Sinking our hooks into new chefs, new waves at Georges and Weird Fish
APPETITE Two unrelated seafood restaurants have quietly undergone chef and menu changes in the last year. I was less than impressed with both when they debuted; now they've taken a turn for the better. There's a low-key Mission seafood outpost with vegan accents, Weird Fish (renamed Dante's Weird Fish), and a Financial District restaurant catering to the FiDi set, Georges, with upscale-casual seafood.
Tiny Weird Fish (2193 Mission, SF. www.weirdfishsf.com) has been around a few years, pleasing vegans and hipsters alike with grilled fish and seitan tacos. Owner Tim Holt left in 2011 to focus on Roshambo Farms (www.roshambofarms.com) in Healdsburg, which still supplies the restaurant with much of its produce. Holt opened Weird Fish with Peter Hood, who is back as owner alongside Ryan Simas, returning to roots of fish and vegan options, infused with new life. Simas knows seafood as chef de cuisine at Farallon, where he's worked for nine years, now simultaneously co-owner at Dante's and its neighbor, The Perch, eventually supposed to open next door.
Dante's all day hours and a playful, affordable menu (discounted during lunch hours) are its selling points. Portions are small, but it's rare to see enticing fish entrees under $10 — think of it as piecing together a meal. I can't say the hit-and-miss aspects of the former Weird Fish has entirely changed, but I notice greater consistency and higher "high points" than before. "Pete's famous clam chowder" ($4.75 cup, $6.75 bowl) is one surprise. Unlike the bland tortilla soup, the creamy chowder is flavor-rich with spanking-fresh clams. Fish and chips ($11 for two pieces, $14 for three), filling all on its own, features fresh fish of the day, flaky and light in Speakeasy's Big Daddy IPA beer batter. A mix of sweet potato and regular potato fries falls flat, but fried fish dissolves comfortingly.
The vegetarian Waco Taco ($5) is one of their best bites. Though I'm a fish taco fanatic, a tilapia fish taco tasted over-salted and lifeless under mango salsa compared to this lively Waco Taco, packed with mashed yams, spinach, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), and guacamole. Fried calamari ($9.50) is perked up by fried lemon and sage leaves, dipped in lemon aioli and oh! chipotle sauce. Among fish entrees, I've fared best with Dijon-almond encrusted rainbow trout ($9.50) alongside buttery mashed yams ($4.75) laced with coconut milk and curry.
Dante's casual, rock-and-roll (sometimes blaring a bit loud in the small space) attitude is a bright spot on Mission Street, uncommon if not "weird," amid a sea of taquerias and 99 cent stores. In its Dante's incarnation since March, Weird Fish captures the quirk of former days with greater focus on the food.
Georges (415 Sansome, SF. www.georgessf.com) took over the Financial District's classic London Wine Bar in 2010 (which lacked an impressive wine list but boasted dated charm), completely revamping the space from dim, old school to white and airy. I dined during opening weeks — but was immediately turned off by overcooked fish at high prices. I didn't return until a couple months ago, having heard good things about Chef Michael Bilger who came on in early 2011 from Wayfare Tavern, and now defunct Moose's and Vivande Porta Via. Bilger's cooking is a marked improvement since my 2010 visit.
Serving sustainably-sourced seafood per Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch (www.montereybayaquarium.org) standards, Georges' focuses on being environmentally responsible in numerous aspects, like crushing raw bar shells into fertilizer for the local farmers who provide its produce.
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