When you walk into the Fly Trap during a busy evening service, the first thing you notice is the smiling hostess. The second thing you notice is the melodic noise..After you enjoy a refreshing sip of an Agave Inferno cocktail and savor your inaugural bite of pistachio-topped meatballs, you realize this noisy hot spot is about to become your new favorite place for meeting friends and exploring Chef Hoss Zaré’s modern, Persian-influenced Mediterranean cuisine.
A Little History
Thanks to the flypaper once used as a “sanitation measure,” the historic SoMa eatery was dubbed “Fly Trap” by Naval officers stationed in San Francisco more than 100 years ago. In 1963, the original restaurant closed its doors to make way for the Wells Fargo tower, but neither fire nor earthquake nor change of address and ownership could destroy the business.
In 1988, Hossein Zaré began writing his portion of the Fly Trap’s legacy when, newly emigrated from Iran, “Hoss” secured a job as line cook. Under the mentorship of owner Walter Zolezzi and Chef Craig Thomas, Hoss exemplified the American dream. Not only did he rise to the position of Executive Chef at Fly Trap, but after making a name for himself and his food in Napa Valley, Hoss returned to San Francisco and became the sole proprietor of the restaurant that launched his career. To attract the customers who’d already fallen in love with his culinary point of view, Hoss added “Zaré” to the iconic name (but removed it a few years later). Perhaps the droves of happy customers keeping the noise level turned up to “lively” quelled any concerns Hoss had about reconnecting with his Bay Area fan base.
A Big Heart
As Hoss’s bio from the Fly Trap website says, “Known for his over the top sense of Hoss-pitality—often embracing guests with Hossy-Hugs—he is the force that pumps life into the team.” You will see the truth of that sentiment even if you are not the direct recipient of Zaré’s enthusiastic charm. Watching him interact with customers evokes a genuine feeling of welcome. Hoss is on hand to mix a cocktail, deliver an appetizer, or bring a crisp green apple to a young diner who is unhappy with the dishes her parents chose that evening.
Zaré’s sense of hospitality is reflected in his staff. Not only is the wait staff highly knowledgeable about the food they are serving, they are also excited about it. There are no monotone recitations about tonight’s special being read from the back of a ticket book here; instead, you get helpful descriptions and suggestions based not only on what you think you like, but on your reaction to the dish your neighbor’s eating or how much you enjoyed a specific appetizer. From the aperitif to the after-dinner coffee, the staff at Fly Trap behave as though there is nothing they would rather do than make sure you enjoy the best dining experience possible. (You will!)
A Whole Lot of Good Food
Some of the dishes at Fly Trap may be unfamiliar to first-time guests. If you do not know your lavash from your naan, do not worry; your server will walk you through it. The seasonal menu is one to be explored, not conquered. There is also no need to order the whole meal at once; start with one dish and see where it takes you. Be prepared to share.
One of the “must try” items is the pistachio meatball dish, spiced with red harissa and sitting in a savory-sweet pomegranate sauce you will want to eat by the spoonful. Zaré’s twist on bone marrow also remains popular with his guests: roasted, covered with a bright lime glaze, and served with seasonal jam.
There are several options for vegans and vegetarians to enjoy. For example, the summer vegetable spaghetti is so flavorful—with garlic and chili oil—it will make carnivores envious. And speaking of vegetables, don’t forget to order the crispy Brussels sprouts topped with creamy Parmesan sauce (do yourself a favor and take a few home—you are going to wake up the next morning craving more).
Lamb is the starring protein of the main entrees. Besides the lamb burger with house-made pickles, the menu also features braised lamb stew and grilled lamb sirloin. For seafood lovers, Zaré offers a twist on traditional cacciucco rich with shellfish and served with pearl couscous.
The wine list at Fly Trap is known for being select, with bottles at a variety of price points. Wine pairing is another area where Zaré’s wait staff shines, making expert suggestions and offering tastings to help you decide. If in doubt, the Chateau Musar Rose from Lebanon is a perfect complement to many of the starters and lighter entrees.
If you don’t actually get to hug Hoss Zaré in person when you visit Fly Trap, don’t feel bad. Ending your meal with a plate of baklava with rose preserves or cucumber yogurt pudding with saffron and cardamom for dessert is almost as good as a warm embrace.
Hoss Zaré and Fly Trap are both San Francisco icons, symbols of the city’s ability to adapt, to learn, and (sometimes) to lead. A meal at Fly Trap truly is like enjoying a meal at the home of a friend—warm, friendly, delicious, and just a little loud. If you cannot leave without a Hossy hug, just ask: Hoss is happy to oblige.