BEER + WINE ISSUE Two new restaurants foreground tasty brews, and SF's unique new cider bar tickles taste buds
BEER + WINE Craft beers are in their heyday, alongside craft everything else — it only makes sense that they would begin to take prominence on local menus next to intricately prepared and finely sourced dishes. San Francisco beer luminary Dave McLean has been brewing Magnolia beers, among my favorites anywhere, at his Upper Haight brewpub for nearly 15 years, now expanding to a new Dogpatch location. Like Magnolia, modern classic Monk's Kettle in the Mission has focused since its 2007 opening on serving food to match its beer offerings, and new Maven in Lower Haight is innovative in its extensive beer-food pairings menu. (And we haven't forgotten more casual beer-and-sausage options like Gestalt and Toronado-Rosamunde.) Now, two new restaurants arrive where food is equally important to beverage, with exciting beer slants.
Opened in May with great wine world buzz, St. Vincent is owned by sommelier David Lynch, known for his impeccable wine list at Quince. Accordingly, the wine list at St. Vincent (named not for the popular indie musician but for a third-century Spanish deacon known as the patron saint of winemakers) is global and excellent, with many bottles in the $30–$50 range, plus affordable by-the-glass pours like a crisp, floral 2011 Domaine de Guillemarine Picpoul de Pinet.
Wisely, Lynch brought on beer director (and certified cicerone) Sayre Piotrkowski, whose brings his beer knowledge and keen eye for the unusual from his former position at Monk's Kettle. Piotrkowski has made spot-on drink recommendations on every visit, and the friendly staff are well-versed on the menu. I've tasted many of the eight rotating beers on draft, like those from Oakland's Linden Street and Dying Vines breweries, or delightful beers from tiny Pasadena micro-brewery Craftsman Brewing Co., including a Triple White Sage Belgian-Style Tripel or a 1903 Lager, pre-Prohibition style. Splurge for a $22 bottle of fascinating Birrificio del Ducato's Verdi Russian Imperial Stout, spicy with hot chile from Parma, Italy. ($11 if you can find it at liquor store extraordinaire Healthy Spirits, btw.)
New Jersey native Chef Bill Niles (most recently of Bar Tartine) exhibits a strong dose of New Southern in his California cooking. Although dishes like she-crab soup ($14), utilizing sea urchin, sugar snap peas and Carolina gold rice in a corn-lobster chowder, or rabbit burgoo ($24), a mélange of white turnips, baby green okra, white corn grits, and rabbit loin sausage with unusual lamb's quarter herb, are nothing like the she-crab soups I've loved in South Carolina or the burgoo stews I've dined on in Kentucky, Niles has reinterpreted the regional dishes with care — and a distinctly West Coast ethos.
Beet-horseradish or curry pickled eggs ($3 each) are a predictably a good time, while a hand-rolled pretzel with mustard and butter ($5) is a bit small and forlorn. I searched for the listed clothbound cheddar in the baked Vidalia onion soup ($9), where even onions didn't impart the hoped-for flavor intensity. Rarely-seen, ultra-salty Welsh laverbread ($18) is a hunk of Tartine wheat bread lathered in Pacific sea laver (seaweed), Manila clams, and hen of the woods mushrooms, ideal with beer. Entrees like roasted duck leg ($22), surrounded by buttered rye berries, griddled stonefruit, celery, and pickled mustard are heartier, but, unexpectedly, I preferred a vegetarian entree: an herb-laden spring succotash ($18) of butter beans, white corn, and dandelion, perfected with padron peppers.
Though St. Vincent's food voice feels like it's still finding itself, I appreciate that it is not the same iteration of gastropub food we've seen a thousand times over.
1270 Valencia, SF. 415-285-1200, www.stvincentsf.com