A friend was in town Wednesday for the conference at Moscone Center and I managed to spirit him away for dinner at nearby Roe Restaurant. We had no trouble getting a 7:30pm reservation, however, he was delayed unexpectedly and was about 45 minutes late. But no matter, this gave me a chance to wander around the nightclub upstairs (closed on Wednesday) and perch on a red plush lounge couch with a Buddhas Kiss martini (Ketel One citron with hibiscus, $10) to observe the downstairs scene. Theres a black leather jacketed bouncer outside and the entry way seems stark and unwelcoming, but once upstairs or in the dining room, the energy picks up. The décor is cool, contemporary and chic, yet warmed up by wild animal prints, bold colors, and the original brick walls. The hostess was suitably sympathetic, the cocktail waitress kept an eye out, and, Ben Chu, the owner stopped by a couple times to see if I needed anything. I took the opportunity to learn more about the place and Bens background.
Ben grew up in the restaurant business. His dad, Phil Chu, owns Oaklands Nan Yang and his brother has Nirvana in the Castro. When I told him that I remembered the original in Chinatown, he warmed to me like long-lost family. He even took it in stride when I said that I thought the food was better at the Chinatown location than todays. He readily agreed, saying that the original was more authentic and old world. While the recipes hadnt changed much, once Nan Yang left Chinatown, a less potent fish sauce was used to cater to the new clientele who preferred lighter flavors. His vision for his own place was to bring his favorite family dishes the Burmese salads and samosas up to date presenting them with more style and fusing them with other Asian and Western flavors and technique. While this is his first solo restaurant venture, Ben has 10 years of experience owning nightclubs, and he has a well developed sense of restaurants entertainment value.
Roes soft opening was a month ago. The menu is more extensive than shown on the website today (linked below) with several small plate and sushi roll offerings in addition to the signature caviar, salads, and entrees. More than 2/3s of the wine list is priced less than $40 and nearly every table in the room was enjoying some wine. Some of the wines on the printed wine list were sold out already, so after a few misses, our server sent the manager, Aurora, over to help us choose. Vince ordered the 2001 Cain Musqué (Sauvignon Blanc) for $39 (note that its misidentified as Napa Valley on the list, whereas the origin is actually Ventana Vineyards in Monterey County).
We decided to stick to the small dishes this time to sample more of the menu and started with the ginger salad, $11. Ben brought it to our table, described the ingredients, and mixed it for us, after first asking, jalapeños, in or out? We wanted our full complement of heat and wanted them in. I was happily crunching away on the delectable crispy bits when I noticed that Vince was holding the candle over his plate to examine it more closely. When I asked what was wrong, he said that he needed to remove the raw onions. I then pulled my handy penlight out of my purse to cast more light on the task, and Ben came running over to see was wrong. Vince apologized for not mentioning his onion problem before, and Ben said, thats no problem, well make you one without onions. So, we ended up with two portions of ginger salad, which was fine with me because I love this dish so.