We always love it when chefs who have cooked at high-end, four star restaurants decide to go downscale and prepare more approachable food at more affordable neighborhood gems. Owner-Chefs at State Bird Provisions, Frances, Delfina, Gusto, Rich Table and Nico all come to mind: they have all served as top toque at four-star places such as Coi, Fifth Floor, Rubicon and Manresa. The latest addition brings Jason Halverson, former chef de cuisine at Michael Mina, to Russian Hill as Executive Chef at Stones Throw. The Northern-Californian/American restaurant was opened last November by a team comprised of Ryan Cole (former general manager of Michael Mina) and Fillmore’s Fat Angel owners Jason Kirmse and Cyrick Hai.
They do a lot with their beer and wine license, offering a plethora of beer/cider and wine selections, each numbering more than 50 options and separated out into amusing categories such as Sour Patch, Bitter Beer Face and Asking for Trouble for the brews; then Left Coast, Classically Trained, Bizarrely Unique and Bargain Bin for wines. They also have creative low-proof aperitif-type cocktails using sherry, wine or beer as the base.
Taking over Luella’s spot, Stones Throw seats 49 at tables plus room for a dozen more at the bar. Even with the standing-only communal table, there was no room for us at the bar since there were plenty of patrons drinking the evening away. Luckily we had reservations, so we were seated right away at one of the bare wood tables. We were immediately struck with the impression that Stones Throw might just have the best table configuration around, with a generous amount of room between tables – so much so that we didn’t have to involuntarily eavesdrop on anyone’s conversation.
Gone are the days that we can drink two bottle of wines with dinner. Fortunately, they offer about a dozen wines by the glass, so we both started with a different glass of white: a Vermentino and a Fiano d’Avellino:
The reasonably priced menu is broken up into Snacks (all at $8), Starters ($12-$15) and Mains ($16-$28) with four to five items in each category. Chef Halverson is definitely applying his four-star background into some unique combinations and creations.
We were intrigued by the Puffed Potato & Eggs after our waiter described it to us as a fried potato dumpling with runny egg yolk in the middle. The round “croquettes” came stacked in a bowl containing cauliflower mousse, chives and bits of crispy chicken skins:
Were they good? Let’s just say we inhaled these, and each fried package of potato goodness came as advertised, filled with runny egg yolk that formed a self-contained sauce. There is some magic involved in making these dumplings, and maybe one day we’ll figure it out. But for $8, we’ll let the experts continue to make it for us:
We are big fans of eating fries made with porcine lobes, and the Pork Belly & Crispy Pig’s Ear not only had it but added some deliciously fatty squares of the belly. Beautifully arranged with chunks of avocado, citrus supremes, pickled onion and “fans” of kale leaves, the Moresque (e.g. Moorish) spiced pork rested on an aioli-type sauce:
We were ready to move onto a bottle of red wine and spied one of our favorites from Campania: a 2009 Piedirosso by Terredora di Paolo Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rosso. Curiously listed under the “Bizarrely Unique” category on their wine list – perhaps because it is from a region that is lesser known; but we knew this Southern Italian wine would make a great pairing with our entrees with deep fruit and mineral flavors:
For the first entree we had the Crispy 38 North Duck Breast & Thigh which came accompanied with black rice, Asian pear, radish quarters, celery salad and sauced with a Peking spiced jus. The boneless confit thigh was served roulade style, and the breast serving was probably the largest portion we have ever seen at a restaurant. Our very minor complaint was that even though the breast fat had been rendered off properly, the skin was not as crispy as we would have liked, but the dish was very tasty nonetheless:
The “Toad in the Hole’ Lasagna might have been the biggest surprise of all for us. Everything thus far had been delicious, but this pasta main course just blew us away in both looks and taste. Layers of soft lasagne sheets were deliciously alternated with mushroom duxelles (minced mixture of mushrooms). Asparagus coins and shavings, parmesan crisps (frico) and green garlic all accompanied the stunning dish, but the real topper was the confit egg yolk that formed an additional sauce when pierced:
We still had plenty of red wine to drink, so we thought that a cheese course would be in order. They don’t offer a cheese course per se, but they did have Savory Comté Crepes offered on their dessert menu. It was definitely very different — slices of cheese were accompanied with diamond shaped omelet-type “cakes” made with multi-layered crepe and “the ever popular crystalized comté cheese.” It was our kind of dessert:
Parking can be tough on Russian Hill, but it’s well worth going through the trouble for Stones Throw. The Toad in the Hole lasagne alone is well worth the trip. The strength of the wine and beer list makes this a great place to drink and snack, but the food will definitely keep us coming back.