Comfort Food Reimagined At Finn Town
At San Francisco’s Finn Town, every Thursday is Thanksgiving.
Well, Friendsgiving to be exact.
You can’t help but have a soft spot for a restaurant that serves a homey yet restaurant-worthy plate of turkey and all the fixings every Thursday night as a weekly special.
It’s one of the Castro District’s top-selling dishes, too, says Executive Chef Steve Dustin. who came on board in July, after having been culinary director of operations for the Big Night Restaurant Group, which includes The Cavalier, Marlow, and Leo’s Oyster Bar, among others. Celeb Chef Ryan Scott originally opened the restaurant in December 2016, but cut ties with the establishment six months later.
The name “Finn Town” apparently was what the Castro was once dubbed in the 1800s, owing to its then-large population of Finnish seamen.
A recent Thursday night, when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant, definitely proved how popular the New American tavern is. The bar was standing-room only, and the dining room full. It’s a bustling place with a fun, slightly baroque interior, owing to the gilded wall paper and tufted, studded leather chairs in a rainbow of colors.
My dining companion, Ben of the FocusSnapEat blog, started with one of the specialty cocktails inspired by famous San Francisco natives or visitors. His choice was the “She Done Him Wrong” ($12). An homage to Mae West, it was a blend of brandy, sherry, lemon, orgeat and curacao, garnished with a beautiful little pink rose. He found it was more looks than taste, a pleasant enough sip, but nothing that necessarily wowed him.
What we couldn’t get enough of were the Fanny Farmer rolls ($7) served warm in a cast-iron pan. They were fluffy as can be. Alongside was a ramekin of butter studded with bacon bits. The rolls were plenty rich tasting on their own. But hey, when there’s bacon butter, who can resist?
Among Dustin’s new dishes was a nosh of grilled English peas ($6). You’re instructed to eat them like edamame, discarding the grilled pod but eating the tender peas inside. A good dose of sea salt and a nice flurry of lemon zest made these a perky pick-me-up with cocktails.
Seared squid ($15) is a gorgeous plate of tender tentacles and bodies with crisp potato chip-like pinwheels of pancetta. The pimenton adds a pinch of spiciness. There’s a flourish of lemon aioli on the bottom of the plate, which cuts the heat, but its generous amount could be dialed back a bit. After all, when squid is this delicious, you don’t want to drown it in mayo.
Of course, I had to try the Friendsgiving ($22). It’s like a Thanksgiving napoleon. Juicy turkey breast, cooked sous vide, is stacked neatly atop a plank of confit leg stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy made with pan drippings. A tangy-sweet cranberry sauce was spooned over the top. It definitely gives a taste of the holidays even in the summer. The only thing it was missing was a bit of crunchiness to break up all the softness on the plate.
Ben went for the tuna casserole ($26), which was probably the most upscale version either of us had ever had. There’s no canned tuna in this one. Instead, slices of seared tuna are fanned over the top of egg noodles in a creamy cheddar sauce with meaty maitake mushrooms. The char on the tuna adds a nice smokiness to the whole dish, too.
For dessert, we shared the Strawberry Finn Cake ($12). This take on strawberry shortcake featured a crumbly corn biscuit topped with juniper berries for a savory edge. The juniper berries accented the fresh strawberries macerated in gin that definitely had an herbaceous, booziness. Kettle corn made with dehydrated strawberries was strewn around the edge.
At Finn Town, there’s a whole lot of fun on the plate.