Someday in the not-too-distant future, we'll look back at today's obsession with "lardcore" (aka the obsession with baconing everything) the same way we view the '90's penchant for serving things in martini glasses — with fond amusement for something long outgrown. Recently, bacon, sausage, cheese, and other artery-clogging ingredients have crept onto menus in places they have no business being. When done well, this kind of food is at least a pleasure, albeit one you know will kill you eventually. When done poorly, it leads to nothing but indigestion and regret.
There is nothing redeeming about the food at the Marina's new Stock in Trade, where chef Jake Kwan-Rosenbush has supercharged every dish with high-fat ingredients without discernible purpose. Bacon and sausage appear on the menu often: Sometimes they overpower, other times they're sadly underused. The imbalance is surprising, since Kwan-Rosenbush claims credentials at well-respected places like Gary Danko, Naked Lunch, and 15 Romolo, and even more so because Max DiMare, the critically acclaimed chef formerly of Wood Tavern in Oakland, was brought in as a consultant before opening.
We started with the much-hyped bacon caramel popcorn, which turned out to be a bowl of stale-tasting, under-seasoned popcorn topped with a drizzle of caramel and a meager sprinkle of bacon bits. Caramel corn should be intensely sweet and so sticky it clings to your teeth for hours; this version felt like it could have been approved by the American Dental Association, and the taste of bacon was undetectable.
Then there was a salad from the "Soups & Shrubbery" section of the menu (all the menu section names could use an edit. Dessert is called "Happy Endings," brunch brought "Egg Stuff" and "Other Stuff," and so on). In a place like San Francisco, which has elevated the salad to an art form, this was an insult: wan, pale chopped lettuce and frisee that looked and tasted as though it had come out of a bag, balsamic vinaigrette at war with a separate citrus sauce, ghastly duck confit, and no evidence of the promised pickled chiles.
Macaroni and cheese, a "Shareable," arrived overflowing the ramekin it was served in, leaving a slick of cheese sauce slowly congealing on the saucer underneath. Havarti is a mild cheese not usually seen in this dish for a reason — the sauce was entirely tasteless, the noodles were cooked to mush, and an ice cream-scoop sized lump of ricotta cheese in the middle did nothing but add calories. The dish's flavor came from cheap-tasting spicy Italian sausage, which fought for attention with fried shallot strips, like siblings squabbling for a distracted parent's attention.
From "Substantials," we ordered the salmon and the pork chop. The pork chop was the best dish we tried, a juicy slab of meat cooked well, though the portion was massive and the bacon in its salty gravy was superfluous. The salmon was described on the menu as having a "curry Madras vinaigrette," though it appeared to have three different curry sauces: The bland Scottish salmon was topped with a paste, the gluey cous cous underneath had a different vinaigrette, and the plate was splattered with cream. None of the flavors played well together, and currants scattered around the plate didn't help matters.
Now, imagine all this in a place that feels like an Ibiza nightclub, the music turned up so loud you can feel the bass thumping through your chair. The restaurant has 150 seats and ambitiously priced entrees in the $25 range, but it does not seem to want to be a restaurant. Most of the Marina crowd in there was interested in drinking under the wrought-iron chandeliers (salvaged from the space's former incarnation as Barca), or playing bocce ball at the half-court in back.
We returned for brunch, which was better only in the sense that the restaurant was empty and we could talk at a normal volume. We ordered Bloody Marys garnished with bacon. My friend pulled out her bacon slice, which was coated with a thick layer of congealed grease; it looked and tasted like it had been languishing in some corner of the walk-in for ages. Neither of us finished our drink.
Breakfast poutine turned out to be a pile of shoestring fries doused in a greasy lemon sauce and topped with a poached egg. Further excavation revealed brown, hard squares under the fries. "Are those croutons?" my friend asked. It was sausage. Globs of waxy, unmelted cheese sat next to the sausage, and in the bottom of the dish there was a half-inch of grease. And the only thing I can say about the dry breakfast arepa we ordered, accompanied by fried plantains the consistency of shoe leather, is that it didn't give me heartburn.
Halfway through brunch the waiter refilled my coffee mug with liquid so scaldingly hot it brought tears to my eyes and temporarily put my taste buds out of commission. It was an improvement.