This is Wine Bar Week here at BarFlySF where we will be featuring posts on places that offer small plates and Bistro-type gourmet food. In other words, wine bars that offer more than the typical fare of olives, nuts, charcuterie, cheese plates and the occasional paninis/sandwiches. Most wine bars do not have fully stocked kitchens which accounts for the limited menus often served, but there are a few places here in the City that offer great food meant to accompany the wines they have carefully selected. We are differentiating these type of places from restaurants that serve wines by the glass: wine bars usually offer a relaxed lounge-type atmosphere that allows lingering over a glass or bottle of wine. Wines taste better when accompanied by food, and the better the food, the better the experience.
Wine Kitchen was opened about six months ago by Owner-Chefs Greg Faucette and Jason Limburg, who have worked together for over a decade as line cooks at other notable San Francisco restaurants such as Commonwealth, Contigo, Spruce and Bar Tartine; including a stint at New York’s Per Se somewhere along the way. With the Bar Tartine-Commonwealth link, we found that many of the employees followed Faucette and Limburg here, including a reunion of sorts with Adam, one of our favorite servers from Commonwealth who helped us navigate our way through the menus here.
They offer a good mix of domestic and European wines, with more than 20 available by the glass (including four California wines available on tap). We started with a glass of 2012 Le Sengle Syrah/Grenache Rosé and a 2010 Balestri Valda Soave Classico Garganega Blend:
The Owner-Chefs’ fine dining background is definitely apparent in their food, with many of the dishes beautifully plated and garnished. The seasonal menu offers about a dozen small plates meant to be shared and enhanced with a glass (or two) of wine. There are three snack-style plates to start, including olives and nuts, but we opted to go with an order of the Corn Tempura served with addictive red pepper jelly. The corn fritters were seemingly grease free and delicious:
Their menu is listed from lighter to richer/heavier fare, but we decided to order items in courses of two, starting with seafood items. We ordered the Big Eye Tuna Crudo served atop avocado and crunchy quinoa. Dressed with sesame oil for a hint of Asian flavors, the fresh fish paired well with our wines:
Scallops a la Plancha on pea purée were served with lightly pickled summer squash ribbons and grape halves. The scallops were cooked perfectly, but they were a little overpowered by the saltiness of the yuzu koshu (a paste made with chili peppers, yuzu peel and salt) seasoning. Intended or not, we figured the salt would just make us drink more wine:
We were ready to move to red wine and ordered a bottle of this Southern Rhône Grenache Blend made by Domaine Brunier, Vin de Pays de Vaucluse. This is a more affordable wine from a famed winery set in France’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape region. Rich with fruit and terroir, this was a great Rhône wine that we enjoyed for the rest of our meal:
We ordered the next round as an “offal” course comprised of tongue and glands. The house-cured Sliced Beef Tongue was one of the better versions of this organ that we have had in a restaurant. The rye and horseradish cream that accompanied it made it taste like a deconstructed tongue sandwich. The “antipasti” of pickled mushrooms, fennel, artichoke hearts and yellow bell peppers was excellent — all of these items must have been pickled separately since they varied in crunch and amount of sweetness:
The other offal to complete our meal was the fried Sweetbreads served hot wing style, smothered in Buffalo Bob’s Hot Sauce. Served in a pool of buttermilk ranch dressing and topped with shaved celery and radishes, we could easily replace wings with glands any day. Similar to the dish they serve at The Corner Store, the dish was spicy, rich and very satisfying:
To accompany the last of our wine, we shared their Cheese Plate, comprised of Smoked Gouda and Tomme served with apricot preserves and toasted crostini:
We’ll definitely be back to work our way through the rest of the menu since we were too full to order The Monte Sammy (Prosciutto, Turkey, Gruyere, Huckleberry Jam), their modern interpretation of the Monte Cristo battered and fried sandwich. Listed somewhere in the middle of the menu, we thought that this would be one of the richer, heartier courses.
Wine Kitchen is located in the same Divisadero block that is also home to the famed and perpetually crowded Nopa and Bar Crudo. With the newly opened branches of Bi-Rite Market and Herbivore, it almost feels as if Divis is part of the Mission neighborhood. There are many different seating options with tables set at the front, high bar tables and a long wooden bar towards the back. The atmosphere during the evening is very dark with dim lighting, and very loud with a crowd that seems to be primarily dominated by women.