San Francisco has a plethora of great chefs and great artisanal cocktail bars. So it’s always our personal utopia when we can find a marriage of the two, where we can go to a great bar and imbibe great cocktails while munching on excellent snacks. There’s been more than a few of these places lately: Trick Dog, Hard Water, Burritt Room (not Tavern) are really excellent bars serving great food — and not a restaurant with a great bar (get the distinction?). The latest entry into this group, Bergerac, opened last September in Bar Agricole’s turf, making this part of industrial SOMA that much more interesting.
Owned by a trio made up of Foreign Cinema’s Bruce McDonald and Nightclub impresarios David Brinkley and Anderson Pugash, Bergerac takes it’s inspiration from Nellcôte, a Belle-Epoque mansion in Southern France, where the Rolling Stones resided for about a year in 1972 as they recorded Exile on Main Street. The Stones partied hard and ate very well, and Bergerac hopes to emulate that feeling by becoming the first “party mixology bar of its kind.” The bar program is led by 2012 Bartender of the Year, bar star and Spike TV’s Bar Rescue judge Russell Davies, who hired many FutureBars (umbrella company for Bourbon & Branch, Rickhouse, Cask, etc.) vets to tend Bergerac’s bar.
But one of the big draws for us was to eat Executive Chef Randy Lewis’ creations. At Indigo in his native New Orleans, Lewis made his name when he was awarded Food & Wine magazines Best New Chef in 2001. He cooked in wine country for a few years before becoming the executive chef at Mecca on Castro Street in 2006; this is where we discovered how great his food was. He left the now-defunct Mecca in 2009 and spent time back in wine country with stints that included Lark Creek Tavern and Bistro de Copain. He moved back to the City in 2011, when he opened Criolla Kitchen, a New Orleans inspired eatery, in the former Baghdad Cafe spot in the Castro. Unfortunately, Criolla Kitchen lasted less than a year, after which he consulted/worked at other a few places until his return with Bergerac. Needless to say, we have been to more than a few of the places listed above (as well as some not) since we are big fans of Chef Lewis’ cooking. We waited for the opening crowds to die down at Bergerac (we did drive-by’s more than once to check it out) and recently sat down for a meal with cocktails.
With tasteful decorative touches, Bergerac’s relaxed atmosphere invites guests to lounge on the comfortable tufted velvet couches and leather chairs:
But we’re BarFlys, so we grabbed seats at the bar and started with The Manhattan Project (Breaking & Entering Bourbon finished in a Manhattan Aged Barrel, Ice Rock, brandied cherry) and Juliet & Romeo (Beefeater Gin, Lime, Sugar, Cucumber, Mint, Angostura Bitters, Salt, Rose Water), a drink from Chicago’s The Violet Hour. Both cocktails were an excellent introduction to our evening to come:
Most of the food on the abbreviated menu of about a dozen items are bar snacks, meant to accompany and enhance the drinking experience. We started with the Shrimp Fritters made with battered Laughing Bird Caribbean shrimp and served with a cilantro-lime creme. Each fritter contained a generous amount of delicate and sweet shrimp meat:
We know Chef Lewis knows his way around a fryer, so we had to get an order of Truffle Fries, as we wanted a salty snack to pair with our drinks. The crispy fries were lightly flavored with rosemary and lemon zest and sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese:
The Bergerac Egg is unlike any Scotch egg that we have ever had. Chef Lewis perfected a technique to freezer-cure egg yolks, wrapping them in black pudding, applying a battered breadcrumb coating and then frying them to a perfect crisp. Three eggs come with an order along with a remoulade dipping sauce. Cutting into one reveals that the custardy yolks are still slightly runny. Apart from being a great bar snack, these would make perfect breakfast bites:
The Kung Fu Tacos might just be the best bar snack ever. Duck legs are braised in Asian ingredients — lemongrass and ginger, chiles and hoisin sauce — and the shredded meat is served in a little cast iron pot. Several Chinese-style thin rolled green-onion pancakes serve as the taco shell. A cucumber and jicama slaw adds crunch and color to the delicious taqueria-sized tacos:
What to drink with tasty tacos? Tequila of course! We had our first sips of Tapatio blanco tequilas, recently imported into the United States by craft-distillery Charbay. Our trusty bartender told us it was the tequila that most people in the know smuggled in from Mexico, but thanks to Charbay, we not only have one Tapatio Blanco, but a second one bottled at 110 proof. We took a shot of each blanco and deemed them to be smooth and tasty. We quickly concluded that they definitely make better tequila in Tapatio than they do hot sauces:
Our last bite of the evening (as if anything could follow those tacos) was the Southern France “Pizza” topped with caramelized onions, double cream goats cheese, nicoise olives, fresh thyme and a double dose of salty good anchovies. We recognized this as a version of a Pissaladière, a Provençal onion tart, which we could easily imagine was served to the Stones in their year-long tenure in the Côte d’Azur:
All evening long, we admired how the bartenders expertly break out ice chunks by hand for the drinks:
We told our bartender that we like our Rye, and he concocted a version of the Vieux Carré cocktail for us made with High West Double Rye and Coeur D’ambre “La Favorite” Rhum Agricole. It was so good, we each drank two rounds of these to end our relaxed evening at the Bergerac:
We would like to say that we’re done chasing Chef Randy Lewis and hope he has a long stint here at Bergerac, but we have a hunch it might be otherwise. As great as the food at Bergerac is, it’s not a full service restaurant, and we hope that his talents will one day be behind a full kitchen.
The Bon Vivants Come to Life at Trick Dog (Apr. 4, 2013)
Hard Water Makes it 200 (Apr. 19, 2013)
Burritt Room + Tavern Gets Added to Our Rotation (Sep. 3, 2013)
It’s a Bar … It’s a Restaurant … It’s Bar Agricole! (Mar. 4, 2013)
City Eggs at Foreign Cinema (Apr. 8, 2013)