ginger and salt

the waiting game: outerlands.

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A few weeks back on a Thursday at lunch hour, I was enjoying a fried chicken and biscuit sandwich at The Wandering Goose on Capitol Hill with my friend, Jessica.  A hip twenty-something in a striped top was seated next to us, perusing the newspaper and enjoying her lunch.  Upon overhearing us talk about restaurants, food blogs, and the like, she seamlessly jumped into our conversation and the two of us found ourselves hearing about her recent trip to San Francisco.  As I was about to hop on a plane to the Bay Area myself, she insisted that I must go to Outerlands while I was visiting, but, as she said, “Go early, because you’re gonna have to wait.”  Seeing as our new friend felt like ‘one of us’ so to speak, I decided to take her word for it and made a mental note (okay fine, I made the note in my iPhone).

Flash forward two weeks later, and I’m bribing my sweet younger sister Holland to make the trek with me from her temporary residence in Pacific Heights across town to Outer Sunset.  (I will also note that my trip was a ‘gift’ for her birthday, which made her willingness to accommodate my demanding foodie request all the more generous.) Fortunately my sister has a car, which made our trip logistically easier as the name Outerlands certainly seems fitting to a visitor of the city.  The restaurant is located on the corner of Judah Street and 45th Avenue, in what feels like a sleepy, gentrified part of town.  However, the crowd waiting outside signaled to us that we had found the place.

Upon arriving, I experienced that awkward moment when you show up at the same time as a party of four.  You’re both trying to be polite while also panicking in your mind that if their name goes on the list first, it’s going to be at least another half hour until your name is called.  I caved and the aggressive character in the barefoot running shoes edged his way to the charismatic host first.  We were then told it would be an hour, so we settled in for the wait.

Luckily for us, it was 75 and sunny and you can order drinks at the counter to take with you outside.  Not to mention my sister is one of the funniest people I know, so not a bad person to have at a time like this.  After exactly an hour had passed, we had a hard time masking our excitement when the host came out to the little makeshift courtyard on the sidewalk and finally announced our name.  We settled into our booth inside by the door and got to work picking out our lunch.

The server came quickly to get our drink order and brought the drinks out shortly after.  Out of Ginger Beer, I settled for Ginger Ale and for some reason, the mason jars felt less contrived here and more authentic.  Maybe it was because they were all mismatched? I’m not sure, but I feel like they’ve become overdone these days.  Anyway, the server came back, we had a chat about recommendations, made our order and she went on her way.

Here is where my bone to pick lies with Outerlands.  After waiting an hour to get in, it then took 45 minutes for our sandwiches to arrive, which was simply too long.  We think she may have forgotten us, as a couple nearby managed to order, receive, and pay for their food, all after the time that we had ordered.  Thank goodness for the French couple and their three adorable daughters (think Jude Law’s daughters from ‘The Holiday’) that were seated next to us, providing endless entertainment.  The wait also gave me ample time to drool over the interiors.  The elaborate wood paneling makes you feel as if you’re in a magical treehouse by the sea.

Cue the food arriving.  I’m not going to beat around the bush, my Grilled Cheese with Nantes Carrot and Ginger Soup was amazing. The bread used is baked in-house and has an amazing crust and texture.  The bread is brushed with garlic oil and seared on a cast iron skillet, so the cheese that bubbles out becomes deliciously crispy on the edges.  My soup was velvety and comforting, with the ginger evident but not overwhelming by any means.  Unfortunately, Holland’s dish was less impressive.  She was leaning towards the Maple Smoked Ham Sandwich with Fennel and Persimmon, but per the server’s recommendation, went with the Hot Open Faced Sandwich with Heirloom Tomatoes, Roasted Eggplant, Crescenza Cheese, and Basil.  We agreed that the flavors were all there, but there wasn’t enough eggplant and the tomatoes made the bread too soggy.  Still a good dish, but definitely some “What could have been?” questions aimed towards that ham sandwich…

The house-made Salted Caramel wrapped in wax paper was the perfect finishing touch to our meal.  While it was a three hour-plus adventure, I loved more than a couple of things about our lunch outing: the people watching, my grilled cheese/soup combo, the aesthetic, and the company.  Whether or not my sister will return with friends, I’m not sure.  But I’m always happy to take a trip off the beaten path in hopes of the next great meal.

Outerlands, 4001 Judah Street, San Francisco, CA, 415.661.6140, outerlandssf.com (No Reservations, Closed Sunday Night and All Day Monday)

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