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First Bite: Roostertail, Pac Heights Rotisserie Dining

Roostertail (1963 Sutter St.) is the two-week-old, quick-service roasted chicken joint in the space that saw Café Kati come and go. When you walk in, a beast of a J&R rotisserie from Texas immediately commands your attention in the open kitchen. It blasts roasted meat smells throughout the dining room, making light work of row upon row of glistening free range Mary’s air-chilled chickens spinning attractively within. The cooker can house some 45 birds at full capacity, but co-owner and chef Gerard Darian told me it hasn’t yet been filled to the brim. If Roostertail continues to pack them in like it was on its second random Thursday in business, it’ll be maxed out soon. 

“We didn’t want the French spit kind of rotisserie,” says Tracy Green, Darian’s wife and Roostertail's co-owner. The two met at Postrio back in the day, at the same time as another local power couple you might know about, and they’re staying true to an American theme here. You’ll find locally sourced Vella dry jack cheese sprinkled on salads in lieu of Italian Parm. The four wines and five beers on tap all hail from the West Coast, save for Vermont's Magic Hat #9. 

Now about those chickens. Ordering can be scaled for everyone from the solo diner to the family of six (I saw both dining at Roostertail during my visit). You can get a quarter bird (choose dark or white meat), a half or a whole. Darian flavors and crisps them with an occassional mist of vinegar water during the roasting process. Although the skin's texture wasn't totally dialed on my visit, the meat was seasoned nicely enough with black pepper and herbs, the flesh was admirably moist for white meat, and the accompanying sauces (one red, one green) propelled quick eating. The green one brings on a bright combination of parsley with touches of basil, cilantro and garlic; while the red is like a tart, thinned out classic bbq sauce. My favorite was the “golden,” a rusty yellow Carolina-style mustard-based dip that Darian says he doesn’t normally serve with the chicken. Ask for it when you go.  

Then fill out the meal with ample sides. The mac and cheese is stirred with cheddar and Vella jack, then sprinkled with a blend of Point Reyes Toma and bread crumbs that crisp to crunchy in the oven. It gets even better with a few dashes of the housemade hot sauce. Feeding into the brussels sprouts craze is a buttery "hash," made from mandoline-shaved veg mixed with bacon crumbles. Then there are sweet stew-like baked beans studded with small cubes of brisket, and feathery onion strings—the show stopper—seasoned with a little pepper, and so unlike the clunker onion rings you find at sports bars that they almost seem dietetic. Other options include brisket, "signature" wings, and a bunch of hearty sandwiches. 

All told, Roostertail serves the kind of mainstream, easy dinner experience families, casual dates, friends and colleagues will keep coming back to if it stays consistent. From an HDTV flashing The Giants overhead, to cherry red chairs, to easy-to-fork chopped salads (for the health-conscious), and Straus swirl cones (for kids and kids at heart)—the owners seem to understand what turns tables and keeps hungry neighbors happy.

Perhaps that’s why one young, well-to-do father rushing in for a large take-out order effusively told me it was his third time in since Roostertail opened. Darian and Green have their sights set on building a mini empire with multiple Roostertail outposts one day. If the engaged service, cleanly well-lit décor and more than palatable food stay put, I'd say they’re already well on their way.