Between coffee, haircuts and a couple of bars we enjoy, my wife and I are in Hayes Valley at least two times a month, sometimes heading over there once a week. Needless to say, we're starting to exhaust the list of affordable restaurants.
Enter Zoya, a tiny restaurant attached to the Days Inn on Grove. This place is, for all intents and purposes, a budding restauranteur's nightmare - a downstairs kitchen with a couple of tables, small bar and kitchen combined with seven small tables upstairs - but to get to these tables, you have to go outside, up a set of astroturfed stairs and through a thick heat-retaining curtain to get to them. It's a block off of the beaten path, and, let's face it, being connected to a Days Inn isn't the best thing for a New American cuisine restaurant trying to attract a local crowd. It's hard enough to get people to go into a hotel restaurant like the Fifth Floor in the Palomar, let alone a divey motel across the street from a fenced in parking lot.
But just like with a habanero pepper, if you can get through your fears, you're rewarded with some fantastic flavors.
Zoya's space is a beautiful combination of low lighting, dark wood tones and comforting brown walls. The upstairs rotunda, where the main seating is, is comfortable, intimate and inviting. Aside from the light music and the occasional clatter of the 21 Hayes coming up the street, it was extremely peaceful.
The food was better than I expected, based on the location. Fantastic even. I started with an ahi tuna poke - beautifilly spiced with jalapeno peppers and sriracha hot sauce and accompanied by five triangular wedges of deep fried wonton wrappers to use as a crostini. The freshness of the fish, combined with a mild sesame flavor and aggressive spiciness puts this easily in the top non-sushi fish category for me.
For my main course, I went with the special, a Filet Oscar - a small filet mignon topped with freshly picked crab and drizzled with a light hollandaise sauce, served over steamed asparagus. For the first time in a year, my steak was perfectly cooked: I asked for rare, and I got rare - and the flavor of the beef itself was amazing, and the rich crab and hollandaise just sent it over the edge.
Dinner was finished with a bananas foster which I split with my wife. The bananas were fantastic, but serving it with two large scoops of Ciao Bella chocolate gelato was a little too much - next time I would recommend using either a coconut or a dulce de leche (caramel) ice cream, which I feel compliments the rich and sweet bananas better.
Two appetizers, two main courses, two beers, two coffees (which were great) and a dessert ran us $78... a deal even if the food wasn't as fantastic as this was.
Everybody, take a walk one block north from Hayes and show Zoya some love. They deserve it.