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Seaside Metal 

Wednesday, Jun 10 2015
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After years of languishing with lots of vacant storefronts, Guerneville is feeling the boom times once again. As someone who goes up there half a dozen times each year, I see that the trend has been palpable for a while, but in the last six or eight months the Healdsburg-ification has really accelerated. The changes aren't as profound as when foresters denuded the hillsides of redwoods, but they're still profound.

Once known as "Big Bottom," G'ville is still home to the towniest townies in the world, along with a gay dive, a great taqueria, and a terrible taqueria. But, the 1921 Guerneville Bank Club — a Beaux Arts beauty that's been moribund for years, if not decades — is now an art gallery and retail collective where you can buy ice cream and handmade pies. Second-home buyers, weekend campers, and day-trippers coming back from wine tastings farther up the river need to eat, and it can't just be all Dick Blomster's Korean diner, all the time. Slight remoteness notwithstanding, Guerneville's recession-era scrappiness was never going to last. The Bay Area is simply too flush, and wine country too near.

In landed Seaside Metal, a project from the Bar Crudo team that's been open awhile now but considering its provenance, it's gotten curiously little attention from SF media — which is odd, because I'm pretty sure almost everybody likes Bar Crudo's oysters and beer list. A sizable number of options (San Sebastian, arctic char) appear on both menus, Seaside Metal being a pared-down version that preserves the greatest hits.

We started things off with a San Sebastian ($14), an assortment of tuna confit and vegetables named after the patron saint of queerness. It was one of those boards where, if you squint, it either looks like a modernist masterpiece or a big mess, but the price was right and the exactitude of the pickling set the tone for the evening. Crunchy yet cooked through, it isn't easy to get asparagus like that.

The Arctic char (here filed under "cold" and not "crudo," and $14 for four pieces) was simply spectacular, sitting under a generous spoonful of mint-jelly-green wasabi tobiko. It was crucial that the roe was so plentiful, because the char itself was creamy and thick even without the horseradish crème fraîche. Even more bracing — to eye and tongue alike — was the pickled smelt ($6), a single whole fish with egg, pickled onions, some greens, and a slight halo effect.

There were a few limpid moments, but only a few, and only at the margins. Shishito peppers ($8), lightly roasted in a puddle of hummus-like sauce, had very little heat. As a counterpoint to all the pickled fish, the crispy fingerling potatoes ($7) were much tastier, covered with a Parmesan-heavy sauce like a garlic-free pesto, but they weren't the least bit crispy. At the other end of the quibble spectrum, I took a chance and ordered Russian River Brewery's Consecration Wild Ale. With the color and translucency of dark iced-tea, it tastes like an experiment, as untamed as the eponymous river is placid. No doubt, I enjoyed its sourness, but I don't know that I'd recommend it to anyone who's wary of getting tasered in the palate while also trying to enjoy delicate seafood.

I'm noticing increasingly daring presentations of octopus lately, platings that refuse to conceal or sugarcoat the fact that you're eating a big tentacle (echoes of the straightforward smelt-on-a-plate.) A nice contrast to the tiny slivers that were the only disappointment when I ate at Aatxe, Seaside Metal's Spanish-braised octopus ($19) was one long tendril, as fat as a silver dollar at the upper end yet full of that soft-yet-firm chew. The chickpeas and spring onion were intensely flavorful as well. By contrast, the soft-shell crab ($26) was fried almost past the point of recognition. Although the peppery batter and the corn, carrot, and cabbage slaw redeemed it, it's tough to shake the (admittedly slightly vulgar) notion that the most expensive dish should cap off a meal.

That's not to say we didn't go out on a high note. By far the best thing of the evening was the $15-for-a-bowl chowder — which is plainly, if portentously, called "The Chowder." (At Bar Crudo, it's "Seafood Chowder.") It contained a couple grains of sand amid the bacon and the big chunks of frutti de mer, but the silky texture was absolutely unbeatable. As Inigo Montoya said when handling Westley's sword in The Princess Bride, I've never seen its equal; even toward the end, the clams didn't toughen. If not for the quasi-communal table (our party of three sat alongside another chatty threesome), we might never have ordered it, so chalk that one up to the virtues of intrusive strangers.

You can get all Linda Richman about the name ("Seaside Metal is neither seaside nor particularly metal. Discuss!") or just let the aggressively hip nomenclature pass right over you. All done up in the Valencia idiom, this is indeed the most San Francisco-like spot in town, with industrial lights and white subway tiles — which apparently will not die. (I don't think I've ever seen them so far from the nearest mass transit system.) All in all, Guerneville is gentrifying pretty quickly and its tiny size — population: 4,534 — will magnify those changes. Nothing will ever displace good old Safeway as Russian River Valley residents' No. 1 reason to head to town, but Seaside Metal certainly has a nice luster.

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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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