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Monday, August 29, 2011

The Galley Serves Up Gourmet Food in a Near-Dive Bar

Posted By on Mon, Aug 29, 2011 at 11:30 AM

French onion sandwich - PHOTOS BY W. BLAKE GRAY
  • Photos by W. Blake Gray
  • French onion sandwich

The Galley may be the most unlikely location for a good restaurant we've seen yet.


Clooney's Pub is a Valencia Street bar that, to be fair, is a little too nice to really be called a dive bar. SFoodie is big fans of Bouncer columnist Katy St. Clair and we know she would say that the pool table and most of the TVs are too functional, and half-a-dozen beers on tap is at least four too many, for it to really be a dive.

But put it this way: We felt really effete in this place, even though we go to bars to watch the Giants relatively often. After we ordered ahi and watermelon salad ($8) and a French onion sandwich ($8), we asked the bartender what kind of wine she had. Almost immediately a patron behind her threw a beer bottle into a trashcan hard enough to smash several others. We're glad we didn't have a mirror to see if our smile looked like that of an aristocrat whose car just broke down in Hunter's Point; from inside, it felt like it.

Justin Navarro's place of dreaming
  • Justin Navarro's place of dreaming

We loved her straight-up answer: "You wouldn't like the red wine. I've got some white in here. Let's see what kind it is." She rooted around in a refrigerator and came up with the dregs of a bottle of white Zinfandel. But she did have Prohibition Speakeasy Ale on tap, along with Alaskan Amber and a couple ales from Deschutes, so that's definitely the way to go.

The menu is for meat fans. Local food blogger Amy Sherman tipped us off to the beef tongue on flatbread ($8), but we figure name-checking her is sufficient critical approval. The senior citizen next to us got ribs ($9), properly described as "tender and messy," and did not hide his delight.

Chef Justin Navarro delivered our food to the bar. He works with one assistant, but he's there all the time, noon to 10 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. To us that sounds insane, but Navarro said, "When you want to live the dream, you've got to work hard at it."

What is the dream, we asked? "Making good food and having people enjoy it," he said. You gotta love that answer.


We had mixed reaction to the ahi and watermelon salad. It was beautiful and also a bit of a trompe l'oeil, with strips of bright red watermelon that look like raw ahi alternating with same-size strips of grey, grilled ahi. But there was so much shaken-on spice that it kept making us cough.

The French onion sandwich, on the other hand, was a much bigger hit than anything Aubrey Huff has delivered recently. The menu describes it as "just like the soup," and that is and isn't true. A generous portion of juicy, well-done roast beef didn't remind us of the soup, but the caramelized onions and provolone cheese did. We devoured the sandwich and, if we weren't so effete, would go back soon for another.

Navarro, who managed Starbucks stores in the Financial District for six years, ended up in the kitchen at Clooney's because it was unused, and he liked the bar, occasionally dropping by to play pool. The arrangement seems about as cozy as can be: the bar seems to like him there, and he likes creating what he calls "rich bar food."

We couldn't help wondering if the Galley's presence will inexorably change Clooney's, as more pinky-wavers like us come in and ask for a glass of Gevrey-Chambertin with our French onion sandwich. Then another, unrelated patron threw another beer bottle in the trashcan again, just to hear the sound of breaking glass. We weren't worried about our patrician smile this time, though, as our face was full of beef.

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W. Blake Gray


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