IN A CITY SO EARNEST about the perfection and provenance of food, there's something oddly refreshing about dining at a restaurant where there is not a single assurance of ethics or high-minded cuisine. The Davis Street Tavern seems to be concerned with nothing more than providing a straight-ahead, if slightly skewed, menu of American bistro classics.
After spending some time chewing my way through the spring menu in Davis Street's expansive confines, I've come to a conclusion: Based on the price (lunch options from $7-11, dinner entrées $17-29), and the décor (a beige hipness for fortysomething professionals), Davis Street is the kind of place where the perennially fussy—food critics, say, or finicky debutantes—can still nit-pick their way through a meal and remain completely satisfied.
The tender pan-fried quail arrives with crisped skin, expertly paired with hazelnut and quinoa stuffing that drifts below bright punctuations of marionberry gastrique; its green bed of escarole is overcooked and unnecessary.
Save for one unfortunately ammonia-tinged exception, the steamed
clams mussels in a Thai-inspired, tom kha-esque broth (coconut, kaffir lime, galangal) are pitch perfect—the broth remaining on the table for intra-course bread dipping until dessert arrives.
Those devilish, toasted focaccia croutons almost make one forget the Caesar salad—with its full leaves of sensibly dressed Romaine, boquerones, and fine ratio of parmesan cheese—which would have been better with the teensiest citrus zing. Also, why should anyone (don't you realize who I am?) be made to cut and combine the salad on their own plate?
Arriving more rare than the medium-rare requested, the hangar steak with green chili hollandaise is nonetheless satisfying, with peppery meat and smooth roasted chili smokiness. And the shoestring potatoes taste exactly like super-mini-sized McDonald's french fries; not that the clientele would stoop so low.
It's harder to find fault in the seared chicken breast on a robust bed of tangy mac and cheese, pancetta, and broccolini: One could complain their appetite forced them to consume every last calorie of the creamy, savory, knockout dish.
The same could hold true for the soft pulled pork sandwich (the pork lightened by scant apple and slaw) and its complement of blue cheese potato salad that manages to be both rich and sassy, like the middle-aged woman with all the rings a few tables down.
The Dungeness crab bisque is also irresistible, assembled with wry flourish at the table from a loosely packed puck of shredded crab meat at the bottom of the bowl, and thick, slightly caramel-sweet bisque, poured from a white carafe, engulfing the meat and spreading it throughout.
It's all so wonderfully, charmingly imperfect. So why bother tipping the scales with a mealy chèvre cheesecake—its crust so burnt, it should have been taken to Legacy Emanuel rather than the dining room? A bowl of the addictive pickled cherries would suffice.
In the end, Davis Street Tavern proves you don't need to know from which farm's dirt your escarole has been plucked, or who fed the cows that provided the hangar steak—though surely the attentive, thoughtful, appropriately humble staff would be happy to tell you. Instead, why not turn off the conscience (and the critic), eat like you mean it, and walk to the car convinced you've had a good meal. After all, earnest, ethical perfection can be such tedious business.