Eat San Francisco: Dirty Habit

I love Dirty Habit’s locale. It’s on 4th, about one block south of Market; right behind the flagship Old Navy, actually, which also means that it’s about a block away from Bart, near numerous parking garages, hotels, and movie theaters, a quick and easy walk from my apartment, and also, that I will be stopping in for a drink and snack shopping respite during this upcoming holiday season. Also, the space is totally wheelchair accessible, as it benefits from the large elevators and wide hallway layout of the Hotel Palomar, where it resides on the fifth floor.


Upon exiting the elevator, Dirty Habit’s modern vibe becomes quickly apparent.


We arrived eight minutes before they opened, at 4:52PM, to be greeted by this scene:


You really could hear a pin drop; not a person in sight. It was odd, because they were opening in eight short minutes and there was literally zero activity. Also, there was this back table, a communal table or one held for larger groups, I suppose, with a bunch of booze behind it, which I figured somehow served as the bar because, where the heck else would it be?


I figured that their well known outdoor lounge/roof deck must be where all of the action is, but I couldn’t even figure out where that would be located. We went next door to Annabelle’s Bistro to kill time before our reservation, where the happy hour offered us $4 cocktails, beers, and shots. Now you know.

Back at Dirty Habit, we once again exited the elevator to find the reveal. That big wood wall, in the back of the room? That is a big wood barn door that slides open to expose two more spaces, both long and rectangular, one with a bar spanning the entire wall and large booths across from it, the other with some round four tops in it. That outside lounge? Well that would be located off the bar room. And it would be awesome:

I really dug the design at Dirty Habit. I loved the industrial, swankily lit ceiling:


I loved the cozy seating: tufted black leather couches on the wall side (I doubt I’ve ever been more physically comfortable while dining), soft, round, swivel arm chairs on the aisle side. I loved the enormous muted gray oriental rug on the floor, I loved the mechanical cog art along the wall. They pull off modern and cozy with an expert hand.

The bathroom, for its part, is a bit rapey


The menu is a collection of small plates which are not grouped under headings but rather follow a progression of light to heavy, which positions the diner perfectly to sample more and burn out on less. Also, the cocktail menu offers punch bowls and the like, which I’m totally into for sharing purposes, but also, it touches some nostalgic chord within me. Our first drink order was a “Karl ‘the fog’ cutter” a group drink, made for four, comprised of “denizen rum, cuttsark prohibition scotch, orange, orgeat, lime.” Karl came in the MOST adorable of serving vessels, an icy cold aluminum pitcher, which kept him at the right temperature as we drank him, but also, it kept the ice from melting and watering him down. Genius. The pitcher did have a slightly problematic pour though, as the unmelted ice would block the pour spout. Karl was bright, and light, and tasty.


We ordered an array of small plates which arrived nicely timed, so that we weren’t sitting there with an overwhelming mix of them all at once. The first to arrive was the steamed bun with fried lamb belly and peanuts.


Those pockets of awesome set the tone for a fantastic night of eating. The buns were sweet, soft, and pliable; the lamb crisp and meaty, with the perfect amount of fat to deliver a buttery, soft, mouth feel at the finish. They were topped with a bright hit of hoisin, crunchy peanuts, and a little herb. They were phenomenal.

Things got even better when the foie gras torchon with jerk spices, guava jelly, and cashew arrived. The jelly and cashew gave the soft, luscious torchon the overall effect of being coated in peanut brittle (or in this case, cashew brittle). It reminded me of a fancy PB&J that was silky, candied, and crunchy, all at once.


Next up, the warm oysters with melted leeks and sunchoke cream. When it arrived we were concerned that it was a one person dish; one large oyster, but they keep things sharable at Dirty Habit. There were four perfect, warm, little oysters swimming around in that decadent sauce. This dish had a ton of depth of flavor, the leeks tasted as though they had slow cooked for hours (I’m sure they probably were) while the fried leek garnish complimented the rich cream with a flash of salt and crunch.


And then, a gift from the kitchen, or, dare I say, the gods, arrived. Raw scallops with caviar, uni and ponzu.


I slid one of these manna from heaven off the shell and into my mouth to find the most delectable, bright ponzu (house made, it turns out), fresh, sweet, baby scallops, the bright salty pop and textural enhancement from the caviar, and a hint of briny creaminess from the uni. This dish, it was masterful.

Seeing as San Francisco has been on foie lockdown for some time now, we had to order both preparations. The seared foie with persimmon, coffee and blood orange did not do for me what the torchon did.


It had a really nice sear and all, but the flavors and textures did not live up to the previous foie dish; it just didn’t excite me the way the torchon had (which, let’s be real, was a LOT).

We had finished Karl at this point, so we ordered the other cocktail intended for four people, the cinnamon toast punch. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, I totally dig me a milk punch, and, it further goes to show that it is one trendy drink right now. The punch came in a big old textured glass punch bowl

With four of the cutest damn glasses (evoking eastern Europe, for me) you ever did see.


Jake felt this punch would have been better served with clarified milk as opposed to whole, to stop the curdling process brought on by the ice and citrus. I didn’t seem to notice curdling as much as protein left on the side of the glasses but perhaps that is the beginning stages? I dunno. He seemed to think we was biting on curd by the end of the bowl, but that wasn’t my experience.

I do know that a bunch of glasses of sweet whole milk with alcohol in it isn’t the best of choices for me, as I tend to react a little…violently, in the middle of the night, after a lot of rich food, but I did enjoy drinking it while it was happening. And yes, I did wake up in the heat of the night, fighting the urge to purge.

We ordered the shrimp and pork dumplings, and while it did say right on the menu that they would be served with a lemongrass broth, I seem to have glanced right over that which led to my total surprise when it arrived in soup form.


If I were to ever go to Dirty Habit by myself, for one dish, where I think most people would probably go burger, this would be my order. The broth was complex and full of flavor while still remaining light and vivid, the dumplings were juicy, meaty, and gingery, and let’s not even talk about my feelings for leafy greens; it’s borderline creepy. We took turns passing the bowl around and drinking it until there was not a drop left to be had.

The chicken wings with sweet soy and chili vinaigrette were next to appear


This plate arrived with a predominant amount of generously sized drumettes. I would have liked a better wing to drum ratio, but, anyway. The fry on these guys was super Chinese to me-puffy and crisp, like they used egg white and cornstarch; remniscent of the texture/fry you would get on orange chicken or sweet and sour pork. I liked that; it was unexpected and different. The spice form the chili vinaigrette and jalapenos did not come through though, which was disappointing.

The last two dishes we had were my least favorite of the night. First was the DH burger with swiss cheese, whiskey onion, and fries.


The burger was totally good, but the other dishes they have to offer at Dirty Habit are so much more interesting that it is just kind of a waste of an order. I mean, I know, we ordered a burger. We wanted to see what their burger was like. The bun was nice and soft and a great porous vehicle to absorb all the meat juice, the patty was well seasoned and cooked properly, and I love that the fries were actually jojo’s served with a sweet mustard; all good things, but, you can just do better. It was, however, one of my dining companions favorite dish of the night, and if you were just popping in for a burger, you would not be disappointed with this one.

We ended up with mussels last as our server had forgotten about them. Which is fine, it happens, but, after a big bowl of milk punch and a bunch of foie gras and a burger and what-not, it was definitely not the right placement in the meal for rich shellfish and hefty broth. I would have certainly enjoyed them more earlier in the night. They were swimming in a fabulously robust concoction with spicy hunks of chorizo floating about. The dish came with a few thin, crisped, toasts, which underserves the soupy mixture down below. We knew that to get a baguette, we had to order it as a dish (with smoked honey butter, for $3,) and I did ask for an order, which, despite how bilious I already was I could not wait to eat, but alas, there was a misunderstanding and two more crisp pieces of toast arrived instead. I suppose in a way they saved me from myself, as that mid night awakening would have probably not ended well, had I polished off a baguette dipped in butter and cream to end my night.


Dirty Habit
12 Fourth Street, SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94103
(415) 348-1555
Dinner M-SA 5PM-10PM

Dirty Habit on Urbanspoon


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