Part SOMA nightspot, part upscale culinary experiment, Orson (508 Fourth St. at Bryant) opened last week inside a two-story 10,000-square-foot fortress, the brainchild of Citizen Cake chef and owner Elizabeth Falkner. With one of the edgiest menus in town, local foodies are going gaga over Orson’s innovative prospects: short ribs come paired with spinach and espresso, while carrot dumplings are dished up with blood orange and ricotta salata. "It's a different approach to an upscale environment,” Falkner explains. “The inspiration was really just to have a nice restaurant where people don't necessarily need to have the typical appetizer, entrée, and dessert. We wanted people to be able to pick and choose." For more info, call 777-1508.
Shanghai House in the Outer Richmond (3641 Balboa at 37th Ave.) gets a huge thumbs up from the SF Weekly’s own Meredith Brody this week, with particular praise for classic Shanghai-style dishes including the delicate, highly addictive soup dumplings (xiao long bao) filled with ground pork, and the braised fish in Shaoxing rice wine sauce. More intrepid Chinese-food hounds will be richly rewarded with the salt-and-pepper pig’s knuckle (which must be ordered in advance), which inspired this mouth-watering recap: “The pigskin had become whisper-thin and crunchy, as addictive (but tastier) than potato chips when cut into strips, under which is tender pork that turns to shreds when you simply look at it hard. It’s an amazing dish.” Need we say more? Call 831-9288.
This Saturday, March 8, soak up the fruits of Balkan tradition at the Kafana Balkan First Anniversary Party at 12 Galaxies (2565 Mission at 22nd St.) in the Mission. It’s a celebration of the rich cultural and musical heritage at the crossroads of southeastern Europe, encompassing Turkish, Greek, and Romanian influences, among many others. Of course, you’ll want to drink some of the notoriously stiff Balkan booze known as rakija and chill out to the eclectic sounds of folkmeisters Edessa and DJ Zeljko. It all starts at 8:00 p.m.; admission is $12-$25. For more info, call 970-9777.
This comes at short notice, but it’s worth checking out Comedy, Darling at the Edinburgh Castle Pub (950 Geary at Polk) in the Tenderloin this Wednesday, March 5. The notorious downtown writers’ hangout recently revived this monthly showcase blending local comedy, music, and vaudeville, hosted by the hilarious Mary Van Note. Tonight’s show features Brent Weinbach and Kurt Weitzmann.10 p.m., $10 at the door. For more info, call 885-4074. But first, grab dinner and get a head start on the night down the street at A La Turca (869 Geary at Larkin), a total-immersion experience in San Francisco’s most authentic, and blessedly affordable, Turkish restaurant. The dolmas (stuffed grape leaves), kebabs, and lahmacun (Turkish pizza) are highly recommended. For more info, call 345-1011.
Slurp up some oysters on the half shell straight out of Tomales Bay and get messy with barbecue on the patio at neighborhood hangout El Rio (3158 Mission at Precita) in the Mission this Friday, March 7. As if fresh raw oysters and barbecue weren't enough of a draw, the food is free. Did I mention drinks specials? Pints and well drinks go for the ridiculously low price of $2.50 a pop from 5:00-9:00 p.m. Oyster shucking starts promptly at 5:30 p.m., followed by the barbecue at 8:30 p.m. For more info, call 282-3325.
It's time again to make the rounds of new joints, starting in Potrero Hill at sushi and Japanese small-plate purveyors Umi (1328 18th St. at Missouri). For more info, call 355-1328. Next, head to the Inner Richmond’s latest Japanese addition, Watami (5344 Geary at 17th Ave.), where the ramen noodles and shabu shabu flow freely. For more info, call 876-0808. Finally, upscale Thai has found a new home at King Cha Cha (1268 Grant at Vallejo) in North Beach at the former home of Citizen Thai. For more info, call 391-8215.