Hot Meal: Lunch at Starbelly

Categories: Hot Meal
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M. Brody
The communal table: Long waits at prime time?

On Friday, only its second lunch service, the Castro's Starbelly already felt like the popular neighborhood restaurant and gastronomic destination it clearly wants to be. This is the second venture (after pizza-and-cocktails phenomenon Beretta) from Deborah Blum and Adriano Paganini. Executive chef Adam Timney, who counts Bacar and EOS on his resumé, does produce some pizzas (including one topped with Starbelly bacon and market peppers), but there's a broader emphasis here on salumi, salads, rotisserie meats, and the occasional homey surprise, such as a classic chicken pot pie with buttermilk biscuit crust ($12 at lunch). 

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House-made chicken liver paté ($9) spread like velvet on grilled toast. It came with a ripe fig and a crisp assortment of pickled vegetables that included radishes and carrots. Rancho Gordo split pea soup ($5) was freighted with chunks of house-smoked ham hock. Irresistible tiny padron peppers from Mariquita Farms ($5) were roasted with a bit of sea salt and olive oil; only a few were spicy-hot, but anticipating which ones was part of the pleasure. But the star among our starters was an amazing heirloom tomato gazpacho ($5), on whose sweet broth floated glistening dots of basil oil and cleverly spiced chunks of ripe avocado, every bit as velvety as the paté.

Sandwiches reflected the chef's stint at Boccalone. The Starbelly salumi "submarine" ($9 -- picture after the jump) boasted pistachio-studded mortadella, prosciutto, salami, and roasted red peppers on a crisp, floury roll (we added thin, skin-on fries for $2; they came with a ramekin of tomato sauce). Thinly sliced porchetta ($8) came topped with spicy salsa verde and cooling arugula, sided with a deeply flavored pork jus. A Diablito ($5) -- a spicy drink combining house-made tomato juice and beer, a variation on a Michelada -- cooled us. The wine-and-beer-only license seems to have inspired some intriguing cocktails, including a Madeira cobbler and a champagne cocktail with vermouth.

We shared one sweet (reality had to set in some time): ripe peaches and vanilla ice cream dusted with crunchy brioche crumbs and drizzled with olive oil ($7), the perfect late-summer dessert.

Starbelly 3583 16th St. (at Market), 252-7500
Open Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-midnight, and 10 a.m.-midnight Sat.-Sun. A policy of no reservations for parties under six has reportedly led to long waits during prime time, even at the big communal table.

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M. Brody
House-made pate: Velvety.

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M. Brody
The salumi "submarine" (top) and porchetta sandwiches.
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