4288 24th Street (Noe Valley)
San Francisco, CA
Date of Visit: Sunday, March 8, 2009
Time: Dinner - 8:45 PM
Number of Diners: 2
Food Quality: 9
Firefly is tucked away in the semi-hidden Noe Valley neighborhood. Pronounced "NO-eee," it's sandwiched between the Castro and Twin Peaks. It's not easy to find the neighborhood or the restaurant, and it's nearly impossible to park there, even on a Sunday night. On a Friday or Saturday? Fuggedaboudit if you don't have a reservation, and you'll need to park somewhere else and take a cab. Be sure to remember where you parked! Because of these factors, Firefly's model is for repeat business fed primarily by the upscale nearby residents who can and will walk there, and other locals with enough disposable income to use taxis. Two things are mandatory for repeat business - high quality product and frequent changes in menu. Firefly does not disappoint. Run since its inception by Brad Levy, a St. Louis native, and his wife Veva Edelson, Firefly is a long-lasting, friendly place after which many others have been modeled. The cuisine is difficult to capture, perhaps "healthy fusion comfort food" comes close. It has a single Mobil star, begrudgingly granted by the Texan editors who found it too weird. Perhaps they were refused ketchup or barbecue sauce? It has a very respectable 25 rating on Zagat, putting it in the company of Range and Delfina. San Francisco is full of small, quirky bistro-style restaurants with fluid, seasonal menus. Few survive, and Firefly is a welcome exception at 17.5 years and counting...
Being Irish has its perks, and I invoked my genetic right to be lucky, immediately finding the only parking place within a mile, only half a block up the very steep hill from the restaurant. We strolled in at 8PM, the height of dinner rush-hour, even on a Sunday. I knew they were open until at least 10, so I figured we could get wait-listed for a late dinner. The hostess seemed almost afraid to ask us to wait 45 minutes, but I accepted her offer happily. We walked two blocks down the hill and had a beer at Peak's, a local dive bar on Castro Street. It was basically empty, with only two other couples, and it reeked of smoke. We alternated between World Baseball Championship games on the TV and watching a couple of locals shoot pool badly.
We returned at 8:40 and were seated immediately in the lower of two dining rooms. The hill is so steep that there is a six foot difference between the floor levels of the two rooms. The interior place is airy and quiet, due to the innovative draped fabric concealing the industrial ceiling. Whimsical art works inspired by kindergarten projects, or perhaps even done by children, adorn the walls at random heights, though there was one graffiti-inspired Che Guevara themed painting that appealed to me.
We declined the tap water in favor of San Pellegrino, and the busboy brought an excellent sourdough with a curried chickpea spread - a welcome and healthful change from butter or oil. They have a "Prix Fix" menu Sunday through Thursday with any appetizer, entree, and dessert for $35, saving you about $5-6 per person. We decided to go for it, and having chosen beef and fish, we asked the waiter for a wine recommendation. He chose an safe and unremarkable Australian Petit Syrah for about $35. I get the sense that if we were regulars, he would have gotten to know us and our tastes. Then the recommendation might have been more aggressive. The wine was OK, as was the service. He answered questions thoughtfully, but seemed a bit distant - a real contrast with the vibe of the room.
What we had with menu descriptions...
Butter Lettuce Salad with Shaved Radishes, Meyer Lemon, Grilled Croutons and Roasted Garlic–Manchego Dressing 9.00
Rio Star Grapefruit and Avocado Salad with Mâche, Tarragon, Macadamia Nuts and Black Pepper Crème Fraîche 9.00
Braised Corvina Seabass with Black Trumpet Mushroom–Green Garlic Crust, Sautéed Belgian Endive and Roasted Turnips 23.00
Grilled Beef Sirloin with Griddled Garbanzo Cake, Cauliflower, Minted English Peas and Kalamata Olive Tapenade 24.00
Jasmine panna Cotta with Honey Poached Pears and Coconut Sesame Cookie 8.50
Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding Parfait with Fresh, Organic Berries and Cream 8.50
Though we both ordered variants of our standard fare, one menu item caught our attention: "The Fried Chicken of Your Dreams with Mashed Potatoes & Gravy, Peas & Carrots and a Damn Fine Buttermilk Biscuit 20.00" As we wondered aloud what that might be like, the waiter carried a fresh example (pictured here) to a neighboring table. I suspect it is every bit as good as it looks. Our entrees arrived in short order. My partner was having fish for the fourth evening in succession, and she promptly pronounced the Firefly Sea Bass as the best of the four. I was skeptical, even after trying it, but then I tucked into the beef. Sirloin is a pretty flavorful cut, and this example competed nicely with the lamb dish at the Range on the previous night. Salads and sides were fresh, organic, and delicious as well. Desserts and coffee made a nice nightcap on the evening.
I suppose if we lived there we could afford to eat there regularly, and I suspect that we would indeed. Surfing for reviews shows raves for the service with a few less than ecstatic aberrations. Our guy was competent and professional, but far from warm or friendly. I'd bet this was not the norm for the place. And to be fair to the Mobil Guide guys, the place IS weird. And then again the whole city is weird, often in a good way. From the Firefly website I have embedded a video that shows what it's like to dine there, or almost anywhere in San Francisco outside of the 5 star places or financial district. It's... different. Not good or bad necessarily, but always entertaining!
Firefly - UNCONDITIONALLY RECOMMENDED for excellent, organic meats and vegetables prepared with Northern California flair in a whimsical environment. Their menu statement: "All Our Meat Comes From Happy, Never Mad, Drug Free Animals; no Hormones, Antibiotics or Crack Cocaine"
Highs: Comfortable neighborhood feel, whimsical practicality, imaginative preparation of high quality ingredients
Lows: Parking, not being immediately local
Bon Appétit! - W. Ego