Saturday, January 12, 2008


Canteen, French-American cuisine in a small diner-type room off the Hotel Commodore
(Image from the blog of Michael Bauer, SF Chronicle food critic.)

Canteen seats twenty-one, optimistically: three booths of four, one of two, and seven counter seats. The setup is reminiscent of an old greasy-spoon diner: you can look down the counter and see owner/chef Dennis Leary (not the comedian) working with his sous. They're connected to the Hotel Commodore, which appears to be a dormitory-like hotel for Academy of Art University students.

We got in for the 7:30 seating (they do three seatings a night) and looked over the menu for week 132. The menus change weekly, numbered by the number of weeks they've been serving dinner (they started as a lunch counter; they still do a Sunday brunch which immediately went on our list of brunches to try). Each menu has four appetizers, four main courses, and four desserts. Since there were three of us, that meant we'd only be missing out on three of the twelve dishes. Here's what we ended up getting (detail missing where they don't have the entree posted and I couldn't remember it):

Appetizers: Porcini mushroom soup; Squid poached, with lentils, spicy aioli and breadcrumbs; Treviso and Grapefruit with goat cheese crouton, coriander vinaigrette

Entrees: Roasted guinea hen with butternut squash puree; Brochettes de veau; Alaskan cod in a mild curry sauce

Desserts: Lemon croquettes with hazelnut sauce; Vanilla souffle; Semolina cake with buttermilk sorbet and last year's blueberries

(Treviso is a red lettuce that's a cross between endive and radicchio. We didn't know, and had to ask.)

Everything was delicious. The mushroom soup was creamy with a very nice mushroomy flavor, and the squid was the least squid-like squid we've ever had. Even the tentacles. The treviso salad had a hint of the bitterness you get with endive and radicchio, but not too much of it, and the dressing was really unique. The guinea hen tasted like a less gamey duck, very tender, and it went well with the butternut squash puree, which was one of the smoothest we've ever had. I loved the cod: it was really fresh, and the curry was light enough to let that taste come through. As for the desserts, it was a toss-up between the souffle and the semolina cake. The buttermilk sorbet (house made) tasted just about exactly as you'd think it would, but it still surprised me with its delicate flavor (which unfortunately got lost when overpowered with the tart blueberries).

The terrific food and the intimate setting make this a place we'd definitely recommend. It's walking distance from Union Square, just one block north and three west, and it's worth the trip.

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