Do you believe in reincarnation? I do now that I've been to the new What's for Dinner? restaurant in O'Bryonville. By everyone's estimation, it's been a remarkable transformation from the old Brickyard bar into this eatery worthy of San Francisco. The high quality of the catering company of the same name hasn't changed, but the menu has expanded to include a much wider array of delectables, offered in a setting that could not be more comfy and inviting.
Former denizens of the Brickyard's taproom iteration exclaim over the brightness and warmth of the new interior, especially the refinished wood-planked floors. The owners have painted the walls a friendly pumpkin-gold in one room and a crisp shade of lime in the other. The toasty fireplace and especially the eclectic mix of vintage tables and chairs make for a homey feel that's not too funky.
By and large the food follows suit. Most everything I tasted was very good, although there were a couple exceptions to the overall excellence.
Of the appetizers, the Mexican dip ($6.50) was a disappointment: Its pre-chilled temperature prevented us from really tasting its flavors. Also, it was small. But the stellar artichoke dip ($8.50) made up for it. It was enormous, fantastically artichoke-y (not too cheesy) and came with a mountain of fresh baguette slices. Big ups there.
Of the entrées, one of the best we had was the halibut ($19), served over a scrumptious bed of crabmeat and butter-infused shrimp, mixed squash and couscous. It sounds like cliché Nouvelle Cuisine, but it worked wonderfully. One dinner companion owns a restaurant, and he knew the perils of overcooking halibut, but this fish was done to perfection. The Risotto du Jour ($13) also bowled us over: an extraordinarily rich and creamy mixture of Arborio rice and a variety of squashes and Swiss chard — mouthwatering! Another risotto with apples and raisins and smoked tofu ($13) was also pretty good, although perhaps a little too sweet to be on the main course menu. (Our waiter warned us, and we heeded her not.) And the Grilled Eggplant Sandwich ($7.25) dismayed us: It came slathered in a shockingly hot pepper mayo that eradicated all traces of the subtle grilled-veg flavor. Too bad.
Another minor jarring note was the Half Cornish Hen. There simply isn't enough meat on that little critter to justify a price tag of $15. But the voluminous mound of mashed potatoes tasted great, and I loved the green beans — not too mushy, not too crunchy, plus the desired brilliant color.
We had the special dessert, Barbarian Chocolate Cream Pie ($3.75) and a hot, raisiny Bread Pudding with an electrifying caramel sauce ($3.25) — both of them delish, rich and gigantic. Unfinishable at one sitting, alas.
Vegetarians should not hesitate to come here: They can choose any number of menu items, including main courses, lovely salads and sides. There are lots of beers on tap and a reasonable selection of nice wines.
We found the service to be very good, if not overly attentive (as our restaurateur friend remarked). The waiters all looked young, but don't imagine they're inexperienced as a consequence: They strike an optimal balance of professionalism and genuineness.
Of particular note was the way they treated the youngest diner at our table, an amiable person some 10 years of age. The waiter smoothly made suggestions to him of what he might like best — macaroni and cheese ($3.25) and a grilled cheese sandwich ($4.25) — and did so without a trace of condescension or wariness of kids. And sure enough, our youthful friend ate every bite with gusto. I also watched another server expertly handle a table of rowdy and liquored-up septuagenarians. No mean feat.
What's for dinner, you ask? Look no further than Toni's new What's for Dinner? restaurant. Aside from some trifling missteps, they've created a perfectly lovely place to enjoy good eating at this warm and competent bistro. It's a happy transmigration of food for the soul. ©
What's For Dinner?
Go: 3009 O'Bryon St., O'Bryonville
Hours: Monday-Friday 11 a.m.- 9 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m.- 7 p.m.; Sunday Brunch 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; reservations for parties of eight or more
Prices: Reasonable to Moderate
Payment: Major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Several sides, main courses and salads