If ever there was a space that could inspire dreaming, it would be the inside of Outerlands.
It’s gorgeous, with walls, chairs and countertops made out of reclaimed wood. A slanting driftwood mosaic covers part of the kitchen counter. Proprietors David Muller and Lana Porcello initially started by feeding friends out of their ocean beach abode; soon the initiative blossomed into a full-fledged restaurant. And indeed, they seemed to have captured the feel of Ocean Beach perfectly. It’s moody, but warm, the grey light from typically overcast Outer Sunset filtering in via only 3 windows. There’s a sense of escaping to the end of the earth, and its distance from the rest of the city out on Judah and 45th may be both curse for some and a boon for those of us who live relatively close by.
We visited for brunch when we first heard hints of deliciousness – it’s teeny, and cozy, and 7 of us barely squeezed around one of the 3 larger tables by the door (today on their website, Outerlands restricts large parties to 8).
It was late August, and a blustery wind blew outside. We ordered items that seemed suited for the cold: warm Ginger Apple Lemon Cider, Eggs-in-Jail with crisp bacon, a miniature but plump Dutch Baby topped with sweet and spicy apple compote.
Brunch back then was pleasant, enhanced by the surroundings. It wasn't mind-blowing, but solid, well-done; the portions a little small. We walked to the beach and stood in the sand and shivered and laughed. Summer in San Francisco.
We didn't return for many moons; over a year passed before we visited again, but perhaps it was just the right time for us to do so. A new chef was at the helm, it seemed. Chef Brett Cooper had done stints at Rubicon, Coi and Saison, and their inaugural cocktail program had just launched. The menu is simple - a single list with items ordered by price, and designated as vegetarian or vegan. There were 4 vegetarian and 2 vegan items on the menu that evening; the 2 most expensive items were listed last - we took these to be sized for main courses. Inquiring of our server, she confirmed that we could order in any way we wanted but indeed, the medium-priced plates, making up the bulk of the menu, could serve to be shared tapas-style.
Naturally we had to try their cocktails, choosing a Flor de Caña rum-based drink with lime, ginger, grapefruit and agnostura bitters. It was a drink a little more suited for a warmer climate, but still delicious nonetheless - not too sweet, well-balanced, refreshing.
We started with substantial slabs of their renowned Levain* - crunchy, blistery outer crust, tender but hearty inside, sliced thick and just slightly sour. Served warm and spread with generous portions of Cowgirl Mt. Tam, this bread has the Tartine pedigree -- Tartine's Chad Robertson and David Muller are surfing buddies -- but it's developed a character (and formula) all its own, rising on the restaurant countertops after dinner service every evening.
This was the first of the many dishes in our meal that wowed us. Looking like something that could be served at Ubuntu, its description seemed simple enough but arrived looking and tasting lovely and fresh and bright and springlike. Thinly-mandolined cucumber slices mingled with radishes (fresh and pickled), alfalfa sprouts and arugula flowers. Wedges of lemon cucumber and a smear of preserved lemon and creme fraiche on the bottom of the plate rounded out the dish.
Another intensely satisfying plate, and possibly my favourite of the evening, these baby carrots were super-sweet, perhaps from long, slow and gentle cooking, and had the most perfect consistency, texture and flavour. I also loved the bits of wild nettle, tamed with cooking, the puree of turnips spooned on the bottom of the plate, the caramelised fennel, the crunchy, nutty, almond crumble.
Another surprising dish - I never would have thought to pair beets with duck confit, but oh - how well they tasted together! The confit was crisped to the nth degree so that it was almost crackling-like, and the vinegared beets dressed with just enough acid to provide that beautiful counterpoint. Charred leeks and sorrel, hints of vadouvan and scattered edible petals completed the plate.
If there was ever a way to make a slice of virtually falling-apart pork shoulder look pretty, this was it. One poke with a fork caused tender chunks of meat to fall away - it was a wonder to see our portion hold its shape. Well-marbled pork topped a risotto of green garlic and toasted barley, dotted with al dente broccoli crowns and sprouts, and tiny porcini pieces, cooked so they had the unctuous texture and consistency of pork fat(!). My only critique - the dish could have used a little acid, perhaps a pickled vegetable or two to help brighten the palate.
With dinner this good and plentiful, our bellies were full, but we had to take a peek at dessert and settled on sharing a beautiful parfait served up, like their drinks, in a mason jar. The parfait, escorted by buttery, shortbread sticks, tasting faintly of licorice, was layered with fruit and shortcake and cream, all bearing hints of anise. A light and delicious dessert, a great end to a fantastic meal.
All in all, this was a meal that truly wowed me, and I can't wait to return. I'm glad that it's a fairly short MUNI ride away on the N-Judah, and thankful that it only takes us under 10 minutes, rather than 30, to get there.
*the YouTube video in the link above is primarily about Tartine and its owner Chad Robertson, but David Muller's highlighted as well, and there are great shots of Outerlands bread loaves rising on the restaurant tables.
San Francisco, CA 94122