Eatery - Boxing Room (CA)
399 Grove St, San Francisco, CA 94102 (Neighborhood - Hayes Valley)
Pricing - $$/$$$ | Dining - Casual, Dressy Casual | Cuisine - Cajun/Creole
I don't believe that I'll be one who ends up living in a big city but I certainly do like visiting them. Aside from the history and the community culture that fascinates with museums, art, and local flavor, there is also an abundance of food to choose from and usually within walking distance. When my friend and I headed to San Francisco recently, we decided that we would let chance decide our meal plans for us. We wandered around the Hayes Valley neighborhood a Friday night looking for someplace that didn't have a long wait and was appealing. The classic Louisiana menu idea caught our eye via wooden sandwich board propped on the street. It was for Boxing Room and it was just around the corner. They had space so we sat down to experience the menu headed by Executive Chef Justin Simoneaux that night.
It was incredibly dim inside the restaurant so you'll have to forgive me for the poorly lit and yellow-ish photographs. The ambiance was hushed and low which struck me as much different from my expectations of a Cajun/Creole place. Though there were plenty of people dressed a bit casually, the majority leaned towards the dressier (but still casual) side, and it seemed a popular spot for dates. There was an extensive oyster chalkboard menu on the back wall and a varied selection of wine and local brews. We went for beer ourselves and started with their Local Albacore Tuna Salad ($13 - chow chow relish, pickled quail eggs, and saltine crackers). While I typically would not order something that sounds so basic, I knew that the seafood in San Francisco would really shine through here, and the tuna did not disappoint. Five pieces were brought on a wooden board stacked high with the salad, generously sprinkled with paprika. They were excellent and full of signature albacore flavor; I really liked the pickled egg on top because it cut through the typical heaviness of a tuna salad. Good balanced flavor.
Since we weren't too hungry, we went for half sizes of their Duck and Sausage Jambalaya ($10/$21) and Crawfish Etouffee ($9/$16) so we could get a taste but not feel stuffed. I had asked the waitress ahead of time if the half portions were sizable and she didn't seem to think they would fill us up...but they did! I would blame that on how filling Cajun/Creole food is in general. Jambalaya is, of course, a robust and rich dish but adding in the thick stew-like etouffee is just asking for a food coma. Unfortunately, neither of these excited us as much as the idea of them did. The jambalaya was fair in flavor but mushier in texture than jambalaya ought to be. Though it looked fine when received, the grains of rice had melded together a little too much, and the duck was not as prominent as hoped. However, the sausage itself was good and a reason for us to keep going. As for the etouffee, the crawfish essence did not come across as strongly as expected either and overall, the dish was a wee salty. We thought that the dishes could have used tweaking but certainly weren't unbearable. The night was still enjoyed nonetheless because of the service and atmosphere, and the tuna salad was a definite highlight! As for down-and-dirty authentic Cajun/Creole food, perhaps we just sought the wrong spot (didn't do prior research on it).
Photography by Minerva Thai.