was just great. Thank goodness The Sentinel is at least a 15 minute walk from my office, or I'd be there every day.