San Francisco Symphony concerts usually let out at 10 PM, after most the restaurants and bars within short walking distance, at the boundary between the Hayes Valley and Civic Center neighborhoods, have closed. Absinthe Brasserie and Bar, long favored by the post-performance crowd, fills up quickly, making it difficult to get a seat at the bar.
For those who don’t want to bring the night to an end right after the perfomance, driving elsewhere–after waiting half of an hour to get the car out of the garage–or walking farther into the Hayes Valley or back toward Market Street is an option. There’s also another choice in the neighborhood. Boxing Room, opened by the Absinthe Group in 2011, serves creole food, oysters, wine, and craft beer in a setting that’s casual but not so much that you’d feel out of place wearing a necktie and suit.
Casual or not, it’s a good choice for date night. The dining room is wide-open yet conversation friendly, and seating at the bar isn’t elbow-to-elbow. The beer list looks expensive at a glance and while well-curated is dominated by now-faddish “big” beers. (“Strong” this, “imperial” that.) If you’re not in the mood for one of these, Abita Amber is on tap for $5/glass. Abita beers aren’t often seen away from greater New Orleans, and the price isn’t bad for the neighborhood. Wines are a better choice at Boxing Room. In addition to the few dozen bottles on the wine list ($20-$87, again typical for the neighborhood), some available by the glass, six wines–including a vermouth to pair with the oysters–are kept on tap, served by the glass, carafe, or half carafe.
The kitchen stays open until 11 PM most days and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, leaving those leaving the symphony, opera, or other entertainments in the Civic Center area time for appetizers or a light late-night meal to go with the drinks. The boudin balls–bits of Louisiana’s famous rice and pork sausage breaded and fried like hushpuppies–served with a remoulade sauce are an interesting idea but nothing worth ordering again. Crawfish étoufée at Boxing Room, on the other hand, wouldn’t be out of place at Commander’s Palace or Jacques Imo’s in New Orleans. The sauce had the right balance of roux and tomato and while spicy, didn’t overpower the crawfish tails, which were cooked just to doneness. If the étoufée is this good, the gumbo is probably worth trying, too.
Boxing Room is located at 399 Grove Street in San Francisco. For more information, visit the restaurant’s website or phone (415) 430-6590 during business hours.