Sunday, March 8, 2009

Mission Street Food

The first rule of Mission Street Food is: You do not talk about Mission Street Food.

This underground dining experiment that began less than a year ago in an off-duty taco truck in the Mission has grown into one of the biggest foodie destinations in The City that nobody knows about. It started as a noble experiment: Invite young and up-and-coming chefs to create new and exciting dishes away from the tedious kitchen line, serve it street food-style, and donate profits to local food charities. Soon the word got out that a couple of rogue chefs were serving seriously high-quality eats out of a taco truck on Mission Street every Thursday night. Lines stretched down the block.

After a while, Mission Street Food had to move into an indoor space with tables and chairs, and open the doors a second night per week. Now settled into the Lung Shan Chinese Restaurant on Mission between 18th & 19th, Mission Street Food has a bigger kitchen to work with, and space to seat hundreds of guests per night, often booking up just an hour after opening.

This past Saturday, when we arrived at the front of Lung Shan Restaurant shortly before 6 p.m., there was already a line stretching several hundred feet down Mission. Passers-by gave us funny looks, curious why such a large group of people were standing in front of this shabby Chinese restaurant that was apparently not even open. They seated the first round of people, then started giving seating times to those of us still in line. Since we got there relatively early, we would be seated just after 7 p.m.

To eat at Mission Street Food feels more like a clandestine eating adventure than Saturday night dinner. The restaurant is dark, except for small tealight candles on the tables and the neon beer sign on the front window. People crowd tightly to the front of the building as the hostess rushes in and out of the door, trying to arrange seating. The food and drink are served in the restaurant's own dishes. It all feels as though they have broken in after hours to play "chef" and are constantly worried about being caught.

The menu, along with the cooks, changes each night. This Saturday, Bud Teasley of Boccalone and Carlo Espinas of Bar Jules featured a taste of South Carolina-style Barbeque. While purists may not consider the Blenheim Ginger BBQ'd Pork with Smokehouse Beans traditional South Carolina Barbeque, keep in mind this isn't your traditional dining experience.

The barbecue came served on slider buns plated with the sweet and tangy baked beans. The quirky salad of rhubarb and baby mustard greens came with a small candied apple covered in bacon caramel. It was a little wacky, but it worked somehow; the salty bacon accented the sweet caramel and that cute little apple paired very well with the rhubarb salad. The next dish to hit our cozy little table was the Tater Boat, a deep fried russet potato with taleggio nacho cheese and green garlic. Fried potato with melted, liquidy cheese and garlic? Yes, please.

In the hurried quick-step of the wait staff, the dishes came out whenever they were ready and in no real particular order. No problem there; our table was crowded with plates most of the time, anyway. We didn't come to Mission Street Food for subtle refinement or perfectly arranged dishes. We came for fantastically good food.

And any meal at Mission Street Food would be woefully incomplete without desert. We ordered two: The Butter fried cornbread with min julep honey and Humphrey Slocombe sour cream ice cream and a scoop of Humphrey Slocombe Secret Breakfast Ice Cream.

The butter fried cornbread was an interesting mingling of flavors, from the crisp and buttery cornbread, the sweetness of the mint julep honey, and the subtle tang of the sour cream ice cream that really tasted like sour cream. All together a brilliantly conceived desert.

Then, a small paper cup nestled in a plain white Chinese teacup, filled with the Secret Breakfast Ice Cream. This ice cream, the most talked about flavor from the new kid on the block, is flavored with crushed cornflakes and bourbon. Yep, cornflakes. And bourbon. Wow. For my first taste of the new players in the gourmet ice cream game, I was beyond impressed with the creative flavors and thrilled Mission Street Food included them in their menu.

As an added bonus, the charity Mission Street Food was supporting was 826 Valencia, my favorite writing center and pirate store. We had a fantastic meal courtesy of the fantastic, rouge cooks of Mission Street Food. Dinner is served Thursday and Saturday nights starting at 6:00 until it ends at 2234 Mission Street. If you want to get on the list, bring cash, get there early (before 6) and get ready to wait in line.

For more info on Mission Street Food, check out their blog here, and this recent San Francisco Chronicle write-up.


Eric said...

Just think, you came all the way to the real South Carolina in December and didn't even eat BBQ. Good thing Mission Street Food came through! No comment on the authenticity, as I'm sure it was a splendid meal, but one thing I must make note of: Soju, or as some of us call it - "Soul Juice," is definitely NOT something we pair BBQ with out here. Trust me; I've been looking for Soul Juice for almost three years in this bloody state!

Another tasty update...I really have to stop reading your blog in the AM! It completely ruins any anticipation toward lunch.

Mr. Rosewater said...

The soju cocktail was so-so. A beer would have helped wash everything down better. And really, how was it again that we didn't get to eat and SC barbeque? Something to look forward to for next time we are in town.

Eric said...

I can throw some in my luggage when I come out in May...Just a thought.