Conduit: An Early Report
By root on January 22, 2008 1:39 PM
Conduit's sleek interior.
There are a few businesses that have long anchored the far-end of Valencia street, the end that Ts into Market street. Martuni’s (“home of the swimming pool martini”) comes to mind, and the sunny day hangout for beer-drinkers, Zeitgeist, was another early entry into the gentrification effort, along with Pauline’s Pizza (which has held up the corner of 15th and Valencia for some 20-odd years). So saying that the arrival of Conduit has ushered in a new era for this miniature ’hood—well, it’s not exactly true.
Yet the fact that Conduit is located on the ground floor of some freshly built luxury condominiums, that their menu is ambitious, expensive, and not specializing in beer, martinis or pizza—that is news. General manager Brian Gavin (Jeanty at Jack’s, Fifth Floor) and partner/executive chef Justin Deering (Boulevard, Jeanty at Jack’s, Fifth Floor) are behind the modern restaurant, which relies heavily on dark tile and acres of actual piping (conduit—get it?) to convey a sense of sophistication.
The menu reads more like a high-end grocery list than a traditional list of starters and entrees. What to make of “little gem creamy herb radish almonds espelette?” Turns out it’s a crispy salad of quartered heads of crispy, thirst-quenching little gem lettuce dressed with a creamy herb vinaigrette, topped with sliced radishes, fried almonds and a dusting of spicy French red pepper. You have to use your imagination to flesh out the specifics of a dish, or turn to the affable servers for help. In many cases, the results are good: a ravioli dish that borrows flavors from French onion soup (caramelized onions, gruyere and slow-cooked oxtail) is a smart pasta dish, and the trio of lamb, which included a double lamb chop with mushrooms, a crepinette sausage with a pepper ragout and a braised riblet, gamey and satisfying—are the kind of dishes I wouldn’t mind seeing more of around town, because they take a stand towards preventing the boredom that occasionally comes with eating a traditional entrée.
Oh, lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention two of the things that people seem especially up in arms about: the co-ed bathroom, with stall separated by frosted glass (quelle scandale!) and the oddly shaped plates and flatware. I didn’t mind the bathrooms—they’re a bit like those at the Slanted Door—but I agree with the hoi polloi when it comes to the plates—it’s absolutely impossible to rest your fork or knife on the side of the plate without it greasily sliding onto the table, or your lap, or into your food, covering the handle with mushroom gravy. Bummer.