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Huxley: the Tenderloin’s Fancy Side 

Wednesday, Aug 26 2015
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There's no getting around the fact that Huxley is Nouvelle Tenderloin. Its block of Geary, already home to wine bar Tender and ShakeDown ice cream, is red-shifting away from the rest of the TL at interstellar speed. Anyone who dismisses (or admires) this neighborhood had better eat at Huxley first.

It's only a 25-seat restaurant, small enough that excusing yourself from the table can be harrowing for clumsy types — but the décor is top-notch. Having grumbled about Edison bulbs dozens of times, I want to give props to Huxley's badass lighting fixtures. The water glasses are octagonal, and the tabletops feature a sort of Art Nouveau-chinoiserie pattern on them. Finally, something different.

Dinner was really something, urbane and countrified all at once. The breads and spreads plate ($35) was rustic even by the standards of charcuterie, and probably the least fat-phobic I've ever seen. (That is high praise.) Pâté and mustard on bread from fellow TL newbie Jane Bakery is almost unbeatably delicious, and while juicy headcheeses aren'ta universal crowd pleaser, I'm certainly a fan. There was smoked lard on there too, and whipped foie gras, plus the butter was salted. House-cured boquerones (white anchovies) kept everything from sliding all the way into lipid-land, but the chorizo's perfect texture brought it back from the edge. On a separate little plate, tomato jam offered more sweet acidity to even out the Valdeon (a goat-and-cow blue cheese) and contained probably the only trace of water-soluble vitamins to be found.

A light, salad-like charred squid (with chickpeas, avocado, cherry tomato, peppers, and cilantro, $16) was a fine follow-up to all that meat and dairy, and the heirloom tomato salad ($11) took things even further in that direction. Heirloom tomatoes can be oppressively seasonal: There's one window, and then it's back to depressing pink softballs for the rest of the year, so everybody eat your vegetables! But Huxley's is worth caving to the pressure of ultra-seasonal dining, a beautiful combination of tomaters, basil, cucumber, fennel, summer squash, and bottanga.

Defiantly anti-summery but equally wonderful was the beef short rib pot pie ($26). It's a tad stingy for the price tag compared to the rest of the menu, but mushing it all around with a fork (as instructed) is rewarding, highly fluted crust and all. It's hard to be patient and let it cool off so you don't burn your tongue. (Disclosure: I burned my tongue.)

So, dinner was great. Brunch was a little rougher. I went in on that record-breaking Sunday when the official temperature hit 90, and declined the "beermosa" (Allagash White and orange juice) in favor of a fortifying grapefruit mimosa ($8). It was intensely bitter even for grapefruit (a plus), but what followed was a mixed bag.

The rice and vegetable bowl (sort of like a bibimbap, but with cucumber and avocado, $14) felt conspicuously nutritious, although I would order it again in a second. It's unusual — not too hot, not too cold, and heavy on the raw vegetables and soft-boiled egg, but not so full of kimchi that it might alienate anyone unaccustomed to pickled cabbage at the breakfast table.

The baked eggs ($16) were nice and smoky, and the eggplant was presented in strips so that it looked a lot like rhubarb, except it was basically a mint ratatouille. Some of the beans were cooked through, others were not. On balance, it was a tasty dish, but the execution was wobbly. I couldn't really fathom the concept behind it, beyond being different for difference's sake.

In spite of being under-salted and over-toasted, the avocado toast ($9) was among the most beautiful dishes. The toast was basically a vehicle for avocado, which was in turn a vehicle for sea urchin, and nobody's going to mind that, especially when it's not even 10 bucks.

But if the avocado toast was slightly overdone, the French toast with yellow peaches ($9) was, to be blunt, a complete head-scratcher. In the words of Ralph Wiggum, "It tastes like burning." I almost couldn't believe the kitchen sent it out. (I looked at two other tables' toast to see if mine was an outlier, and yep, theirs were similarly scorched.) Yes, the interior was luscious, but the burned exterior tainted the sage cream — which was subtle, tasting faintly of soap to begin with. I haven't sent something back to a kitchen in almost a decade, but if that had been the only thing I ordered, it would have been a candidate for a redo.

So there you have it, a great dinner and a confusing brunch, more divergent than any two meals I've had at the same place in quite awhile. But then again, the Tenderloin is the land of discordances. Huxley has acquired a reputation for being expensive, but I don't think that's fair at all. "Uni toast for the people" might be pushing it, but it's still a bargain, and even with that $35 charcuterie spread, you more than get what you pay for. Still, you'd have to be kidding yourself not to think there are more rarefied restaurants in the works on Geary Street.

With hotels and theaters only a few blocks away, the writing's on the wall (even if there's a concerted effort to clean writing off the neighborhood's walls). Sometimes I'm struck by the juxtaposition between what was on the table and what was on the stereo, and this brunch was an extreme case. Hearing "O.P.P." while drinking a bitter grapefruit mimosa and eating off of genuine silver spoons in a Tenderloin restaurant whose name sounds like an affluent suburb in Connecticut snapped me right back: I like Huxley, but I love the old TL so much more.

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About The Author

Peter Lawrence Kane

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Peter Lawrence Kane is SF Weekly's Arts Editor. He has lived in San Francisco since 2008 and is two-thirds the way toward his goal of visiting all 59 national parks.

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