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Chowdown at Skool - new Japanese on Potrero Hill [San Francisco]

Having just returned from dropping off relatives at a seriously overcast SFO, I had to laugh at the Skool website’s description of “sun soaked patios”. The odds seemed slim that a mere 90 minutes later we’d be choosing to sit outside. But the weather gods smiled upon us and when seven ‘hounds convened for lunch at this new Japanese restaurant on Potrero Hill we were basking in bright sun and mid-60’s temperatures.

The food was every bit as bright as the climate. Our choices—

Ceviche
House Cured Sardines
Hirame Crudo
Fennel Marinated Scottish Salmon
Salmon Pastrami Benedict Sandwich
Fried Aji Sandwich
Washugyu Sandwich
Squid Ink Spaghettina
Steamed Mussels
Coca Flatbread
Baby Eryngii Fried
Shishito Peppers
Japanese Flan
Lavender Panna Cotta

Since I hadn’t even heard of Skool until I saw Melanie’s sfchowdown invitation I had no idea what to expect except that I would be eating Japanese-inspired cuisine. I had many faves but especially liked the Washugyu Sandwich and Baby Eryngii Fries.

The coffee-marinated Japanese Washu-Beef was incredibly tender and delicious. I only got one bite, not enough for me to guess how much of my pleasure came from the beef itself and how much came from the marinade or other seasonings. Whichever it was I definitely want a whole order just for me sometime soon. [Washu beef is a cross-breed of Wagyu (Kobe) and Black Angus].

The baby Erynggi mushrooms in the fries had wonderful texture and flavor. The aioli dipping sauce was also great, flavorful but not overpowering.

Many thanks to Melanie for organizing the Chowdown. Thanks also to Cynthia, Melanie and Paul for bringing wine to share. Cynthia’s sake was a nice Japanese touch for our very nice Japanese dining experience.

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Skool
1725 Alameda St, San Francisco, CA 94103

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  1. I also was quite partial to the mushroom fries and quite liked all of the raw fish preparations, especially the hirame crudo and the fennel marinated salmon which was also topped with salmon roe. The coca crust was quite flavorful but the combination of toppings didn't quite work -- particularly the fish which was lost in the mix of other ingredients.

    I also thought the lavender panna cotta was quite delicate and delicious.

    1. The seven of us had an easy time selecting an array from the Skool Lunch menu - between the starters and the sides, the lunch box and the mains covered all bases with apt descriptors - leaving room for desserts... and an invitation to return for dinner. Heather's service was gracious and adept as she juggled our requests.
      Most pleasing were the Shishito peppers, with moshio/seaweed salt and katsuobushi/bonito flakes - I liked the crisp crunch of the bright green peppers that the Japanese link to a green bell pepper more than to a chili pepper seared with a light coating of oil and sea salt.
      The Baby Eryngii Fries are thick meaty mushrooms with a mild buttery flavor - perfect for 'fries' with aioli. We were wise to order two portions for the table. These Sun Smiling Valley mushrooms certainly made us smile as we devoured the final crumbs.
      When the Squid Ink Spaghettina came to the table, I was enchanted with the complex spicy broth and delighted with the al dente pasta nestled in the white bowl. I will return to enjoy this dish again because it was lovely with Monterey squid and the flavors of tomato, garlic, lemongrass, shiso and red curry.
      The Steamed Mussels are plump Acadia Blue Mussels and finished in a tomato-blue cheese cream broth with Applewood smoked bacon - now that's a descriptor to please!
      Since I indulged on the table's toasted bread and olive oil, the sandwiches that followed played second fiddle... I can only comment that each separate sandwich whether of Washu-beef, House-cured Salmon, or the Japanese Aji...was garnished elaborately with a tapestry of caramelized onions, cress, aioli, cheese, red cabbage sauerkraut, tartar sauce, tomato, Yuzu hollandaise, arugula, perfectly poached egg...
      Wonderful from Start to Finish; the choices of the ceviche, the house-cured sardines, the crudo, and the Fennel Marinated Scottish Salmon pleased everyone.
      The Lavender Panna Cotta was the perfect finish, refreshingly light and delicate on the tongue.
      What a pleasure to be sun-drenched on Skool's patio and in such fine company. Thank you to both Paul and Melanie for the fine wines.... and, to Skool for the 'no charge corkage' fee as they wait for their liquor license.

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      Skool
      1725 Alameda St, San Francisco, CA 94103

      1. It was a bright and warm day (I was actually complaining that my back which was in the sun was cooking! When have you said that about SF?) and as others have said the food was fresh Beautifully presented with the Japanese delight in visual presentation...one eats with ones eyes first...and the flavors were light and intriguing...my faves were the coffee marinated beef, the salmon, and the mushrooms , in turn uncutous, clear sea taste (loved the caviar eggs) and the earthiness and crunch of the mushroom fries., I liked the texture of the Coca flatbread (pizza) but the toppings did not rise to the occasion......My favorite desert was the Lavendar Panna Cotta...with a perfect silkin ethereal texture, a great balance of flavors..not at all overpowered by the herb..the wines that Melanie and Paul brought and the Sake from Cynthia, also added greatly to the overall enjoyment of the experience. The dinner menu has some added dishes that called out to be tried.
        Thanks to Melanie for finding this place and putting the meal together at the last minute!

        1. Thank you, 'hounds, for rallying at an unknown destination today. I think we were rewarded amply for taking a risk. Our server, Heather, said this was the start of the sixth week of operation.

          Here's a link to the photos.
          http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

          I gotta run, more later.

          10 Replies
          1. re: Melanie Wong

            great pics! that salmon benedict looks divine. thanks, all, for great reports. i ALMOST played hookie and joined you guys today - sorry i didn't but now, we all know it's worth it!

            1. re: mariacarmen

              really! there's much pleasure viewing Melanie's great pix - it's deja vu but better! On second glance, I am even more delighted with Skool. Let's return for more?

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              Skool
              1725 Alameda St, San Francisco, CA 94103

              1. re: Cynsa

                hopefully! maybe i can join next time!

              2. re: mariacarmen

                Here's the Salmon pastrami benedict,
                http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...
                Woke up this morning wishing I could have one for breakfast in bed.

              3. re: Melanie Wong

                Melanie...You are definitely excelling at photography...these shots were terrific!

                1. re: ChowFun_derek

                  Thank you.

                  Should mention that Skool is open for brunch on weekends. Some San Francisco chowhounds might want to catch some rays there today before the temps drop again.

                  On a weekday parking was easy on De Haro, 2 hr limit, no meters. Easy freeway access from 101 or 280, Skool would be a good stop for visitors northbound from SFO. The newest location of John Campbell's bakery is up the street and the Liba falafel truck was parked across the way for extra chow points.

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                  Skool
                  1725 Alameda St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    http://www.libasf.com/
                    Fri 11-2: 155 De Haro at Alameda
                    at the base of Potrero Hill

                    John Campbell's Irish Bakery 300 De Haro (at 16th St.), Stes. 342/340, 621-2212; open Mon.-Sat., 7 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun. 7 a.m.-8 p.m.

                    -also just minutes away from Patisserie Philippe on Townsend near 8th St.
                    http://www.patisseriephilippe.com/

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                    Patisserie Philippe (moving
                    )655 Townsend St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                    1. re: Cynsa

                      egads john campbells irish bakery won't sell you fresh out of the oven pastries and instead insist on selling cold pastries that have been sitting around for who knows how long. In contrast Patisserie Philippe (Philippe himself in fact) goes over and gets fresh baked pastries (from the cooling racks) even if you don't request it.
                      SKIP John Campbells and Opt for Patisserie Philippe instead!

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                      Patisserie Philippe (moving)
                      655 Townsend St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                2. re: Melanie Wong

                  Melanie

                  Have I been deleted from the SF list?

                  i seem to have been omitted from one of two last Chowdown invites (SKool, eg). Please do include me

                  Steve Posin steve_posin@yahoo.com

                  1. re: SPO

                    This is an old thread from July 2010 that's been revived. Per your earlier post to this thread, you were notified at the time.

                3. Another lovely lunch with the chowhounds. This time with full sun in what’s otherwise been an unusually cold and gray summer in San Francisco. The sunny patio was quite welcoming, yet the interior of this restaurant is quite beautiful as well. Next time, I think I’ll want one of the counter seats overlooking the kitchen. And, for those who care about such details, the restrooms are across the hall and equipped with Totos.

                  For a five-week old restaurant, Skool’s kitchen and the service were humming along much more smoothly than expected. I liked the pacing, and Heather mentioned that she had tried to course our dishes.

                  It was nice to have such a wide selection on the lunch menu. The dinner menu is even more extensive. I’m not sure that I would necessarily tag Skool as “Japanese”. The website describes the cuisine as “fish focused”. The food stylings lean quite to the West, especially with the lunch menu’s sandwich choices. Our ordering chose the more Japonesque items, but the menu also includes a Niçoise salad or a grilled chicken breast with Dijon mustard sauce, for example.

                  The four very different preps for the cured, uncooked fish appetizers made a very strong start. Dressed to order rather than “cooking” in citrus, the ceviche combined hirame and kampachi cubes. The crispy popped rice garnish was the only rice that we saw in this meal. The house cured sardines were the plumpest and biggest ones I’ve ever seen. And, some of the most delicious as well accompanied by raspberried onion, slices of avocado, toasty almond slices, and herbed oil. I adored the delicacy of the hirame crudo and the pretty-in-pink color match with the thin slices of radish. The presentation of the fennel marinated salmon was quite striking, encasing the green garnishes in rolled slabs of salmon to form a roll, topped with luminous salmon roe.

                  Of the three “lunch box” sandwiches, served with a cup of soup and a choice of fries or mixed greens, the salmon pastrami Benedict was my favorite and it’s a bargain at $11. However, I wonder if this might be because I helped myself to this first. With the others, I had the last bite, and while ample enough, maybe the jostling of the presentation took away from some of the enjoyment. The fried aji sandwich left no particular impression on me, maybe someone else can talk about it in more detail. The washugyu sandwich was interesting to deconstruct. The light sprinkling of parmesan cheese with tiny carmelized brown speckling, presumably from a pass under the salamander, the soft and sweet but still toothsome threads of onion, the peppery bite of the cress, and zap of wasabi aioli made for quite an adventure on the palate and showed the care and detail that has gone into creating and executing each dish.

                  The flatbread had a nice crust, well-salted, yeasty and crisp around the edges. But I wasn’t so enamored of the toppings. I came to the spaghettina late, and found it much too spicy for my taste although wonderful in every other way. Maybe the hot pepper element had steeped too long in the broth. For $14, this was quite a bowl of noodles, one that could set this town’s budding ramen-heads into a tailspin. I’d like to come back for this dish and slurp it afresh.

                  Like the others, I loved the eryngii fries. I’m going to work on reverse engineering the spicy miso aioli.

                  The lavender panna cotta totally hit it. Lovely texture and subtle but present lavender flavoring. The Japanese flan, described to us as a lighter style, was pleasant enough but not nearly as special.

                  We brought our own alcohol, launching with a rocket blast of Cynsa’s Special Quality Satsuma Shiranami Shochu. To kick off San Francisco’s Riesling Week, we enjoyed the 2002 Schloss Saarstein Riesling QbA trocken, which still had plenty of bracing acidity but was showing some oxidation. Then Paul’s rare and obscure 2007 Jacques Puffeney Trousseau “Berangeres” Arbois. One of my few experiences with this grape, the pale red color signaled the delicate construction of this wine. Not showing much fragrance outdoors, on the palate the wine had a diaphanous lightness of le rêve. Was it real or had I imagined this rinse of red fruit and minerals? Yet the prickle of tannin carried the wine quite long and deep. A very interesting wine and as un-New World as any.

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                  Skool
                  1725 Alameda St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    I agree that I misspoke in describing the restaurant as Japanese-- I was thinking Japanese fusion but it's not. Perhaps "Japanese-influenced fish focused" captures the essence of the place.

                    I can't resist the chance to mention the cheerful and attentive service again. Heather and the other servers seemed so genuinely happy to be serving and advising us that it really brightened the already pleasurable experience. I wish they could bottle that energy so I could take some home for the next day.

                  2. In my original post I neglected to list the ginger carrot soup among our choices. It was the only loser of the day— very little carrot flavor came through. It was so thin and mild I used it to clear my palate between other dishes.

                    The Hirame Crudo had great flavor and texture. I liked the sardines even better and the bold flavor blended well with the avocado. The marinated salmon had a nice mild flavor, no fishiness at all, and a great silky texture.

                    The intense spiciness of the spaghettina enhanced the effect of the rich broth—it was hearty and satisfying.

                    The soft potato bun that held the Fried Aji Sandwich fell into many pieces when we tried to cut it— even if only one person were eating it I suspect it would fall apart after a few bites. All the sandwiches had great complex fillings.

                    Admittedly my food preferences tend more to the intense than to the subtle but the Skool ceviche seemed almost bland compared to others I have had. I prefer more acidity and more pronounced flavor and texture but I did enjoy it.

                    On the other hand, subtlety did win my heart in the dessert category. I’m generally fond of flan and not so much of panna cotta but the lavender panna cotta was outstanding—soft and delicately flavored. The flan was just OK. Perhaps I would have appreciated it more but the intense pleasure of tasting the canelé at Patisserie Phillipe on Wednesday raised the bar for custard dessert satisfaction so high that I may have to wait a few weeks before any other custard seems worth eating.

                    The service was excellent— very attentive and friendly. And as you can see from Melanie’s photos every dish was a little piece of art.

                    1. After viewing the pics, I could kick myself for not having decided to attend.

                      Might someone mention the price per person? Cost should be one of the things mentioned in the posts I should think. it does matter.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: SPO

                        I usually do state the cost in my posts but forgot on this one. Skool added on a 15% tip for the group which took the tab to around $30 per person but we appreciated the gracious and attentive service and put in $32 per person. Also we brought our own wine and paid no corkage fee.

                      2. Daily Dish Out has an offer for a free order of ceviche at Skool, Sun-Wed, dinner only with drink purchase thru 8/31.
                        http://www.dailydishout.com/deal_1/

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                        Skool
                        1725 Alameda St, San Francisco, CA 94103