French Fries, Asian-Marinated Hoffman Poussin with Cucumber Pickles, Hawaiian Ono with Caper-Butter Sauce
Occupation: Police Sergeant
Location: Santa Clara
Favorite Restaurant: Hayes Street Grill
Reviewed Hayes Street Grill: Tuesday, December 30, 2008
I keep coming back to this place, because the food is good, well prepared, and not all that fancy.
The HSG opened in 1979, and I started eating here in 1985. Most people are not aware of the fact that the HSG was one of the first upscale places to open in the Hayes Valley neighborhood. It preceded Davies Symphony Hall as well as the Opera Plaza. The owners started the business because they couldn’t find a decent restaurant in the area.
The interior of the HSG has a classic grill look, which matches the style of food, with wooden floors, wainscoting and chairs, and white-clothed tables overlaid with butcher paper. The gallery of signed photographs of artists who have performed nearby fits with the performing arts location. There is a real San Francisco feel to the place.
The HSG is the perfect example of California grill style cooking, using the highest-quality ingredients prepared simply in order to show off the natural flavors of the food. The mostly seafood menu is bright and fresh, and the concept of pairing your choice of fish with any sauce with a pile of scrumptious fries served alongside is simply brilliant. The sauces include herb-shallot butter, extra virgin olive oil, tartar, Sichuan peanut (nice option), beurre blanc, fresh tomato salsa, and lemon caper butter (excellent).
Although grilled fish made the restaurant’s reputation, seafood (and some meat) comes in other styles, including sautéed petrale sole with king trumpet and yellow chanterelle mushrooms and new potatoes. The sautéed petrale sole is enticing and happens to be my all time favorite. The fish has a nice crisp exterior and is covered in a warm lemon caper butter sauce and served with king trumpet mushrooms and new potatoes. Every single dish I’ve eaten here has been excellent, even simple sand dabs (another favorite), lightly pan fried in nothing but butter and garlic, somehow manage to taste better here than anywhere else.
Make no mistake. This is a seafood restaurant with a strong emphasis on freshness and seasonal ingredients. The seafood menu is based on what is available from the fish supplier. There are also non-seafood dishes as well, such as the Asian-marinated poussin (chicken), sausages, steaks, and pork chops. But what stands out the most are the french fries cooked in peanut oil. They are crisp, golden brown, and cooked to perfection.
Here is another reason to like HSG. The restaurant is divided into three stations: sauté, mesquite grill, and salad station. Most of the action is on the mesquite grill. You can’t go wrong. There is something for everyone. The secret is that HSG lets the fish stand on its own. Nothing fancy, just thoughtful and skilled preparation.
Most of time, I order seafood as the main course, but on my most recent visit, I was in the mood for the Asian-marinated poussin grilled on a genuine charcoal grill. It is served with basmati rice, but I asked for fries instead, because that’s what they do best.
The service was quick and friendly. The poussin was simple but delicious. This grilled chicken had the distinctive flavors of soy sauce, ginger, and herbs. It was soft, easy to cut, juicy and flavorful. I forgot to mention that prior to the poussin, I had the six Hog Island oysters on the half shell as an appetizer. These oysters had a delicate texture and a clean aftertaste.
For dessert, I had one of their signature desert items, crème brûlée. It was soft, creamy, and the caramelized brown sugar on top was crispy and refreshing.
Overall, this is a solid restaurant, which is why it has been around for 29 years. If you’re looking for good service and good food without the fancy stuff, you can’t go wrong. The only downside is that parking can be difficult on opera or symphony nights, but they offer valet parking.
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Mama’s on Washington Square
Reviewed Hayes Street Grill: Tuesday, January 6, 2009
I went to Hayes Street Grill for dinner. There are about 20 tables with white tablecloths on them. As you walk into the restaurant, you pass the bar that’s in the front of the restaurant. I was seated right away, and the waiter came right up to the table to ask what I would like to drink, I just had a glass of water. When he returned and asked for my order, I ordered the Hawaiian ono, a white meaty fish. You have a choice of a sauce to order that comes with the fish, I ordered the butter with caper sauce. I also ordered the Caesar salad.
Five minutes later my Caesar salad arrived. It was a good size salad, fresh and tasty. About ten minutes later my Hawaiian ono was placed in front of me. The fish was grilled, and on the plate next to the fish was a little bowl of the butter with capers in it. The waiter then returned with french fries that were wrapped nicely in paper in a bowl.
At first I thought, “Is this it?” But as I ate, I was getting full and realized the portion was perfect. Looking around the restaurant, I noticed all the framed pictures on the walls. I asked our waiter Tom if they were performers from the opera and he answered that they were pictures of customers who were with the ballet, symphony, and opera.
As I was sitting there, Tom mentioned the head of the ballet just walked in. I liked that people in the entertainment industry frequently visit this restaurant, given that it’s so close to the theaters where the performances take place.
After I finished my meal, I was given a dessert menu. There were many wonderful desserts to choose from. Chocolate cake à la mode, a tart with whipped cream, crème brûlée, and one that really stood out, a hot fudge sundae — oh, my! That was it! I didn’t want a full size of the hot fudge sundae, so Tom the waiter said I could order a half size in a wine glass. I said, “Great” and ordered that.
The hot fudge sundae was delicious. Hot fudge in the bottom of the glass, ice cream, and candied nuts on the top. (I told him to leave off the whipped cream). I haven’t had a hot fudge sundae in years, so I really enjoyed it!
The bill came; $24.75 for my Hawaiian ono, $10.00 for my Caesar salad, and $4.00 for my hot fudge sundae (all the desserts are $8.00 each, but I ordered a half).
I had a wonderful meal and a wonderful experience. I will definitely return to this restaurant for the food and to see who else’s picture will be on the wall.
Occupation: Health Researcher
Location: El Cerrito
Favorite Restaurant: Sahn Maru Korean BBQ
Reviewed Hayes Street Grill: Monday, December 22, 2008
Being East Bay residents, my husband and I conveniently hopped on BART to get to Hayes Street Grill and met another couple friend for dinner. I’m more of a “bang-for-the-buck” type gal, so I was highly anticipating this “upscale” restaurant. (Upscale for me anyway.) Seating was a breeze, but by 7:30, many of the tables were already empty on this weekday night, so the reservation was probably unnecessary.
Hayes Street Grill had a cozy feeling, with hangers on the wall for you to hang your coat. The Prime Time Prix Fixe Dinner was available to us (Sunday through Thurssay after 7:30pm), so the guys chose to get the prix fixe dishes. The waiter patiently answered our questions and took our order. Unfortunately, what I had wanted to get — calamari for appetizer and the petrale sole for the main course — were both “no longer available.” Even one of the sauces I wanted, the “lime-cilantro-jalapeno salsa” was not available. I ordered the Mariquita escarole and barley soup with Hobbs ham hock, and Sea of Cortez grilled Corvina with a couple of different sauces. The menu said the fish was “like sea bass,” and I like sea bass, so it sounded like a good choice.
The soup was hearty, but a bit lacking for flavor. Even after adding salt and pepper, there were no flavors to bring out. I ate the whole bowl out of hunger (I was eating for two), trying the bits of ham for some salty goodness, but even the ham was bland. The Corvina came not much later, accompanied by a bowl full of French Fries. The first few bites of my Corvina were decent, but then I discovered the raw-ish middle section. I tried to cut it but there was a huge piece of ligament or tendon that made it almost impossible to cut through the raw section. I decided to just eat the pieces on the edges that came off easily. I couldn’t tell if the fish was supposed to be cooked this way, or if a mistake was made in the kitchen. Was I being an uncultured idiot? Should I send back the now tattered piece of fish for a re-grill? Should I be grateful for the big portion? I decided that it wasn’t worth bothering the waiter about.
The french fries were absolutely delicious and were the highlight of the meal for me. The portion was generous, and their ketchup was nice and thick. If it wasn’t for the fries, I think I would have left the restaurant starving. I also thoroughly enjoyed the crème brûlée that came at the end of our meal. The sugary top was slightly burnt, just the way I like it.
I doubt that I, nor my three companions, would ever try this restaurant again. For $45, I expect the meal to be great so… sorry, but no second chances from this customer. Well, maybe I’ll stop by for some french fries if I’m ever in the area.