Stones Throw a rich, playful newcomer on Russian Hill

| January 12, 2014
Stones Throw
  • Juan Pardo/Special to the S.f. Examiner
  • Ryan Cerizo, left, and Francisco Baca prepare a dish in the kitchen at Stones Throw.
When I was in third grade, I once faked sick for three days until I finished every Katharine Hepburn movie ever made (my mother was indulgent). I was infatuated with the elegant, weirdly demure women of the 1940s and ’50s — their dressy silhouettes, smoky bars and gentlemen slurring words over pipes.

I moved on to Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Anne Baxter, thinking I had a personal, exclusive claim on them — that is, until I went to college, where I found Audrey again, common as a calendar, tacked up in dorm rooms.

Stones Throw feels like a remastered version of that betrayal — a discovery your private romance has been appropriated and employed to seduce the masses. That maybe your romance never was yours.

And by romance, I mean duck fat.

For better or worse, Stones Throw is a good place to bring your mother. Twee stenciled birds flit across the front window, and subdued sage walls look like they were ripped from a low-lit day spa.

Like the food, the scheme is an inoffensive take on a kind of faux-rustic Californianism. The kind of thing my mother would call, “just lovely.” She’d be right.

The sunchoke soup is a gorgeous concoction. With purposeful pomp, it is poured tableside out of a biblical-looking pitcher and onto a confit egg, tiny diced apple and walnuts resting in a shallow bowl. The fat-swaddled yolk adds richness, but the real beauty lies in the way sweet, sharp apples cut through the creaminess, like tart blueberries on ice cream.

The kitchen has a playful take on puffed potato and eggs, stacking crisped spheres over cauliflower mousse, housing egg yolks that flood after being burst by a spoon.

Pork belly with crispy pig’s ear and moresque spice is subdued nicely by avocado. It’s a kind of miniaturized experience of beastly feasting.

Of the mains, the duck breast is best. Crescents of meat, skin crisped, on a bed of black rice, are softened by Asian pear and a lively glimmer of Peking spice. It’s a smoldering mystery, like Humphrey Bogart sitting idle in the shadowy corner of a piano bar. On merit of the crispy skin alone, I loved it.

The desserts reinvent childhood classics, like peanut butter and jelly, doughnuts, crepes and lemon pudding. We opted for a dressed-up take on Little Debbie’s Oatmeal Creme Pie. The deconstructed approximation of the pie, good as it was, left me wanting a big box of the real thing.

Stones Throw has all the trappings of a good date spot. There’s nothing distracting or offensive about it, especially the food. And while I can’t point to any concrete moment of letdown, I endured an abstract boredom for a good deal of the meal. Perhaps it is because, with Scottish frugality in my veins, I want to encounter wonder and delight when I spend a certain amount on food. Or possibly it’s because I have an aversion to safety.

Or maybe it’s because someone else discovered duck fat and now I have to find something new.

Stones Throw

Location: 1896 Hyde St. (at Green Street), S.F.

Contact: (415) 796-2901, www.stonesthrowsf.com

Recommended dishes: Sunchoke soup ($12), crispy 38 North duck breast and thigh ($28), puffed potato and eggs ($8)

Price range: $8 to $28

Hours: 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 5:30 to 11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30 to 10 p.m. Sundays

Reservations: Accepted

Credit cards: All major

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