After much deliberation, I've decided that Mission Street Oyster Bar is not hip.
On a hip street in a hip neighborhood full of hip restaurants, this place sticks out like a sore crab claw. The toque-wearing cartoon fish that adorns the front window is the first clue, although the graphic is so adorably cheesy it could be considered purposeful ironic kitsch. That's what you'd expect from a relatively new restaurant in the heart of the Mission, right?
The two-toned aqua and royal-blue walls inside are decked out with hanging marlins, and the laminated one-page menu is festooned with brightly colored nautical embellishments. I couldn't be sure if this was an ironic take on a classic seafood joint or an earnest version of the real thing.
That's what the Mission does to your brain, I thought as I scanned the wine list in its plastic tabletop menu holder: It's nearly impossible to take things at face value.
I turned the menu holder around and around in my hands, searching for answers. Is this just uncool enough that a hipster would scoff at it, or so uncool that a hipster would become enamored by it?
I was heading down the rabbit hole and needed some food quickly. Five varieties of oysters were available to choose from, expertly described by our server, who helped us choose a range of styles. The rocks arrived quickly and with the typical accompaniments — a simple mignonette, cocktail sauce with a heap of horseradish and lemon wedges.
The oysters were ocean-fresh with clear flavors and their quality apparent — chef-owner Fredy Gamez hails from Anchor Oyster Bar and obviously knows his way around good seafood.
Shellfish is almost exclusively the focus, and diners seeking to satisfy that craving won't be disappointed. Steamed clams are a highlight: small yet meaty, tender and juicy, and swimming in an aromatic white wine sauce full of fresh herbs, lemon, garlic and a touch of red pepper.
Mission Street's cioppino is another winner. A mountainous portion of mussels, clams, fresh crab, prawns and fish is served in a zippy tomato broth. The accompanying garlic bread was so good — buttery and perfectly crunchy — we immediately ordered another portion to sop up the remaining stew.
Forays into the entree portion of the menu were less exciting, although the seafood was always nicely cooked, be it prawns, cod or red snapper. The sides — plain steamed vegetables, mild mashed potatoes and basic white rice — seemed uninspired and went largely uneaten.
While the wine list is concise (five whites, five reds, a rosé and a few sparklers), there are nice choices. The Sables D'Azur rosé, in particular, was a lovely accompaniment to a host of dishes. However, the card-carrying certified wine snob in me considers it a crime to serve oysters and not offer a Chablis or a Muscadet.
The food here is rustic: no frills, no bells, no whistles. The flavor combinations are classic and therefore delicious, but they probably won't blow your mind.
Gamez might not be pushing the envelope in his uniquely unhip Mission spot, but if you want good quality seafood sans pretension, you'll like it here. Even you, hipsters.Mission Street Oyster Bar
Location: 2282 Mission St. (at 19th Street), S.F.
Contact: (415) 621-6987, www.missionstreetoysterbar.com
Hours: Noon to 10 p.m. Monday through Sunday
Price range: $1.75 to $32.95
Recommended dishes: Cioppino ($28.95), steamed clams ($17.95), Dungeness crab cake ($11.95), fried oysters ($10.95), garlic bread ($4.95), raw oysters ($1-$2.50)
Credit cards: All major