As you know, Red Hill Station is the wonderful new(ish) seafood restaurant on Cortland opened by Bernal neighbors Taylor Pederson and Amy Reticker. It’s delicious. Also, it’s now open for both lunch and dinner. And food critics are starting to take notice. Zagat loves it, but Anna Roth, a critic with SF Weekly, published an odd review last week. The biggest problem with Red Hill Station, Roth says, is that it is too friendly.
To be sure, Roth really enjoyed her seafood:
There are a lot of highlights on the seafood-heavy menu. Red Hill served one of the best sandwiches I’ve had in recent memory, stuffed with albacore that had been slow-poached in olive oil and studded with capers and lemon juice. The oily tuna, bolstered with garlic aioli, melted into its buttered, toasted Acme roll, its juices dripping onto the plate and coating my fingers with every bite. I couldn’t stop eating it, even as I complained about how full I was. I had similarly strong feelings about the bay shrimp that accompanied the Caesar salad. Heavy on lime juice and tossed with toasted garlic and bread crumbs, the tiny, flavorful shrimp wouldn’t have been out of place at a Vietnamese restaurant.
Roth felt the vegetables at Red Hill could use some more love, but her main gripe had nothing to do with the food:
The most objectionable thing about the restaurant was the service, which was so aggressively friendly that it strayed into intrusive. Waiters inserted themselves into and hijacked conversations more than once, grinding them to a halt. It seemed to be a misplaced use of the friendly, small-town attitude of Bernal Heights, and the spot has already become a gathering point for the close-knit neighborhood. The restaurant was full on both visits, and the servers greeted many of the patrons by name. But all this extroversion can also be off-putting to outsiders, especially when dishes hover around $20 a plate.
Wait… what? This complaint is as sad as it is laughable. It’s like going to New York and whining that the dining scene there is “aggressively competitive,” or visiting Tokyo and grumbling that the service was “aggressively formal.” To whine about such things is to deny the essence of the place; the thing that makes the dining experience genuinely local. Of course, its fine to want something less local — McDonald’s created a very large business by assiduously stripping out all the local from the food, after all — but to complain about a chatty neighborly vibe in Bernal Heights is to miss the point of the exercise entirely.
Sure, to someone from off-hill, many of our local establishments may feel a little bit like stepping into an episode of Portlandia. But that’s precisely why we call Bernal’s main street Cortlandia, after all. It’s funny because it’s true.
Team Red Hill Station should wear this ridiculous criticism as a badge of honor. The food at Red Hill is exceptional, and the atmosphere inside is comfortable and relaxed. The data suggests this formula is working brilliantly for a great many happy, paying customers. If aggressive friendliness is to be the ding against Red Hill Station — and against the very thing that makes Bernal Heights so Bernal — then its safe to say we’re all doing something right.
IMAGE: via Red Hill Station on Facebook