Myth: Sleek, sophisticated and whimsical 

I came to Myth through the back door — via its lunchtime adjunct on the corner, Myth Cafe. Along with the regulars who mob the cafe, I so adore the voluptuous, generous cooking there that I had to give big brother a try.

I was surprised at how difficult it was to snag a reservation. After finally getting in, I realized why.

Though Myth comes off stylish and expensive, it actually has an affordable and casual side. Diners can eat a hamburger or sweetbreads with quail egg, bacon and chanterelles. Many drop in to sit at the bar or in the lounge; others reserve way ahead for a cozy semi-enclosed booth.

Myth welcomes and provides for every whim, and the experience is magical in that way. It reminds me a little of the late Stars.

The austere red brick, metal beams and glass of the previous restaurant, MC2, have been softened with sound-absorbing fabric, lighting, a dropped ceiling and a partitioned-off bar. The wide range of materials and textures match the eclecticism of the food — lush yet modern.

Chef Sean O’Brien has internalized mentor Gary Danko’s penchant for richness, French technique and a world pantry of ingredients, but comes up with his own signature dishes.

A dreamy roasted cauliflower soup ($11) has a seductive undercurrent of curry. His pancetta pizza ($14) has a thin, chewy crust and a topping of shaved pancetta, leeks, fontina and tomato sauce that meld together in a unique way.

More is more in O’Brien’s kitchen. A juicy, medium rare duck breast ($28) gets an ornate overcoat of pungent green herbs, and is accessorized with orange segments, whole pistachios, roasted Brussels sprouts, a tender corn cake, buttery spinach, duck confit and baby shiitakes. Whew. I ate every morsel.

Tubes of rigatoni, stacked like a pile of logs, are bathed in a lubricious sauce of cream, foie gras and marsala ($10/$16).

Pillowy mascarpone-potato gnocchi is sauteed in butter and dressed with pancetta and grated Parmesan ($15) comes in one size. Don’t miss these.

Wintery main courses such as flavor-packed braised short ribs with horseradish-potato puree ($26) or a moist brined pork chop with spaetzel (tiny tender dumplings) and cabbage ($25) are hearty yet elegant at the same time.

Salads are lightly dressed, but interesting. Greens scattered with candied cashews, pear balls and blue cheese ($10) work best if you can get a bit of each into one bite.

You may not have room for anything more than house-made ice creams and sorbets served in a rakish, slanted bowl ($8), but if a saffron-poached pear is on the dessert menu, get it. A perfect, delicately scented peeled fruit perches on a ring of crunchy warm almond cake. On the other side of the plate, connected by a squiggle of caramel, is a scoop of cardamom ice cream — a perfect "pear-ing."

Service is enthusiastic and knowledgeable; everyone gets a warm welcome at the door. The young wine steward may tell you more than you want to know about his bottles, but trust him. If you indicate how much you want to spend or ask which of two or three wines he recommends, he’ll steer you to something fine. There are $25 bottles on the list.

Myth is a grown-up, highly sophisticated, urbane restaurant that deserves all its success.

MYTH RESTAURANT AND LOUNGE

Location: 470 Pacific Ave., San Francisco

Contact: (415) 677-8986 or www.mythsf.com

Hours: 5:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 5:30 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Price range: Starters and small plates, $7 to $16; main courses, $15 to $29

Recommended dishes: Rigatoni with foie gras cream; mascarpone and potato gnocchi; short ribs, pancetta pizza; roasted black cod; duck breast; saffron-poached pear

Credit cards: All major

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Patricia Unterman

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