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Eat: Dat Spot 

Wednesday, Dec 16 2015
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Generally speaking, two kinds of sit-down restaurants can thrive in a tiny space: high-end sushi places and neighborhood joints. And the best kinds of neighborhood joints are those that specialize in comfort foods — reliable, low-key places where you're on a first-name basis with the waitstaff.

Dat Spot is just that type of place. Now that Jocelyn Bulow has moved Potrero Hill's Chez Maman down the block and into the larger space formerly occupied by Chez Papa, she and chef Brandon Peacock have gone the rotisserie route. I'm not going to get hung up on this, but just to get it out of the way, "Dat Spot" is a terrible name for this restaurant. Using dated slang to prove how hip you are makes me cringe the way Dr. Evil doing the Macarena does, but in this case, it gives the wrong connotation, too. The phrase "Dat Spot" is, to put it generously, off-fleek.

Okay: moving on. Nomenclature notwithstanding, Dat Spot is basically everything you could want in a cozy neighborhood restaurant. The portions are big, the prices are decent, and the staff checks in often enough to suggest they realize that most of the diners probably live nearby, so it's best to keep them happy. Everything about Dat Spot suggests it's eager to cultivate regulars.

The appetizers show the most flair. Far smokier than they were salty, the grilled sardines ($11) with burnt lemon, chimichurri, and arugula were a fulcrum between bitter and art, simply an all-around well-composed dish. The zingy bacon and potato chowder ($8) with Tabasco croutons was full of pepper and pork, creamy without weighing itself down. I was less of a fan of the steamed artichoke ($8), which was dry and lacked much garlic vinaigrette, but the arugula salad ($11) with fried goat cheese, cranberry, and flax seeds was as good as it sounds.

Those flax seeds represented the nutritional zenith of this dinner, as everything that followed was the bliss of comfort food. Dat Spot is a rotisserie, so the whole chicken ($25) is obligatory. Considering the northward march of entree prices in this city, the fact that you get two sauces and two sides for that should be recommendation enough, but this chicken was flawless. (My dinner date insisted that it was cooked with a lemon in its mouth.) The sauces, chimichurri and warm Dijon mustard, were perfectly good — but they added nothing, because this is chicken you can eat plain. And our three sides were all over the place. As a personal preference, I like my Brussels sprouts browned and/or vinegary, and these were salty. Sadly, the chicken fat potatoes were a wash; they had a gummy-waxy texture, as if they'd been sitting under a heat lamp all evening. But the mac 'n' cheese — that paradigmatic winter comfort food — was straight-up amazing. None of the sauce stuck to the skillet, and, as if daring you to compare it to Velveeta, whose ass it kicks, the pasta is shells.

Breaded to perfection, the half fried chicken ($17), which I'd tried on a previous lunch visit, was as good as the rotisserie. Even if upsells and supplements make you gnash your teeth, the $2 truffled honey add-on is a must: Besides the obvious sweetness, it adds a harmonic resonance to the batter without the sogginess you might get if the chicken were coated in honey before frying, making it closer to Korean fried chicken than what you'd associate with the American South. While the pork chop ($17) was a little dry at the outer edge, it was much juicier closer to the bone — but it's almost a moot point, because you should order the chicken no matter what.

This might not be to all tastes, but the triple chocolate brownie ($8) with malted milk was grainy from the sugar that had crystallized, although the maple-y bread pudding ($8) underneath a cumulus cloud of vanilla whipped cream was indisputably delicious.

Dat Spot is a very small restaurant. Apart from a tiny bit of El Niño-unfriendly outdoor seating, the restaurant is essentially two tables and a counter. It has those ugly, '90s-style silver tabletops with the circular hologram pattern, and the mural on the wall — of a chubby Uncle Sam exhorting you to eat more chicken — has all the subtlety of Big Brother glowering "WAR IS PEACE" from the side of the Ministry of Love.

But what it lacks in style points it more than makes up for in warmth. While we were finishing up, an employee started prepping a fish right behind my head, to make the staff meal. Even though we already had dessert on the table, he noticed our curiosity and offered us some of that intense, mussel-heavy broth, essentially a cioppino without tomato. (I'm confident he was just being amiable, but there's always the chance that my furtive note-taking busted me, although I try to wear subtle disguises like an Elizabethan ruff collar or a beard of bees to review dinners.) This risks tainting everything I've written about Dat Spot, but being as fresh as fresh gets, that might have been the best thing we tasted all night, made tastier still by the magnanimity of the gesture. And that is exactly what most people love about neighborhood restaurants, and the quality that makes them come back again and again.

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About The Author

Peter Lawrence Kane

Bio:
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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