The Burritt Room + Tavern, set in the mezzanine level of the Mystic Hotel, was opened almost a year and a half ago by famed restaurateur Chef Charlie Palmer, who also owns Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, several Charlie Palmer Steakhouses and Aureole in New York and Las Vegas. Palmer is known for his progressive American cuisine, and Burritt Tavern keeps to that genre, but at reasonable price points. Five month new Executive Chef Luke Knox honed his skills under Palmer at Aureole in Las Vegas for five years and at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Las Vegas prior to that. Under Knox’s direction, the tavern fare today is completely different than when it first opened.
The Burritt Room + Tavern is actually two distinct establishments with completely separate menus. The Burritt Room is the crystal chandelier-lit speakeasy, where excellent cocktails can be imbibed at the antique wooden bar or in the lounge at any of the comfortable red tufted couches and chairs. They also offer an abbreviated menu of bar bites that includes elevated versions of tater tots, sliders, sloppy Joes and burgers. The Burritt Tavern is connected via a velvet draped doorway, inviting diners into a full service restaurant outfitted with a mixture of floor-to-ceiling curtain-enclosed private booths and well-spaced tables, a rarity in the City. It’s all at once an upscale and casual atmosphere, with a good mixture of old and new, befitting a modern tavern.
Located in a historic building far enough away from the bustle of Union Square, but close to the foot of the Stockton Tunnel, Palmer took over and completely renovated what was once the Crescent Hotel into the modern boutique Mystic Hotel with the Burritt Room + Tavern. Named after the alley that once served as the entrance to the 120+ year old building, The Burritt Room initially opened in 2010 with bar star and PDT-vet Kevin Diedrich (now at Jasper’s Corner Tap + Kitchen). As part of the overall building renovation that was completed last year in April, the 125 seat Burritt Tavern was added as an adjunct to the Burritt Room, now helmed by Bar Manager and mix master Josh Trabulsi.
With the hope of increasing their social media and online presence, we were recently invited to participate in a round table of sorts with five other food writers and bloggers to come experience both concepts. As a general rule we usually turn down complimentary meals, as we want to post the experience of the every day eater, not subject to special treatment. But this event sounded intriguing since we would get access to Josh and Chef Knox, so we accepted their gracious offer.
We did a reconnaissance visit prior to the round table to check it out beforehand. Upon entering the literally bright white hotel lobby, the signage led us to climb a short flight of stairs. We were greeted by a jazz trio playing live music and found a couple of seats at the bar, where we were amicably welcomed by Josh. We ordered a Manhattan-esque Berlinetta (Bourbon, Cynar, Carpano Antica Vermouth, Price Blood Orange, Bitters) and a Redwood (Rye Whiskey, Aperol, Yellow Chartreuse, Celery). Both of the cocktails were perfectly balanced and whetted our appetites for more to come:
We are big fans of the German Schweinhaxe and were intrigued when we saw the bar menu offered a Fried Pork Shank. Super reasonably priced at $11, what arrived was an excellent six-hour braised then fried shank with the meat sliced off the bone. A delicious beer reduction sauce came on the side for dipping, but that was like icing on a cake since the tender and crispy pork was excellent on its own:
To make it a complete meat and potatoes meal, we also ordered the Cheesy Tater Tots, which are croquette-like tots with a sweet house-made ketchup. It was a disproportionate amount of meat to potatoes, so we’ll have to get two orders of these great cheesy tots next time:
Our next round of cocktails consisted of a Vesper Lynd (Navy Strength Gin, Cucumber Infused Dolin Blanc) and a Josh-challenge to make us something with Rye. He instantly came up with a Fernet and Rye whiskey concoction that was really good:
A view down the bar shows the live jazz trio and the curtained opening to the Burritt Tavern:
A week later we returned for the round table. Full disclosure: the drinks and dinner would be on the house. They started us with a session at the bar with Josh, who made us all a couple of cocktails and provided a brief history of the building itself. Note that Burritt Room has provided us permission to post the cocktail recipes, so look for that in the near future.
Josh’s cocktail menu is interesting as it offers house-originals and classics, but also shows the glass vessel and how the drinks will be served:
Josh started us off with the classic cocktail, the Knickerbocker á la Monsieur (Aged Rhum Agricole, Orange Curacao, Raspberry, Lemon). He explained that, in keeping with the historical theme, he chose this classic cocktail because Jerry Thomas originated it a mere three blocks away, in 1862, at the Occidental Hotel. As to his selection of Clément as the base, it offers a ‘grassy’ blend to the fruit balancing out the sweetness:
Josh mixed the next round of drinks as we finished the welcome cocktail:
For the next round, Josh returned us to the Vesper Lynd, featuring his unique twist of using cucumber-infused Dolin Blanc Vermouth, which adds a refreshing taste to the classic martini. Typically made with Vodka, Gin and Kina Lillet, Josh’s version uses only Leopold’s over-proofed Navy Strength Gin with the vermouth. Served up in a chilled glass, this is the one drink that should convince anyone that a true martini should be made with gin. Visible in the back is a pre-mixed Berlinetta package as a take home gift:
We were then escorted into the dining room, where they served us a four-course meal paired with wines. We started with the County Line Harvest Lolla Rossa, Red Oak and Green Leaf Salad (currently on the menu) which came with compressed Frog Hollow plum slices, goat feta cheese, smoked almonds and lightly dressed with a plum-herb vinaigrette. The sweet plums and the mixed greens paired well with a glass of the 2010 Gerard Boulay Sancerre, but the real surprise was how well the smoked almonds added a different dimension of flavor:
We were invited to submit a favorite childhood dish as part of the experience, and a fellow blogger had specified that Mac and Cheese was her memory of choice. They do have a Three Cheese Macaroni on the menu, but Chef Knox created a special version that added crisped house-cured Tasso Ham to the tubetti pasta with a mornay sauce. This dish might have been the table favorite since no one can resist cheese and bacon. The pairing with a glass of the food-friendly 2011 August Kesseler “R” Resiling from Rheingau, Germany went perfectly with the oozy cheese dish:
The BarFlys submitted Oxtail Stew as the childhood favorite (unorthodox we know, but lesser cuts of meat featured heavily at the dinner table), and Chef Knox did not disappoint with his version. This was the only truly off-the-menu item of the evening, and now we are on a mission to get Chef Knox to add this to his menu. Slow braised oxtail meat was removed from the bone and accompanied with roasted eggplant, heirloom carrots, cipollini onions and a dollop of ricotta cheese. The carrots still had crunch (just the way we like it), and the cheese addition was pure genius since it added a creaminess to the already rich stew. Easily our favorite dish of the evening, the sommelier paired it with 2010 Famille Perrin & Fils “Réserve” Côtes du Rhône. Perrin is one of the biggest producers in the Rhône valley, and this everyday wine is the result of their power to source a large amount of quality fruit:
For those that didn’t want the oxtail stew, the other entrée choice was a Pacific Halibut dish that is available on their current menu. A halibut filet was accompanied by a sweet onion relish, some bits of a not too spicy house-made chorizo, a sprinkling of fried garlic chips, sitting atop lemony mashed potatoes. This was an interesting dish since each of the components eaten on their own wasn’t anything special: the potatoes were too lemony, the relish was very sweet, and the crisped chorizo was maybe there for texture. But the dish itself was different when everything was combined in one bite – it was just the right amount of lemon, sweetness and spice to accompany the fish. Not sure it was how Chef Knox intended us to eat it, but that would be our suggestion. The pairing of a 2011 Joseph Drouhin Vaudon Chablis was perfect with this halibut dish since it exhibited very earthy citrus flavors:
We ended with an excellent and thankfully large Meyer Lemon Tart on a white chocolate feuilletine crisp that came with a savory-sweet basil-blueberry compote. The plate was artfully swiped with concentrated lemon jam and meringue. Paired with the only domestic wine of the evening, a 2007 Arrowood Select Late Harvest White Riesling, the tart was the perfect ending to a perfect event:
The Burritt Room + Tavern delivers on the progressive American cuisine featuring locally sourced ingredients at approachable prices. We were pleasantly surprised that their wine pairings were primarily old-World (matching our preference) and are all reasonably priced. We are also amazed that Josh and Sean are able to man the bar with only a bar back, providing all of the drinks for the bar and the tavern with friendly and efficient service. Our only possible complaint is that they are keeping the menus between the two establishments separate, which means that we cannot order from the tavern menu while drinking at the bar (we are the BarFlys after all), but it should be okay since the bar menu is great on its own and very inexpensive.
With so many good restaurants in the City, we were slow to make our way to the Burritt Room + Tavern, but these two visits have turned us into regulars. With live music playing six nights a week, they offer one of the more unique drinking and dining experiences. It is far enough away from Union Square to keep the tourists at bay, but close enough to BART that we don’t have to worry about driving and parking, especially after a night of drinking.
Many thanks to Mandy Beck, Josh Trabulsi and Chef Luke Knox for inviting us and putting this event together.