Friday, September 17, 2010

The Summit's Start-Up in The Mission

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San Francisco seems to be getting smaller. The more I go out to the city these days, the more I realize that if it's not in The Mission then it's not really happening at all. The Mission is what defines San Francisco right now: it's the "new" San Francisco.

And in The Mission, you can't get any newer, both literally and conceptually, than the eclectically named The Summit.

So what is The Summit? Well, I went to the private soft launch a few Saturdays ago (public opening is scheduled on Sept. 30) and I walked away still not entirely sure if I got it. Maybe Desi Danganan is just light years ahead that I'm still about a year away from fully comprehending his start-up, er café.

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Desi, arms stretched out, in the universal gesture for "I did it!"


So let me take you through what I observed from Desi's quick tour. Essentially, The Summit is part of an integrated café and crib for tech start-ups known as i/o ventures. Okay, you with me? Only in San Francisco, or more pointedly, in The Mission.

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The cavernous 780 Valencia space is shared between The Summit (the café) and i/o ventures (the tech start-up incubator business). i/o ventures is the angel funder for The Summit, but curiously I find it hard to tell which of the two is the tail and which is the dog. Just seems a little blurry, especially because of the porous physical layout. Time will tell, I guess, then again, this might be the genius of the project. A vision of a "third place" for everyone, particularly hipster folks.

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So when are we going to eat? Enough of the start-up talk and let's turn our attention to the café. Service is cafeteria-style. You walk up to the front counter. Read the wall menu. State your order. Pay. Take the table number handed to you. Settle down on one of the communal tables, sit in the couch in the lounge area, pull a stool at the counter, or just stand around while you wait for your order to be brought to you. At times I felt like being a guest in the living room of a very large house. The minimal decor of concrete floor and wood stain counter and tables create a contemporary, sleek look.

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Eddie Lau, the chef, prowled behind the counter, stepping in and out of the enclosed kitchen and the open prep area and drinks bar. There is no gas running in the kitchen so it's fully electric. Desi pointed out that the advantage is that the kitchen cooks cleaner with less smoke and burning odors--very key in this integrated café/office environment, I guess. I asked Eddie if cooking all-electric pose any limitation, and he confidently replied, not at all. Except that he does prep some dishes off-site, like his slow-smoked pastrami. More on this later.

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The Summit menu perfectly fits the format. Delicatessen cuisine-inspired, updated with local ingredients and good, honest cooking. Servings are moderate, not heaping, so I got an almost spa-like feel, especially with the tea and chai selection. One thing my friend, Max, noted about the service is that the order is not coursed out--everything comes out together, the salad, soup, sandwich or mains. Maybe he's right, coursing out the order could be a key refinement.

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I started with the Summer Corn Soup ($5) that was slurpalicious! Eddie said it was just corn with some dairy. But this is why it's so good!

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My Red Pastrami Sandwich ($7.50) was also very good, though the slaw topping was under-seasoned. Eddie slow-cooked the pastrami off-site for 3.5 hours using cherry wood at a downright glacial 130-155 F. My teeth just sank in to it with each bite.

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Max opted for the Hot Pork Sandwich ($8) with melted Gruyere on grilled toast. He scarfed it down before I even had a chance to ask him for a taste bite. It did look good, and Max said, indeed.

No alcoholic drinks were on the list but my Iced Lychee Black Tea ($2), perfectly sweetened, was refreshingly delicious! A classic pairing with my pastrami.

Eddie said he's working with Alex Fox (ex-Myth sommelier) on a wine list. I can't wait to see what they'll come up with. Maybe I can nag Eddie and Desi for a Vineyard Gate wine dinner soon.


The Summit
780 Valencia Street (cor. 19th)
San Francisco, CA
(target opening is Sept. 30th)

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