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. African culture has a strong presence on Third Street, and Aseged hopes to become a modern extension of that.
Even more important to this well traveled, Ethiopian-born chef is his commitment to simple and accessible food. This dedication 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 kabocha 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. Aseged replaced peanuts, the traditional African ingredient, with chestnuts that he froze from a fall harvest to achieve a similar creaminess and 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 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 and 7 p.m. While the weekday lunch hour only saw a slow trickle of people, many of whom worked in nearby office buildings, the local weekend turnout was much larger. Because of its local popularity, 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."
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, a touch stale and my only complaint), and the sauteed arugula provided a hearty crunch. I was nearly as in love with a grilled flank steak sandwich with juicy strips of meat, thick slices of a mild feta, peppers, and salsa verde.