Noe Valley Voice September 2006

Store Trek

Store Trek is a regular Voice feature profiling new stores and businesses in Noe Valley. This month, we introduce a California/French bistro on Church Street and a submarine sandwich shop (with ice cream) on 24th Street.

Bistro 1689
1689 Church Street (near 29th Street)

Benny Cheung knew what he was doing when he chose 1689 Church Street near 29th Street as the location for his new restaurant, Bistro 1689. "It's such a nice neighborhood," he says enthusiastically, "and we have a lot of unique restaurants on 24th Street. Now this area [the Church Street corridor] is developing too, with new restaurants and changes in management. It's booming."

Cheung, who lives in the same block as his restaurant but who hails from Hayward and San Jose, is utterly charmed by Noe Valley. "The J-Church goes right downtown, and it's close to everything," he says.

He hopes Bistro 1689, which offers what he calls "refined rustic California/ French cuisine with an emphasis on the flavors of southwest France," will be a pleasing addition.

For starters, he recommends the heirloom tomato salad with grilled peaches, basil, balsamic vinegar, and extra-virgin olive oil, for $8. "Everybody loves it," he says. Among the other enticements on the menu, created by Chef Scott Drozd, are the Niman Ranch braised short ribs, with rosemary spaetzle, swiss chard, and green bean salad ($20); grilled lamb chops with potatoes, lemon thyme, and caramelized fennel ($24); and duck breast with pea tendrils and shallots ($20).

"People love the lavender honey chicken, too," Cheung notes. "We serve at least 10 a night."

The apple fritter with a Cointreau chestnut milkshake ($7) is a popular choice for dessert, with the chestnut flavor providing a balance between sweet and savory, says Cheung. "People like to take it home."

Prices range from moderate to indulgent. Appetizers cost $5 to $16, entrees start at $17, and dessert prices run from $6 to $14. The wines are in the more-affordable category, and include an array of California, French, Spanish, and Italian choices. Glasses range from $5 to $7. The least expensive bottle is a Spanish sparkler cava for $19. At the high end, the Chateauneuf Du Pape, E. Guigal 2001, sells for $65.

There is also a fixed-price menu, served daily from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. For $30, patrons can enjoy soup, an appetizer, a choice of three entrees, dessert, and coffee or tea.

Before he unveiled his restaurant on July 12, Cheung spent six months giving the space, which formerly housed a Chinese restaurant, a "major makeover. Everything is brand new--from the floor to the ceiling to the bathroom," he says. The new interior displays the shimmering work of modern pop artist René Garcia Jr., who works in glitter and bright colors. Wooden chairs and tables, gold-toned walls adorned with mirrors, and a blue ceiling complete the sleek look.

By opening a restaurant, Cheung is following a family tradition--his folks own a restaurant in Hong Kong. When asked if he has another job, Cheung laughs. "I'm the full-time owner, and also the bartender and the handyman," he says. "I couldn't possibly have another job."

Bistro 1689 is open from 5:30 until 9:30 p.m., on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays; hours extend until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The restaurant is closed on Mondays.

--Erin O'Briant

Subs Inc.
1300 Castro Street at 24th Street

In July, a sandwich shop called Subs Inc. replaced Isabella's Dessert and Ice Cream Café, which had held fast to the corner of Castro and 24th streets for four years. Owner Rami Balat says he had been looking for a restaurant to open, and was thrilled when a friend pointed out that Isabella's was for sale.

"It's a great corner location with lots of window space and foot traffic. I was excited by the challenge of turning the place around and offering something new to the community," says Balat.

To give the café's narrow space a new look, Balat, 25, shortened the existing counter, put in bar stools, replaced the tile floor with bamboo, and applied fresh paint to the walls. The front of the small cafe is now covered in a bold "macaw yellow," while the back room is painted a mint green.

As for the food, the name says it all. "It was important that I find a name that summarized everything I do in the simplest way possible, so I felt just simply calling the place Subs Inc. was appropriate," Balat says. His logo boasts: "The Best Subs in Town."

Customers have a wide variety of submarine sandwiches to choose from, available on 6-inch or 9-inch sweet white bread rolls. Standouts include Balat's favorite, the Godfather--turkey, pastrami, and corned beef ($6.50 or $7.50)--and the San Franciscan, composed of roast beef and turkey ($5.99 or $6.99). There's also a tangy tuna fish sandwich, made with premium yellowfin, mustard and mayonnaise.

For sides, look for Dirty Potato Chips, a gourmet brand, and potato and macaroni salads. Drinks include fountain sodas, as well as bottles of Orangina, Snapple, and Stewart's sodas. Balat hopes to add some soups in the future. "We're starting off slowly," he says, "not trying to go crazy in the beginning."

But what about ice cream? For decades, from Bud's Ice Cream to Rory's Twisted Scoop to Isabella's, the corner shop has been a sure thing for cone-seekers. Well, fear not--Subs Inc. also carries local favorite Mitchell's Ice Cream. There are 16 flavors on hand, and Balat assures Noe Valleyans that they're the real deal. Some of the more popular flavors include mint chip, Oreo cookie, caramel praline, dulce de leche, macapuno (sweet coconut), and chocolate caramel crackle. Balat says he will also rotate in other flavors like mango, cantaloupe, and grasshopper pie (a decadent blend of mint, fudge, Oreo cookie, and chocolate chips).

Prices run $2.25 for a kid's scoop and $2.75 for a single. Sundaes are $4.95, and customers can take home pints and quarts.

Balat's parents own Noe Valley Deli on 24th and Noe streets, and he continues to help them out there. A graduate of Riordan High School and University of San Francisco, Balat has close ties to Noe Valley, and says, "I was practically raised here."

He hopes Subs Inc. will in turn become a haunt for neighborhood youth. "I've always felt Noe Valley needed a place that children, teenagers, and young adults can call their own, so while my place caters to everyone, I want those groups to call Subs Inc. 'my Noe Valley hangout.'"

Subs Inc. is open every day from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

--Olivia Boler