I don't really like bowling. My high game was a 138, I think, and that was certainly with tipsy scoring. Though an almost native San Franciscan, I didn't tear up at the closing of Japantown Bowl, nor did I care when Presidio Bowl was finally opened to civilians. So upon learning that an old electrical supply warehouse was being converted into Mission Bowling Club, I shrugged. Until I heard that they were bringing in Anthony Myint to run the kitchen.
For those not unhealthily addicted to local restaurant blogs, Myint is the mastermind behind Mission Street Food, arguably the city's first pop-up restaurant and certainly its most celebrated. He currently co-owns the cult-like Mission Chinese Food as well as its fine dining neighbor, Commonwealth. However, I would argue that Myint's defining culinary achievement occurred back in late 2009 when he launched Mission Burger from behind the butcher counter of Duc Loi market. There, he and Mission Chinese partner Danny Bowien concocted a burger of aged, granulated short rib and chuck seared in beef fat that was so decadent, it made it easy to forget that you were eating it perched on a dirty milk crate. Sadly, the venture only lasted nine months.
At Mission Bowling Club, the Mission Burger ($15) makes its long-awaited return and, save for its larger size and higher price tag, it's unchanged. Salty and exceedingly rich, the half-pound patty is topped with a melty layer of mild Monterey jack cheese, a web of sweet caramelized onions, and a tart caper aioli that adds another layer of salt. This burger is not for the sodium-adverse. Equally imperative was the Acme bun, griddled to the consistency of a not-too-eggy French toast. Myint made the best burger in San Francisco two years ago and he reclaims that title now. Even In-N-Out-loving Walter Sobchak (What? Because I don't bowl means that I can't make Big Lebowski references?) would love it.
Everything from Mission Bowling's fryer could compete with the burger for signature item status. Both the fried chicken ($8) and the corn dog ($7) hung dramatically from rods jutting out at a 45-degree angle from a wooden plank, bringing to mind the sex toy displays at Good Vibrations, not that I've ever been. For the chicken, three chunks of moist dark meat, skin intact, were coated in a flaky, vodka-spiked batter (another vintage Myint technique) that crumbled with each bite, resulting in niblets of crust all over my shirt and a slow trickle of grease down my hand. The licensed nutritionist at my dinner table threw caution to the wind and shot me a death stare before she claimed the last piece. The corn dog's dog was a rather spicy Italian fennel sausage that played well off its crisp cornmeal and hominy casing.
Also reprised from the old Duc Loi menu was the vegan burger ($10), a fried mash of chickpeas, kale, and shiitake mushrooms boosted by a smear of guacamole and a healthy douse of chile-flecked sambal sauce. It was like a falafel sandwich on steroids that won't make vegans feel that they're settling for something bastardized, as is often the case with a menu item titled "vegan." I picked through an entire order of home fries ($5), halved, generously salted Yukon gold potatoes with skins as brittle as the top of a proper crème brûlée.
Unfortunately, the kitchen wasn't as successful when it strayed from bowling-friendly fare. Though the beets in the roasted and pickled beet plate ($10) were perfectly ripe, they suffered from too much, too citrusy dressing, and any flavor from the promised tangy mozzarella was nowhere to be found. A taco "salad" ($9) of five sloppily arranged lettuce cups containing mild chiles, queso fresco, salsa verde, and a few shards of fried tortilla looked as if it was produced by a preschool cooking class, and didn't taste much more sophisticated. Stranger yet was a tiny, mealy hunk of blackened salmon ($18), flavorless, cold, and dwarfed in size by its accompanying side, a crème fraîche and salmon roe-capped potato latke which, though a tad mushy, would have made for a quality dish on its own.
While Mission Bowling Club's decor screams fun and energy, what with the bowling-themed light fixtures and gleaming, restored lanes, the dining room proper is walled off and to the side, like a penalty box for those simply desiring a meal. For every scream of "strike!" and wallop of the pins, we had to stand to get a glimpse of the action. A table in the loft above would have helped with the view, but the space was empty on both of my weeknight outings. I sat at the bar during my second visit and felt much more like one of the cool kids. Servers, both in the dining area and the bar, were casual, friendly, and eager to answer any questions about the menu and drink list.
Though I stuck to pints of Anchor Liberty Ale ($5), I was encouraged to taste as many beers and liquors as I pleased, a nice touch. Music, a listener-friendly mix including BB King, The Hold Steady, and Jay-Z, was loud but not so much as to distract conversation.
Am I any more turned on by the thought of bowling now that I've experienced Mission Bowling Club? Luckily, I can just grab a stool at the bar.