My husband and I had dinner at Conduit (in SF, 14th & Valencia) this week. Overall, my impressions of the restaurant were positive. The design was interesting, with the real electrical and other pipes exposed and layered over the top of them, more rows of pipes added as a design element, which was continued on the front of the bar (striking!) and the open kitchen. I'm getting a little tired of open kitchens - while the cook in me enjoys the show (and it does create a "pass" for additional seating) sometimes when I'm a diner I'd rather not see all that activity. Fortunately the kitchen is at the back of the room and can easily be ignored based on the placement of the dining tables. Kudos to Conduit for not packing the tables too close together. I could actually get in and out of my table without bumping the table next to me (and I'm not very large), and the vertical pipes between tables added visual barriers and the feeling of privacy. Floors, tables and all chairs were hard surfaces, however - would have been nice to upholster the banquettes at least.
On to the food. It has been written up that portions are small, and they are on the small side, which would be fine with me (I'm not a big eater) except for the fact that I didn't see any adjustment in pricing to account for the smaller size portions. But the quality of the food and the presentation (including tableware and wine stems) was top-notch.
We had the squab appetizer, which was cooked on the very pink side, so if you like your poultry a little more done than that, make it known. It didn't bother us, and the tender squab breast was sliced thin and served on a bed of risotto. Nice dish. We shared a little gem salad with a creamy dressing with just a bit of heat in it. Sliced radishes and scattered watercress adorned the plate. The little gems were served in wedges like the old-school iceberg lettuce salads, but they were a bit dense and difficult to eat and were less sweet than I expected them to be. Forgot to ask whose little gems they were.
My husband had the duck breast entree and I had the oxtail tortellini. Our server warned us that the pasta was an "appetizer" sized dish, which was fine with me, but for about 6 or 8 small tortellini, in an oxtail brodo with a parmesan frico on top, $12 seemed a little expensive. The duck entree was in the $22 - $25 range, and was on the small size consisting of three roulades of duck breast with parsley (I would guess 5 oz of meat total), with a square of potatoes anna about 2" x 2", maybe 3/4" thick, and a small handful of perfectly cooked broccoli di ciccio. Again, to me all of these portions were on the small side, but the tortellini were amazing and the duck was very well done.
For dessert we shared the "s'more" which was nicely updated with a marshmallow exterior surrounding a graham cake layer and chocolate, and the marshmallow was still warm. Very nice served with a shot of cinnamon-dusted milk.
We had a bottle of 2005 Le Volte, the third wine from Ornellaia, on the wine list for $45, which wasn't too over the top, price-wise. I hadn't had this wine since the 2001 vintage, and it's gotten a lot bigger. At 14% alcohol it tasted hot and was served slightly too warm. The list had enough interesting bottles on it to encourage experimentation and markups seemed fair.
Our bill before tip was $117 which includes tax. Executive summary: Conduit is a nice place to take a "design-sensitive" dining partner, with the food being a good complement to the room, with a caveat about portion sizes and non-commensurate prices. This won't be a regular hangout for me, but occasionally might just fit the bill.