It’s our second birthday of blogging here at BarFlySF, so we thought we would celebrate with a double posting of San Francisco’s latest great restaurant, Aveline, and its sister bar, The European. Both are toqued by Top Chef favorite Casey Thompson, but she partnered with Berretta alum Adam Wilson to create the cocktails for The European. Opened in early June, they are located in the newly remodeled Warwick Hotel in downtown S.F. near Union Square, making it a likely gustatory destination for both tourists and locals.
Thompson made her name in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, but she moved to Napa Valley about three years ago with the intention of opening a restaurant. Instead, she spent time cooking at various establishments, traveling, getting to know local purveyors and even doing a stint as a winery brand ambassador. All that experience is reflected in her food, which offers a different and unique perspective.
Separated only by a hotel lobby, Aveline and The European have very different ambience and character. The European bar is seductively lit (that is, dark) and offers a great lounge-like atmosphere. Aveline, the restaurant, is more brightly lit and lively with general bustle and table conversation. Aveline is named after a combination of Thompson’s grandmothers’ names, while The European is named after the cocktail style and the ingredients Wilson builds around. Aveline takes reservations, while the European is first-come-first-served seating, which can be difficult at a hotel bar. Both have their own exclusive menu — the bar menu can’t be ordered in the restaurant and vice-versa: not exactly the BarFlys’ dream come true. Alas, the cocktails can be ordered in either location.
We had reservations at Aveline, but as our custom demands a cocktail prior to dinner, we came early to get a round of drinks at The European. The Aperol Kick (Aperol, Gin, Sparking Wine, seltzer) adds a bit of Gin to the Aperol Spritz (an idea we are totally stealing) and came with an expertly pressed citrus wheel that stayed on the edge of the wine glass. The Duke (Campari, Rye, Vermouth, Absinthe) made for a great aperitivo. The bartenders also provided sweetly spiced peanuts which disappeared fast since they were tasty cocktail snacks:
A view of the serene hotel lobby as taken from our seats at the bar in the European (Aveline is located behind the front desk):
We made our way across the lobby to Aveline and perused their wine list, which contained an interesting mix of domestic and international wines. Since we like our wines with plenty of old world terroir, we selected the 2010 Montirius “Garrigues” Vacqueyras (70% Grenache and 30% Syrah). It had plenty of minerality with hints of cherry and pepper — a great pairing for food:
The Amuse Bouche course for that evening was a delicate piece of raw fish with a plum and goat cheese foam:
The 15 item menu is divided into three sections, plus suggested palate reset courses that can be ordered in-between (e.g. seasonal granita). It was difficult for us to narrow down the options, but we had to order the Crab Macarons from the middle section of the menu. They arrived neatly tied up in a nice little box set on a sliver platter. It was a fun package to open for our virtual second birthday:
The package contained three perfectly round puck-sized “macarons” made with buttery brioche-like bread and stuffed with plenty of crab filling. The crispy, buttery, crabby and buttery (yes) morsels were so good we had to fight for the third one. We made the wise decision that twisting it open like an Oreo was the best way to split it:
The menu is billed as San Francisco style, but the Yolk Beignet is unlike anything we have had in the City. A fried puffy bread (similar in texture to a doughnut) is covered with a thin slice of Wagyu, then lardo is placed on top of the beef and cooked just enough to form a translucent window to the marbled meat. The entire beignet is surrounded by peppery cress and edible flowers, then a rich trotter sauce is poured table side:
As if all of the above wasn’t enough, cutting into the edible work of art revealed a perfectly runny yolk, which added a different rich sauce for all of that decadence:
There were many other items we easily could have ordered off Aveline’s menu, but the ￼￼￼Fried Chicken was another dish we had to try. Hot sauce dots and kimchee powder came on the plate to spice the chicken to taste, and the acidity from the sweet house pickles helped to cut the fat. We are guessing that the pieces were cooked sous-vide before they were battered and fried, as the chicken was super juicy but the skin underneath the coating wasn’t so crispy. It was more like tempura-fried chicken to us, which is definitely different. It was good, but couldn’t compare to the “wow factor” of the previous dishes:
We were so impressed with our experience at Aveline, we knew we had to come back to try The European’s menu. We had the Casino Royale (Gin, Vodka, Lillet) with house-made pickled onion the first time around, and specifically came back for this perfectly balanced cocktail. Usually known as a Vesper, this is a classic Martini that deserves to be on every bar list, but that pickled onion alone is worth coming back for:
The lower-priced menu at The European is meant to pair with cocktails, offering about nine different bar bites and a killer burger. The Chips ‘N Dip might just be our favorite bar snack at the moment. Chips made from crispy, tasty chicken skin came studded into a creamy smoked eggplant and charred onion dip (reminiscent of an elevated baba ganoush). Trout roe added both a welcome brininess and pop to the overall dish:
We had such fond memories of the Yolk Beignet that we had to try the bar’s Beignets listed under the Fried section. These beignets were completely different: crunchy fried dough nuggets were served in what we’re guessing is a roasted tomato remoulade sauce with deep fried slices of pepperoni and “salty cheese.” The addictive bites reminded us (in a good way of course) of a very upscale version of frozen pizza rolls/pockets/bites, the childhood snack that many of us grew up with:
A view of the beignet bite shows that each nugget is pretty dense and substantial — quite different from an airy dough version of a beignet:
We drank several more cocktails and whiskey served by our lovely bartender Shirley, including a repeat of the excellent The Duke, and a generous shot of Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon with a soda back:
We came back specifically for the burger that we had seen on our earlier visit. Listed as On the Bun, this ground brisket burger is destination-worthy, even in the middle of tourist season. It was accompanied by fries and a soft “googie” which is a soft-boiled egg topped with egg cream:
The burger came stacked with grilled sweet Vidalia onions, chopped greens and an oddly paired but messy-delicious Fontina-Vegemite butter. The side view of the burger shows that it did indeed arrive rare, just the way we ordered it:
What did we do with the “googie”? There’s no right or wrong use for it (at least we didn’t think so), but we chose to use it as a dip for our fries of course!
Thompson’s food at both locations is truly revolutionary — there are so many items that were exciting and different than many of the farm-to-table seasonal restaurants. We did note that almost every dish had some element of sweetness to accompany the savory or spicy aspect. Conversely, the dessert courses featured savory elements such as garden berries with fava beans or tomato pie with whipped bananas. Combinations that may sound odd meld together under Thompson’s hand.
Could it be possible to be a regular at a hotel bar? It’s hard for us to predict if that will be the case for us. We did find that even if the bar was full, it wasn’t too long of a wait to get seats — but it might become more difficult as word spreads. But we’ll sure keep on trying, just to try out more items on these amazing menus. Now if we could just order Aveline food at The European …