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Restaurants & Bars 9

Eating at the Bar: Niman Burger at Hayes Street Grill, San Francisco

Melanie Wong | Aug 15, 201311:32 PM

After striking out twice on getting into Chez Maman Hayes with less than an hour’s wait, we headed over to Hayes Street Grill to see what simple fish prep might be on the menu instead. The bar menu posted in the window, available nightly after 7:30pm, features a Niman burger with fries. That sounded good to Mom, so I wheeled her in.

On Monday night, the place was pretty dead and there were only two people in the bar. I whispered to the host that we were there for the bar burger. He graciously said that we could have a table in the front dining room and were welcome to order from the bar menu.

To start, we shared the grilled calamari, artichoke, butter beans, arugula and aioli salad, $13. A complimentary basket of bread and butter appeared too. Pretty classic HSG, and a big composed salad serving suited for sharing. Surprisingly the calamari had not been peeled though it wasn’t a problem for us. The squid was barely done, and the salad could have used more salt and acid. The butter beans picked up the natural juices, and turned out to be my favorite bit.

Then we split the Niman burger, ordered medium-rare and with the Grafton cheddar, and fries. Served on a toasted Acme bun, this was nicely marked on the surface and turned out to be bloody rare in the middle. I’ve gotten used to ordering “medium-rare” to be sure that hamburgers are at least “medium” but this one tilted the other way. Very thinly shaved sweet red onions, truly ripe tomato slices, and de-ribbed lettuce leaves accompanied the burger. The bun’s bare and we were asked if we wanted mayo or ketchup beyond the mustard pot on the plate.

Served in a cone, the excellent fries were as I remembered them from my previous visit many years ago. Very crunchy exterior and waxy interior with good potato flavor, clean oil and just the right amount of salt. They do turn hard on cooling, so best to eat them fast.

HSG fries debate:

I asked if half pours of the wines by the glass would be possible and that was no problem. I enjoyed the robust and forward 2010 Valdubón Ribera del Duero. The half-glass was at last four ounces for only $5.

Mom pointed out that two other couples who were seated after us in the dining room also ordered burgers. So perhaps arriving in a wheelchair is not the only way to trigger this privilege. While it was my own fault for not trusting the kitchen, I can’t nominate HSG’s for best burger since it was not my optimal doneness. Yet, I can say that it’s worth checking out in this neighborhood. The Niman burger with cheese and fries was charged at $13 on our bill (vs. $14 printed on the bar menu). This compares to $12.50 for a burger with cheese and fries at Chez Maman in much more casual surroundings or the $12 cheese burger with no fries served outdoors at Biergarten. And it’s a good deal compared to HSG’s regular lunch menu price of $16.

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