Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Emmy's Spaghetti Shack - Virginia @ Mission - San Francisco

Emmy's Spaghetti Shack 18 Virginia St at Mission, San Francisco, CA 94110
phone: 415.206.2086

This review was published first on SFist and is hence written in their style, using the royal we...

photograph picture of Emmy's Spaghetti Shack in Bernal Heights

Emmy's Spaghetti Shack, in Bernal Heights is somewhere we've wanted to try for a while. So when the time came to review a restaurant beginning with E, it seemed like the perfect excuse to head over towards the nether end of Mission Street. A work colleague who takes a kindly interest in our obsession with food wrinkled up his nose, when he heard the plan. He warned "people confuse crowdedness with goodness." He is right, of course, it is a mistake that is commonly made, but we needed to go and find out for ourselves whether Emmy's rumoured popularity is deserved or not.
We took a Bernal Heights resident with us, so she could assess the dining experience from a local perspective. We wanted to know if Emmy's would make her feel all warm, fuzzy, loved and comfortable inside, just like every good neigbourhood joint should.
On the surface, Emmy's is endearingly grungy. A whacky paint job and logo welcome you into the hidden space from the outside. A washing line pegged with a random collection of aprons is strung across the ceiling for decoration. A changing art exhibition, (paintings for sale) is mounted on the walls. As the sun disappears behind the hill, the space darkens and flickering candles become the main source of light. The booths have low and squashy banquettes, it's dark, cozy and none too fancy. This could well be home from home.
Charming, framed menus which we were told change every two to three months, are hand crafted in quirky, squiggley teenage-feminine-style writing using a multitude of differently coloured pens. You feel like your girly best-friend might be about to cook you dinner tonight so it comes as no surprise that the chef, Sarah Kirnon, is a female.
Tuna Tartare with Deep Fried Zucchini and feta cheese dressing $9.50 was an interesting take on this most popular of raw fish. The flesh was cubed and mixed with grains, herbs and lemon, tabbouleh style. The ovals of zucchini were piping hot and perfectly crisp. The cold, creamy, cheese dressing was served in a separate pot. We loved the play of hot and cold, of crunchy and soft and of creamy and fresh. It was not an elegant tartar but instead a more bohemian version designed to fit in with the funky surrounds. Brave, experimental, unpretentious and actually quite delicious. We enjoyed it in the same way we might appreciate an unique, but not particularly refined, dinner cooked for us by an adventurous and caring friend.
Our next dish was equally as brave but not nearly as successful. Marinated Salt Cod with Valencia Oranges, Nicoise Olives and Hard boiled Eggs $8.50, was vibrantly coloured, beautiful and fresh tasting using the citrus fruit that is just coming into season. We loved the idea and we might actually have loved the salad had it not been for the fish which, to our taste, was not soaked for long enough. It was too hard and overly salty. Salt cod should be soft with only a hint of brininess. This version needed much more love and attention. The salad also contained large slivers of pungent raw garlic that due to the dim lighting were not identifiable. To avoid their after taste during dessert, we might have refrained from eating them had we noticed them sooner.
Mussels and clams in a cognac and black pepper cream sauce, English peas, warm French bread and herb butter for 9.00 was a great value dish. It was rich, creamy and comforting. Although the heavy sauce tasted more of garlic than pepper and cognac, the fat, juicy peas dotted through out burst into sweetness on the tongue. The interesting mix of herbs (did we detect chevril among them?) that buttered the warm bread finished off the bed of plump shellfish with a green and fresh essence of spring.
The Pan Roasted "Fishermans Catch" served with a sundried tomato, olive and pinenut bread stuffing with salsa verde, AQ, was glorious. The fish that day, a red snapper, was flakey and succulent. The stuffing evoked memories of a Mediterranean Summer.
For dessert we shared an adequate chocolate cake topped with a mound of ice cream decorated with raspberry and strawberry sauce. When we commented to our neighbourhood friend that this heavy, somewhat sweet end to our meal was not particularly refined, she rightly pointed out to us "It's a Shack, it's not meant to be refined!"
Service throughout the evening was agreeable and charming. The gracious wait staff wear their own clothes in lieu of a uniform adding to the down-to-earth atmosphere. Servers are friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. When we were commended on our selection, there was genuine interest in the fact we had steered away from Emmy's more traditional offerings. The Shack is renowned for its meatballs and spaghetti, but because the fish dishes piqued our interest we went the eclectic route and found ourselves ordering an atypical but far more intriguing selection from the menu.
Even though we don't live in the area, we wouldn't hesitate to return and repeat this warm and tasty experience. Our Bernal-resident dining companion was impressed at having such an unorthodox, friendly little place with heaps of personality to go to in her hood. Next time she invites us over, we'll find it hard to resist. Between Emmy's and The The Blue Plate there are some really great dining options in Bernal Heights. If you haven't discovered it yet, then don't waste any more time, get over there and check it out.

The two of us each had two courses, a glass each of wine from their interesting selection and a mint tea. On top of that we shared a dessert. The damage was $65 before tip.

note: EMMY'S SPAGHETTI SHACK only takes CASH. No reservations are accepted.

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Emmy's Spaghetti Shack - Virginia @ Mission - San Francisco


  • At 5/5/05 10:59, Blogger Kim said…

    Oh, I love Emmy's--the first time I went (probably about four years ago) the very pregnant waitress and the bartender kept pausing for impromptu make-out sessions, which didn’t seem at all malapropos as it's a very sexy, intimate space. The spaghetti and meatball dish is definitely worth the wait. I haven't been since I moved back to SF, but I'm looking forward to it.

  • At 7/5/05 10:40, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I love Emmy's too. It always makes me happy to go there. The spaghetti is great, and they are definitely making more interesting choices with their menus in the last year or so. Sometimes it can be a bit uneven, but I usually willing to forgive that.

  • At 8/5/05 12:39, Blogger Sam said…

    I am glad I am not the only one who likes Emmys. The more customers, the more its ongoing success is assured!


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