The French Resurgence Continues with Urchin Bistrot

Note: Urchin Bistro is closed as of July 31, 2015

With great anticipation, Urchin Bistrot opened last August, taking over the space of the original Slanted Door which turned into the ill-fated Wo Hing General Store. Serving “cuisine bistronomique” fare, Urchin Bistrot is a more casual French-influenced restaurant by the duo of Lissa Doumani and Hiro Sone, Owner/Chefs of Napa Valley’s quarter-century-old Terra and San Francisco’s eight year strong Ame, both Michelin-starred.

Closer in concept to Bar Terra, adjacent to its big sister Terra in St. Helena, Urchin Bistrot brings traditional French classic dishes such as pâté, duck confit, steak frites and cassoulet with a modern update to the Mission. Chef Sone has successfully blended Japanese and French food and techniques at his other restaurants; however, Urchin Bistrot is sticking to non-Asian fare and is headed by Chef Michael Morrison on a day-to-day basis.

The restaurant was largely renovated prior to opening. The recycled Muni glass panels are gone, and a whimsical mural runs along the first floor wall, originally drawn by Sone and recreated by an artist. The long bar that runs along the first floor remains mostly untouched; Bar Manager Rafael Jimenez told us that since it was created by Charles Phan’s Master Mixman Erik Adkins, it was best to keep it intact.

The menu is broken up into Snacks, Appetizers, Main Courses, Sides and Dessert sections, each containing about six to seven items. There is also a five course Urchin Fixe option available for $50, but we chose to order a la carte over our few visits.

As is our custom, we started with a couple of cocktails: the DiamondBack (Rittenhouse rye, apple brandy, sweet vermouth, yellow Chartreuse) and The Dovre Club (irish whiskey, Averna amaro, raspberry, lemon, egg white). Both drinks were great aperitifs to whet our appetite for the meal to come:

With a name like Urchin Bistrot, we hoped to find more dishes made with our favorite sea offal. Disappointingly, there were only a couple of options: a pasta dish and the Egg³ snack. We made the right choice in starting with their version of the deviled egg, a hard boiled egg half topped with an urchin lobe and trout roe caviar. It was a decadent bite (or two) that was really great but can be an expensive habit at $6 per egg half (but it is so worth it):

We also had the Grilled Duck Hearts snack which came with a plateful of the perfectly cooked-rare organ. Lightly spiced with Berbere, the hearts sat on a bed of yogurt. It was good to see some offal on the menu, and this has quickly become one of our favorite bar snacks as it is reasonably priced at $6:

About 15 different wines are available by the glass, flask (1/2 bottle) or bottle, all French in origin with no domestics on offer – just the way we like it! We moved onto drinking a flask of Langlois Brut Rosé (Loire Valley, France) which served as a great pairing with the egg, duck hearts and other dishes:

Moving onto the appetizers from snacks, the Ocean Trout Fumé topped with capers and onion was a great choice. Served with a squeeze of lemon, the lightly cured fish was very fresh and tasty:

The rustic Pork Rillette is served as a quenelle accompanied by endive and Gravenstein apples. We asked them to hold the apples, and have gained a new respect for using endive in place of crostini as the perfect spread vehicle:

Taking full advantage of their wine program’s splits of bottles, we moved on to this 2012 Côtes du Rhone Grenache Blend by Andre Brunel to pair with our meatier dishes:

A great menu option at Urchin Bistrot is the ability to order truffles at $6 per gram, when available. We thought the Steak Tartare would be even better with some truffles so we ordered a gram’s worth. The hand-chopped steak dish was served with fried oysters, an odd but interesting pairing — we found ourselves eating the shellfish separately from the beef. The rémoulade was a great dip for the fried bi-valves:

The Steak Frites from the main courses section was also an excellent choice for adding two grams of the Perigord Australian Winter Truffle. As a healthier option, we asked for green beans in place of the French Fries. The buttery good legumes were an excellent accompaniment to the steak. Our steak arrived seemingly buried under a mound of aromatic truffles:

Along with the herbed Maître d’hôte Butter, the truffles added even more flavor to the perfectly cooked “bleu” steak:

We also tried the Lamb Cassoulet which came with tender lamb shoulder, sausage and riblets buried in a bowl full of Rancho Gordo white beans. It’s a great version of the comfort food dish that we look forward to ordering during the winter:

Chef Doumani offers some great desserts, but as we are not sweet tooths we opted to order from the Fromage section instead. The cheese selections change on a regular basis, but that evening we had a blue cheese and a nice soft stinky cheese whose name we can’t recall. Learning from our rillette experience, we asked for endive in place of crostini to eat with our cheese:

A photo of Chef Sone’s mural that runs along the first floor wall:

The bill is served in a very amusing canister containing food of our dreams: Foie Gras of Urchin with Truffles. If only the contents were real; unfortunately, the bill definitely was:

Urchin Bistrot is very close to home for us, so we plan to be frequent customers. Luckily for us, the bar hasn’t yet been discovered: we have always been able to find seats there. But we can see that changing in the future as we may have to fight for seats — after all, it’s set in the ever popular Mission. They just announced that they have a Happy Hour from 4:30 – 6:30 where a snack (duck hearts, deviled egg, etc.) can be paired with a cocktail for a very reasonable $10.

We had lamented that there were too few French restaurants in the City, but restaurant openings over the past year have definitely filled the gap. Between Urchin Bistrot, Monsieur Benjamin and Nico, our French-food cravings can easily be sated.

Urchin Bistrot on Urbanspoon


2 responses to “The French Resurgence Continues with Urchin Bistrot

    • Ciao Ilaria. As we didn’t make it to Piemonte this year, these truffles will have to suffice. You should try hearts one day, it tastes like the essence of the animal it came from, so in this case, the hearts were quite “ducky” and delicious.

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