I have written a lot about restaurants and have kept that mainly in the Yelpsphere. But with the recently announced closing of Canteen I had to write a brief article. Dennis Leary is easily San Francisco’s best kept secret and most under-rated chef. I have come to adore Canteen from the very first time I set foot in this small and intimate restaurant.
There are four booths and a counter to eat California fresh new American cuisine. The books on the wall next to each booth give that great personal touch and Leary was very successful to present his personal touch, and brand. The art of the restaurant is always perplexing to both guest and owner. Bringing the right combination of space, service, concept and overall feel is baffling to most restaurant owners. Often the soul is what was once there and evades after the “great idea” is no longer new or great.
Boston reared Dennis Leary is a chef’s chef, über low key and a sense of exactingness in his cooking style. I have talked with him a bit and he is quietly inquisitive.
Dennis’s had completed a renovation in the past couple of years taking away the gorgeous lime green counter I absolutely adored. His restaurants business cards were of the same colour. There is a mood, an emotional extension that comes from such simple yet perfectly spirited touches.
While Dennis has a mini restaurant empire–The Sentinel, Golden West, House of Shields and the upcoming opening of Cafe Terminus and Trocadero Club promise Leary’s golden touch and I am awake with anticipation. But I cannot help feel that Canteen is a very personal and private restaurant–though of course it is open to anyone. While I love many San Francisco restaurants few have the same feel of Canteen; a throwback time to San Francisco in mid-Century– a feel for a restaurant concept that didn’t exist before or will exist in the near future. For me Canteen was a hidden restaurant, off the beaten track, approachable, honest, serving stellar food in an environment where I could hear my dinner guest without the aide of a megaphone or the use of mega loud power talking to be heard. I want an intimate space, personal, and Canteen always felt like I was eating in Leary’s bonafide and true home kitchen.
I could only hazard a guess but this is something that perhaps Leary will look back and say what a great experience Canteen was. There is no doubt that San Francisco is a tough restaurant town–the leasable space is tight, small and hard to find, acquire and maintain. Also, the economics require a certain number of tables and turnover to make any sense.
I do enjoy a dining adventure where there are cavernous interiors, jelly fish lighting elements, and other standout features but sometimes I want simple, clean, elemental yet creative styles to capture and captivate. Some times I just want to eat and not be entertained.
I look forward to one more meal at Canteen and of course to Dennis’ new concepts opening soon.
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