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Burning Dimly 


Wednesday, Jan 24 2001
Glow is the kind of restaurant that makes me think back to last summer, when out of 20 places I reviewed, 16 were new, often barely more than a month old. Obviously, the year 2000 was a bit of a boom time here in the Bay Area, and most of those new places leaned toward the higher end of the spectrum: You'd have the standard $6-12 appetizers, $16-24 entrees, a 50-plus-bottle wine list, not to mention fancy house cocktails, swank décor, themes ranging from brilliant to lame, and, other than a few fusion holdouts, some slightly new take on California-American cuisine with Mediterranean influences and/or the occasional global riff.

Of course, since I love that kind of food it was a wonderful time for me. I ate a seemingly endless parade of eight- (and preferably 12-) course meals, often for two, and discovered that no man is friendless when he always pays for dinner. I also had plenty of answers to the ultimate San Francisco foodie question: Where have you eaten lately, and how was it? Back then, you needed to hit a new place every week just to keep up, and among the few people I know who actually attempted this, the consensus was as follows: 1) Established restaurants are almost always better than new ones, and 2) As for the rookies, the food, concept, and pretty much everything else had to shatter your universe to be worth returning even once.

From what I've seen, Glow is not worth returning to. Though nothing (OK, some things) sucked beyond what is reasonable at a new establishment, I must say it was a bit disappointing when, after I told my friends Leah and Chloe we'd be dining Classic American with a California twist, every cliché came true. Leah predicted we'd see seared ahi (it was the special) and infused vodka (everywhere), while I guessed the menu would contain goat cheese (in an omelet), seared foie gras (OK, grilled), and dayboat scallops. Dayboat scallops -- i.e., scallops that came in on the boat that day -- have made a lot of money for a lot of restaurants in this town, but I doubt Glow will be among them: It doesn't matter how fresh scallops are when you overcook them to just short of the texture of chewing gum.

Perhaps, as some have said, the newest addition to Broadway has opened in a cursed location (formerly, and briefly, Moonshine) -- a site where, by some strange force of geography, the food will always be so mediocre as to piss people off. Or perhaps, as is more likely, Glow's kitchen needs to try harder. It's a shame, really, because the restaurant itself seemed eminently promising, a sweeping, horseshoe-shaped dining area set around an open kitchen, with gorgeous drop fixtures suspended over a pale wood bar. When we arrived, a sultry jazz-and-blues soundtrack suffused our souls with the warm, soothing aura of immortal divas.

As for the theme (luminescence, I suppose), it managed both to please and annoy. Thankfully, our food was not laced with phosphorus; instead we found ourselves surrounded by abundant golden hues as we slid into a big, cushy booth illuminated by tiny, intensely focused lights. Those lights looked pretty at a distance, but when we sat under them for a while it felt like we were being interrogated. At first, Leah complained that the wattage was unflattering -- "I mean, you look OK," she said, "but ... (insert uncomplimentary silence here)." Eventually, the lights wore her down, and as our appetizers were cleared she suggested quite loudly that Glow change its name to "Aggressive Spotlight."

Granted, Leah isn't always the best-behaved diner, but in this case her discontent probably had more to do with the way the most egregious mishaps of our meal occurred at her end of the table. For example, Chloe and I, at one end of the table, managed to down four house cocktails with mixed results. We had an excellent, lightly fruity Glow Cocktail with aquavit, house-made sweet and sour mix, and mandarin liqueur, followed by a fairly good Frisco Sour (bourbon, benedictine, sweet and sour, orange juice), a syrupy, grape-infused vodka Metropolitan, and a Jim Beam Mint Julep that made me wonder why, for $7.75, I wasn't drinking a higher-quality bourbon. At the other end, Leah ordered a Stinger Mist (brandy, white crème de menthe, crushed ice) and got a concoction so bitter and acerbic she had to force herself to take a second sip before abandoning her drink entirely.

Can one bad cocktail ruin an entire meal? Maybe. But for me, at least, all was forgiven when I sampled Glow's spectacular crab cakes. Yes, everyone does those too, but when they're crisp, rich, perfectly browned on the outside, flaky and melting within, then served with a zesty watercress aioli and tomatoes poached in olive oil, it's impossible not to harbor kind feelings for the kitchen. A second appetizer, bacon-wrapped rabbit loin skewered with sprigs of rosemary, showed a remarkable cleverness -- though we didn't taste the rosemary, it exuded a subtle, piney bouquet -- and even our clams casino hit pay dirt, combining buttery little bivalves with bacon, chard, and a perfectly appropriate squeeze of fresh lemon.

Unfortunately, that was the end of the magic, and at the prices Glow charges -- or any prices, really -- it shouldn't have been. Leah's appetizer, a Waldorf salad with endive, apple, glazed nuts, and a creamy goat's milk/blue cheese dressing, was entirely bland, and so tiny a baby chipmunk would have walked away hungry. A pair of spicy Bloody Mary oyster shooters might never have arrived if I hadn't reminded our waiter that we had ordered them; in retrospect, I should have kept my mouth shut. Normally, I'm the guy who bites the hot pepper (and often suffers the consequences), but these shooters were so blisteringly horseradishy that I sipped, sipped again, and, against my better instincts, braced myself, gulped, cringed, then gasped, "Man, I must be a masochist."

Entrees failed to rescue our meal from its tailspin. My moist, tender, pear-stuffed rainbow trout with almonds, capers, and brown butter was easily the best of the three, but wouldn't have been at most places. At first, Chloe was quite excited by her hulking, smoky, cider-basted pork chop with potatoes gratin, but she lost her enthusiasm when the meat was rubbery, the smokiness overpowering, and the accompanying apple sauce no tastier than the stuff that comes in jars. Then came Leah's choice -- chervil-crusted dayboat scallops. Usually, I take Leah to less expensive places, where we order so much food that we stroll out with our stomachs distended, a bundle of to-go boxes under my arm. But at Glow we ate every last scrap, because it was either suffer through supremely tough scallops (with rock-hard, undercooked carrots and a flavorless squash purée) or leave hungry.

Sometimes desserts blow your mind and send you out the door with an almost post-coital radiance. At other times you get desserts like those at Glow. My lackluster devil's food cake with praline buttercream and tasteless hazelnut anglaise might, once again, have been the best of the lot. Chloe's soggy banana cream puff pastries certainly didn't earn the honor, nor would Leah's lemon curd tart, I realized, as I forced my fork through a crust so hard it was like trying to breach an abalone shell. That tart continued to do us wrong when it turned out to be insipidly sweet. Though a glass of sugary, lightly acidic Bonny Doon vin du glacier muscat made for a lovely final taste, as we left Leah begged me not to take her to expensive restaurants anymore.

As for Chloe, I think I speak for both of us when I say Glow will have to do a whole lot better if management hopes to keep the lights on.

About The Author

Greg Hugunin


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