Outerlands on Judah SF
Has anyone been to the recently opened Outerlands Cafe on Judah in San Francisco's Sunset District? Any comments to share?
4001 Judah St, San Francisco, CA 94122
I went today. I only went for lunch and there were only two of us, so I can't comment on a lot of the menu items.
OK, so you have to seriously like food to go here, because the menu is truly weird. If you want to come to dinner and expect to find a fish dish, a meat dish, a poultry dish, and a vegetarian dish, you will be sorely disappointed. The dinner menu, which I took home with me, has four salads, two soups, three vegetable dishes and macaroni and cheese. There is probably a special every night, one of the two guys there, I assume co-owners (?), told me they would have some sort of lamb stew tonight also.
For lunch, there were four or five dishes. I don't know exactly because you had to go outside and read the lunch menu on the door. Like I said, you have to seriously like food, and I will expand on that. There were two soups, a salad or two, and a pastrami sandwich. Hidden in the description of one of the soups was a grilled cheese sandwich - it wasn't listed separately, but it seemed like a lot of diners ordered it. More on the grilled cheese later.
So the ambience reminds me of San Francisco when I first visited at the tail end of the hippie era. I was pretty young, but I do remember the open feeling of the places I ate, with a lot of wood, comfortable but unassuming tables, big windows that open. The kitchen is open and along one wall. The chairs were surprisingly comfortable - I injured my hip over the weekend and my seat was all wood yet didn't bother me like most chairs have since the injury. The two workers were twenty somethings (the cook is friends with the people that cook at the Broken Record) and very accommodating. The patrons were mixed age-wise, probably a reflection of most places in the Sunset. In fact, it reminded me of a food version of Trouble Coffee in terms of the crowd. You go to the counter to order (not sure if this is true at dinner) but they bring your food.
OK, so on to the food. Well there were only two of us, and my friend asked for the grilled cheese, which I had with the potato leek soup. I'm not a big soup eater, but I figured I would try it and I'm glad I did. It was sublime. I took the +$2 for the grilled cheese, which is not grilled cheese, it is a great melted cheese sandwich. I don't know what to say about the soup, it was just something you kept eating until you were scraping out the bowl with your spoon. The menu says it has garlic oil, herbed bread crumbs, and levain. I don't really get the levain part, I always thought levain was yeast, maybe they added it, I don't know, it was just great.
On to the grilled cheese. Very thick fresh bread, just like Trouble serves for their toast although not the same bread from what I tasted. It's put in the oven with cheese on it, it looks like the outside was buttered and maybe toasted on the grill. It looks way too thick and bready, but I ate all of mine and so did everyone else there. Super-duper.
We sat there for two hours while the owners (I think) worked on dinner (I think) and nobody said it was time to go or anything else. Just another day in a relaxed hippie joint in the Outer Sunset. I don't live that close, but I will be going back. In fact, I will probably stop going to Trouble for beans at opening time and will go at lunch time just to eat at Outerlands.
A friend and I went a month or two ago. We had three dishes - the chicken noodle soup, macaroni and cheese and, I think, a salad of some sort. Everything was okay, nothing special or even especially good. Portions were somewhat small for the price.
I live in the area, and would be surprised if I went back.
It's a charming place, the brunch is very worthwhile, and their bread is excellent. Theu use one size plate, and it's small, which makes eating some dishes difficult without food falling off the plate. Otherwise, the portions are fine. I haven't seen the pancake, but the french toast, and eggs in a basket type dish are both very good, and simple. I wished there was a potato, fruit, or something else on the plate, but in the long run I didn't miss it, and felt satisfied. In my opinion, dinners need some rethinking.
I was and am one of the biggest fans of Outerlands, but after trying to go there last night, I think it may have gotten too big for its space. Basically Outerlands is the best restaurant in SF, in what is essentially a small cafe space. They were so deservedly packed, with about half the capacity of the restaurant waiting for a table, and no hostess to take peoples' names, or even tell anybody what to expect. The place was mayhem. This was a Tuesday night!
I have gone there three times, all lunch. The menu has rounded out for the meat and seafood eaters. The levain is delicious. I have had the grilled cheese twice, so YUM. Thick slices of Levain, I think they are rubbed with garlic and then basted in butter, they get the bread nice and crispy and the cheese starts to melt into the bubbles of the crumb. The other time I had the open face eggplant sando, fabulous. Today i had the tomato soup wth my grilled cheese. it was delicious, creamy without cream - I think. It was too deep red to have had cream added. I couldn't finish my soup, so i left a $2 deposit and took it home in a mason jar. Awesome, I live in the neaighborhood so the return will be easy, I wonder if I will be able to order something besides the grilled cheese Of course when I go to dinner, I will have to order the mac and cheese. I probably will need to go in a group so everything can be sampled.
I think they only offer dine in during dinner times.
Go go go!
Finally made my way to Outerlands with another couple last night. Ever since reading realspear's somewhat conflicted review, I knew this place was a sure bet for me and some of our friends. When the string of positive reviews came and went, I was even more certain.
What I was not prepared for was how tiny the place is. We knew they did not take reservations, so we showed up on the early side (6:30) and thank goodness for that. It was too cold for the outside tables, so there were maybe two tables that comfortably fit four. We waited a bit more than a half hour and were lucky to nab the best one. They do have a sign-in list and I overheard that they will take a cell if you want to wander. But where? Its about as far off-Broadway as you can get. If you're averse to waiting, lunch is probably a better bet, or parties of 1 or 2, or else catch them on a balmy night when the sidewalk tables are an option.
Service is totally informal. One step away from cafe self-serve. You order at the counter and they take it from there. But don't get me wrong. They really do take care of you. Totally personable, friendly and warm. Perfect fit. From the moment your greeted with a broad welcoming smile til your saying your goodbyes, there is a warm homey friendliness that permeates the place. All of the pieces at Outerlands are a perfect fit. It all adds up.
As others have noted, the menu can be a bit of a conundrum. No clear delineation between apps, mains, sides. Not small plates per se, but close. A bit of a Rorschach test to figure out what grabs you. We each ordered two plates, I tossed another on the table for all, and we kept reordering the toasted Levian. So we sampled the arugula salad, roasted beets, a chicory salad and a plate of braised Brussels sprouts not seen on their blogged menu, galette, two orders of fish stew, two of the pork shoulder. Not one dud. My pork shoulder with cannellini and cranberry beans was irresistible. The beet, sprout, and galette dishes also stood out. We were too stuffed to even think about dessert. I'll just have to go back for lunch sometime and leave room for sweets.
I brought my own wine, ($10 corkage) and didn't even look at the wine list. They have a very interesting selection of beer, most of them unfamiliar to me. With some adept help, I chose the Hennepin farmhouse saison ale while we were waiting and it was outstanding.
On the way home my wife and I were talking about how much we loved the place and it occurred to both of us that there is some oblique similarity between Outerlands and Flour + Water. And we both liked Outerlands better. In my comments on F+W I contend that it was not conceived of as the Michelin starred destination restaurant that it has become. Its essence is that of an unfussy, simple neighborhood gem. Fortunately or unfortunately, they executed every detail to such perfection that... look at what they've become. Outerlands has the same warm, neighborly heart beating inside. They lack the cool, hip beauty of F+W, the outstanding architecture, the bar to keep the waiting masses happy. Their menu is less focused and as a result does not achieve the same heights. F+W is the spawn of a very modern hipness, where Outerlands is much more of a flower child. Yet, somehow they succeed with a similar soulful, casual warmth that comes through in the food.
I have a soft spot in my heart for Outerlands; I so want to give it raves. The nectarine tart was absolutely outstanding.
The braised pork was delicious but miniscule and the same order at the next table was twice the size. My Ginger Lemon Apple Cider was served after we had finished - with the explanation that it takes a l-o-n-g time to heat cider - this was after asking if I still wanted it. It was good but DH had to "wait" while I drank it - and he clearly was done with Outerlands. Our order of Levain never arrived at our table and the counter person insisted that it was delivered and had checked it off the order - after much frowning, she reluctantly refunded our paltry $2.50 for the bread but she clearly did not believe that we never received it... I suspect that it was delivered to another table who accepted it as a comped pleasure because they expressed such surprise and delight when it was placed on their table... as we were leaving, the server stopped us to say that things just happen and he was just too busy - I think that was an apology of sorts.
The food is good. Desserts are outstanding. The place is tiny. I want to love it. We were young once. (Think of it as Théâtre de l'Absurde and enjoy the surrounding senario)
Went here for lunch today. We had an open face pastrami sandwich and a croque madam. Both came with a light side salad of mixed greens and mustard vinaigrette. The food was all very fresh and top quality. I give them a lot of props for the quality of the bread, which was rustic, flavorful and sliced thick. I didn't find out where it came from, but that bread definitely made the dishes sing. I believe the menu changes a lot, so who knows what you'll be offered, but their focus on sourcing quality, local ingredients is nice and they clearly know how to execute. They also serve biodynamic, organic wines and local beers. The place is small, funky, friendly, with the laid-back service that some people would call flaky. But this is a surfer neighborhood, so if you go there, go with the flow dudes. The food is worth it.
I love Outerlands. It is the most authentic, honest restaurant I have been to since eating barbecue in Central Market, Luling TX. After a 12 day eating, drinking holiday to West Marin, Mendo (and a kick-off dinner at Bar Jules, where the woman server almost ruined a great meal by her gestapo antics to make us eat and order faster)-- I can testify that Outerlands is a breath of fresh air in this age of Corporate, Designed Restaurants so over-financed, that chefs either come and go, or subjugate their creativity to the plate price. Dave and his staff at Outerlands have pulled it off. They've created a place that serves the neighborhood, families, and anyone else wanting to eat some place that is a true place. The bread is divine. But the best testimony I can give you is from my husband, a classically trained chef who's spent his life working in 5-star hotels-- who said that our food was honest and tasty in true bistro-style. And when the chocolate tart arrived, my Chef Husband almost cried to see a patisserie tart, flat and rich, that was just good enough. No it's not perfect. It's small. The system is confusing. The portions are small. But everything on the tiny menu was something I wanted. This is the place I dreamed of the ten years I lived in San Diego-- and the place I hope to find in Austin or San Antonio, my new home. Take a bottle of wine, go when it opens or at about 7:30 when the first tables are finishing. Go expecting to wait and enjoy the eclectic crowd and the buzz (or bundle up to wait outside.) The NYT covered it because Outerlands is news. "Let's make good food for our friends," this generation says, just the way the Panisse pioneers did, and damn it, Dave pulled this baby off. How long will it last? Who knows, but thank God, I got to eat there.
609 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102
4001 Judah St, San Francisco, CA 94122