Oola (San Francisco, CA)

860 Folsom St
San Francisco, CA 94107
Dining date: 12/27/12

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This past year for my grandmother’s birthday, my cousins and I took her to dinner at Oola in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood. It’s a tradition we’ve been doing a number of years now, and something I look forward to each holiday season. This year, my cousins chose Oola, somewhere they’ve been a number of times and raved about.

Opened in 2004, the restaurant calls its food “San Francisco cuisine” and a blend of chef Ola Fendert’s Swedish background and French/Italian training. The menu appeared to offer a number of upscale takes on American comfort food classics such as chicken and waffles, burgers, and the restaurant’s signature dish – pork baby back ribs.

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We began with a bottle of wine and a duo of cocktails.

Manuel Citron Vodka, Chambord and fresh Lemon shaken and poured over Champagne
Blood Orange Margarita Blanco Tequila, Triple Sec, fresh Lime and a splash of Blood Orange Juice

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The blood orange margarita was my favorite of the two, with a fresh tart blood orange flavor balancing out the alcohol quite well. The Manuel tasted a bit too much like cough syrup for my liking.

We began the meal with a number of appetizers.

All Natural Steak Tartare Toasted Brioche and Truffle Soy Essence

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This was a solid steak tartare, served with crusty bread. Nothing special; this was exactly as expected.

Roasted Beet and Watermelon Salad Pistachio, Humboldt Fog Goat Cheese and Lemon Vinaigrette

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I’ve had salads like this one before, but this one stood out for some reason. The sweet beets and watermelon were quite tasty, while the nuttiness and funk of the pistachio and goat cheese, respectively, worked well alongside.

Lemon and Black Pepper Fried Chicken “Nuggets” Buttermilk Waffle and Maple Syrup

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Seeing this on the menu, I had to order it. Moist white meat chicken nuggets had a nice crisp shell and the waffle was quite good too with a fluffy interior and delicately crisp exterior. Unfortunately, I found the maple syrup to be too sweet for me.

A number of side dishes were also ordered with the appetizers.

Hand Cut and Fried Kennebec Potatoes Truffle Oil and Parmesan

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My cousins talked up these “crack fries” a lot; I found them to be over-fried, having a bit too much of a crunch and not enough fluffy potato on the inside. A white truffle oil aioli and grated parmesan provided much of the depth.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts Brown Butter, Sage and Capers

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I found the Brussels sprouts to be a little on the oily side, and there wasn’t as much caramelization as I would’ve liked. I really missed the smokey char here to add that extra flavor profile.

Manchego and Cheddar Mac n Cheese Fresh Thyme and Bread Crumbs

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The macaroni and cheese was simple but well-executed. The pasta still had some chew to it, while toasted bread crumbs provided a delicate crunch in the midst of each ooey gooey bite.

Since the ribs were so well-known here, 5 of us ordered them as the main entree. My grandmother was the trailblazer going with the salmon.

Ginger Soy Glazed Baby Back Ribs Apple Red Cabbage Cole Slaw

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I had high expectations for these braised-then fried-then glazed ribs, and they sure looked the part. The flavor was on point, with the sweet/savory glaze working nicely with the meaty pieces of pork. However, I found some bites to be more moist (fattier) and some, the leaner parts, to be kind of hard to chew. There were only about 6 ribs and my jaw was totally fatigued by the end. Maybe they were over-fried, but that was a total downer.

Pan Roasted Skuna Bay Salmon Fennel Confit, Sauteed Spinach and a Green Olive Parsley Tapenade

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The salmon was moist, tasty and a nice tender reprieve from the ribs. Spinach and olives provided an earthy balance to the fish.

A trio of desserts completed the meal.

Orange and Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee

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Warm Chocolate Caramel Cake Vanilla Ice Cream

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Root Beer Float Housemade Vanilla Ice Cream, Henry Weinhardt’s Root Beer and Cream

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All three were rather simple and as-expected. Sweet vanilla flavor definitely came through in the creme brulee, while a warm chocolate cake was served with vanilla ice cream. The root beer float was as advertised; simple but satisfying.

Overall, Oola fell short of expectations. The ribs, while so promising, were a miss due to high expectations and tough, dry meat. I found many of the dishes to be lacking in the execution department; when the food is exceedingly simple, I feel like it’s crucial that everything’s prepared well. That wasn’t the case here. Service was fine, but they forgot to serve us bread…something we didn’t figure out until the end of the meal. That’s always something I find kind of irritating. Suffice to say, I’m not planning to return.


Oola (San Francisco, CA) — 2 Comments

  1. Oola looks and sounds pretty underwhelming…

    about the bread.. is it only available upon request? there are a number of restaurants in SF and elsewhere I’m sure that only offer bread service when requested so as to not waste product by assuming that everyone walking in eats bread.
    (especially with the gluten free craze happening).
    this is a perfect time to whip out my favorite southern quip “a closed mouth won’t get fed.”

    • We didn’t find out that bread was being served to anyone until our entrees came and by that time didn’t bother. However, as I was walking out, we came across a sort of ‘bread station’ and I asked who was served bread. The employee gave me an odd look and said it was served to anyone dining here…so I think we were just forgotten.

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