Get pumped, Missionites: Aaron London, the James Beard-nominated, Michelin-lauded former chef of Ubuntu, is about to become your friendly neighborhood restaurateur. As previously discussed, London has snagged the former South End Grill 'n Bar space at 26th and Valencia, and is turning it into AL's Place, a casual spot utilizing all the techniques he's picked up in the fine-dining world (including a stint as a bartender at Locanda).
While London worked exclusively with vegetarian fare at Ubuntu, AL's Place will have meat and seafood on the menu, something London says is "a whole new palette to work with...there's a lot of adolescent, schoolboy excitement." But with that said, he's definitely taking a plants-first approach to the construction of his menu, with plans to offer a menu of snacks and small plates that are exclusively pescetarian, and a selection of meat "sides" that can be ordered as accompaniments. "I don't like meat in all my dishes. Even in SF, which is very forward-thinking, there's meat in 90% of the dishes, whether it's stock or bacon or something else snuck in. And meat tends to be a dominant flavor," he says. "My favorite meat dishes are simple things like a great roast chicken or steak cooked in a cast-iron pan...but when you order those entrees at a restaurant, they can cost $35, and the vegetables that come with them are kind of an afterthought. So I decided to flip the script."
The menu at AL's Place will work something like a steakhouse, but in reverse: diners can order a selection of bigger, vegetable-focused plates, and then servers will work with carnivores to figure out which of the individually-sized portions of meat will go best with their dish choices. "This way, everyone can get what they want, no matter their dietary restrictions, and everything will be a composed dish in and of itself," says London, who promises a rotating selection of three meat "sides" that will all stay under the $20 mark, from roasted whole crab to hanger steak.
On the drinks side, London is planning to stock a small selection of value-oriented global wines, with an emphasis on Italy and Spain. He doesn't have full liquor, but his Locanda bar mentor Alex Phillips is helping him concoct a menu of stirred aperitif drinks (with hand-cut ice), housemade sodas, tea, and coffee. Desserts will be simple and classic, like a brownie or a Meyer lemon tart.
London has completely revamped the 45-seat space with lots of light wood, blue floors, handmade tables, and a new bar, giving it a bright, beachy vibe. He's also built outdoor planters on the side of the building to seat guests waiting for tables, and plans to add another dozen or so outdoor seats once his permits come through (he'll be serving weekend brunch). He'll be taking reservations, but plans to hold both the bar and around 10 other seats for walk-ins. If all goes as planned, AL's Place should touch down in the first week of February.