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Aug 15, 2013 11:32 PM

Eating at the Bar: Niman Burger at Hayes Street Grill, San Francisco

After striking out twice on getting into Chez Maman Hayes with less than an hour’s wait, we headed over to Hayes Street Grill to see what simple fish prep might be on the menu instead. The bar menu posted in the window, available nightly after 7:30pm, features a Niman burger with fries. That sounded good to Mom, so I wheeled her in.

On Monday night, the place was pretty dead and there were only two people in the bar. I whispered to the host that we were there for the bar burger. He graciously said that we could have a table in the front dining room and were welcome to order from the bar menu.

To start, we shared the grilled calamari, artichoke, butter beans, arugula and aioli salad, $13. A complimentary basket of bread and butter appeared too. Pretty classic HSG, and a big composed salad serving suited for sharing. Surprisingly the calamari had not been peeled though it wasn’t a problem for us. The squid was barely done, and the salad could have used more salt and acid. The butter beans picked up the natural juices, and turned out to be my favorite bit.

Then we split the Niman burger, ordered medium-rare and with the Grafton cheddar, and fries. Served on a toasted Acme bun, this was nicely marked on the surface and turned out to be bloody rare in the middle. I’ve gotten used to ordering “medium-rare” to be sure that hamburgers are at least “medium” but this one tilted the other way. Very thinly shaved sweet red onions, truly ripe tomato slices, and de-ribbed lettuce leaves accompanied the burger. The bun’s bare and we were asked if we wanted mayo or ketchup beyond the mustard pot on the plate.

Served in a cone, the excellent fries were as I remembered them from my previous visit many years ago. Very crunchy exterior and waxy interior with good potato flavor, clean oil and just the right amount of salt. They do turn hard on cooling, so best to eat them fast.

HSG fries debate:

I asked if half pours of the wines by the glass would be possible and that was no problem. I enjoyed the robust and forward 2010 Valdubón Ribera del Duero. The half-glass was at last four ounces for only $5.

Mom pointed out that two other couples who were seated after us in the dining room also ordered burgers. So perhaps arriving in a wheelchair is not the only way to trigger this privilege. While it was my own fault for not trusting the kitchen, I can’t nominate HSG’s for best burger since it was not my optimal doneness. Yet, I can say that it’s worth checking out in this neighborhood. The Niman burger with cheese and fries was charged at $13 on our bill (vs. $14 printed on the bar menu). This compares to $12.50 for a burger with cheese and fries at Chez Maman in much more casual surroundings or the $12 cheese burger with no fries served outdoors at Biergarten. And it’s a good deal compared to HSG’s regular lunch menu price of $16.

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  1. while HSG is not my favorite 'classic' place there is a definite reason why it has lasting power.

    4 Replies
    1. re: hill food

      One immediately apparent distinction is the professionalism of the service staff. The host, bartender, waiter, and runner/busser all kept an eye on our table and anticipated every need without being obtrusive.

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        yes, and it being a slow Monday before the opera/symphony season crush, if I were the proprietor I too would say "order what you like and we'll serve it wherever you choose to sit"

        HSG has always been a good standby. (ok I did get a dry fillet once, but that was too long ago to hold a grudge)

        and on a personal note with aging family I like their WChair consideration.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Many of the waitstaff have been with the restaurant for years--some, virtually from the beginning. They may have outside interests, but they are professional servers...and it shows.

          1. re: Rapini

            It definitely shows and I appreciated the service so much. No grabby waiters trying to whisk away plates before everyone's finished. And in fact, the busser understood my signal that I was done, though he did confirm verbally that I was indeed finished and did NOT say, "are you still working on that?"

      2. 34 years of history is undeniable with sustainable fish - but beyond the incredible french fries, my memory bank notes early snotty server who refused our request for ketchup - 34 years ago, proclaiming that HSG would never permit it. We were young and mortified - timid diners at that time/place.
        Of course, now we have restaurant kitchens proud to serve homemade condiments, or not.
        Now, the history of service at HSG proves itself to be exemplar.
        I still hold the fries in esteem; adding the burger to my wish list.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Cynsa

          Oh my, no problem with ketchup these days and tasted like straight up Heinz to me.

          I'll mention that there was a "cover" charge of around $1.50 on the handwritten bill. I didn't challenge it since it was so small and we were happy with the service. I don't recall seeing a mention on the menu, maybe it was a health care charge or fee for bread.

        2. i also ended up eating at the bar of hayes street grill last week.

          soft shell crab meuniere from the bar menu was excellent at $12. highly, highly recommended.

          draft beer at $4 was served in a frosty glass -- nice touch.

          cake was good, but slightly dry. wouldn't go out of my way to have the cake again.

          agreed the service was fantastic and professional.

          looking forward to trying their burger and their paella, among other things.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Dustin_E

            The soft shell crab tempted me too. Maybe I'll try harder to get back there before the season's over.

            Is it busy on a non-Monday?