Eskender Aseged of Radio Africa and Kitchen has been thrilled with the critical acclaim his restaurant has received as San Franciscans trek to the Bayview, which has not often been a foodie destination. He is even more excited, however, to see members of the neighborhood, many of whom were initially suspicious of Radio Africa, coming in to try his food. African culture has a strong presence on 3rd street, and Aseged hopes to become an alternative and modern extension of that.
Even more important to this well traveled, Ethiopian-born chef than the African inspiration behind his cuisine is his commitment to simple and accessible food. Though Bayview is no longer a food desert, as a handful of grocery stores have been opened in the past few years, Aseged wants to serve something lighter with quality ingredients and minimum handling.
This dedication to simplicity is certainly working in Aseged's favor. On a recent visit to sample the new lunch menu, I found myself marveling at how the ingredients complement each other, making each bite potent with flavor.
A kombucha squash and chestnut soup radiated a warm flavor, complicated by a swirl of house made harissa sauce that not only brought spice, but also drew out the nuttiness of the chestnut. Asseged replaced peanuts, the traditional African ingredient, with chestnuts that he froze from a fall harvest to achieve a similar creaminess and a distinct flavor, while avoiding the peanut allergen. We're glad he had such foresight, as a not so sunny San Francisco summer day often calls for a warm bowl of soup.
Radio Africa's lunch menu currently consists of a daily soup ($8), two salads ($8-$9), and five sandwich options ($8-$9.) Aseged is adamant about keeping prices low and is even offering a half price, early bird special on his three course tasting menu for $25 between 5:30 PM and 7 PM. While the weekday lunch hour only saw a slow trickle of people, many of whom worked in nearby office buildings, the local weekend turn out was much larger. Because of this big turn out and local feedback, Radio Africa plans to start serving brunch soon. "We don't want to get ahead of ourselves," Aseged says, "but we want to listen to the feedback from our neighbors."
As they continue to work out logistics, Radio Africa's kitchen keeps serving up first class food. A baked basa sandwich with tomato confit and arugula was excellent -- the basa, a white, flaky fish in the catfish family, was tender and just meaty enough. The tangy, tomato confit infused the fish and softened the bread (which was, regrettably, slightly stale and my only complaint), and the sauteed arugula provided a hearty crunch. I was nearly as in love with a grilled flank stake sandwich with juicy strips of meat, thick slices of a mild feta, peppers, and salsa verde.
The restaurant exudes a laid back vibe. A spacious seating area is simply adorned with wooden tables and long windows. No one is in a rush. A businessman waited around to catch the waitress's attention to tell her how lovely his meal was before he returned to work. Two women sampling wines were eager to share that they live nearby and this is their second outing to Radio Africa. I was reluctant to leave this calm too rarely found at lunch hour. Radio Africa is certainly still coming into its own, but it has already achieved a distinct flavor and atmosphere. This is certainly a recipe for good things to come.