Every San Francisco neighborhood boasts at least a few varieties of watering hole, from the dark little joint with the admirable jukebox to the swellegant lounge with the 20 breeds of vodka to the high buzz, after-work gathering spot with the braying cell phones and the wall-to-wall clientele. Cozmo's Corner Grill, a four-month-old saloon/restaurant in the Marina, belongs to the latter tradition. A large, square-shaped bar dominates the downstairs lounge, itself a posh, subtly lit setting of wine racks, cherrywood wainscoting, exposed brick, and plush tapestries. A thumping sound design and a half dozen flat-screen televisions contribute to the general din. The mood is chic, urban, and as casually upscale as the neighborhood it inhabits. When the workday is done and the thirtysomethings gather, the place really fills up, its energy level increasing with every freshly shaken lemon drop.
Cozmo's is the brainchild of Executive Chef Steven Levine and his partners Michael Suverkrubbe, Gina Klotz, Christian Corbett, and William Rickert, who also operate the pricier Cosmopolitan Cafe in Rincon Center. Their new endeavor, at the onetime site of both Marina Joe's and the Faultline Brewery, offers a menu of standard New American cuisine that seldom lives up to the surrounding buzz. The cocktails are good, though -- especially the aforementioned lemon drop, one of the tastier renditions available, with a dollop of fresh lime juice and a pleasantly tart edge to the sweetness.
To complement the booze, Cozmo's serves a number of small bites intended for barstool noshing -- some delicious, some merely serviceable. The tempura green beans are terrific: fresh, crisp strings encased in an airy coating drizzled with a creamy wasabi aioli. The stir-fried edamame is less successful -- the spicy flavor resides entirely on the outer pods, and the inner beans are undercooked. The tiny Dungeness crab cakes are equally unexciting, although they're lightly textured and the corn-mango salsa that accompanies them is delicious. The fried green olives have a pleasantly crunchy crust, but their briny nature combined with a Gorgonzola stuffing overwhelms most any cocktail. The chicken wings, on the other hand, are peppery, moist, and meaty, served on a bed of watercress and blue cheese and complemented by a bowl of buttermilk ranch dressing -- the perfect bar snack. Even better is the tea-smoked duck, slender filets of rich, tender meat served with an easily avoidable soggy squash pancake. The gnocchi dish is too doughy, too bland, and too heavy, but its bed of portobello mushrooms, sharp peco-rino, and smoky truffle oil is marvelous. The pizza -- thin, crackerlike, and fresh from the wood-fired oven -- is fragrant with the pleasures of grilled red onion, Crescenza cheese, and Serrano ham.
The best entree is the simply roasted Fulton Valley chicken, a plump, juicy bird with a crackling skin served over a bed of roasted root vegetables and fantastically creamy, comforting, chive-flecked mashed potatoes. Tender clams, roasted garlic, and brick-red pancetta redeem the unremarkable linguine they're served with, but the grilled Atlantic salmon filet is overcooked and forgettable despite its stellar sides of sweet roasted chioggia beets and mashed Yukon Gold potatoes infused with horseradish. Flavorful though it is, the grilled Angus hanger steak is tough, and while the sautéed spinach that comes with it is delectably garlicky, the oak-smoked baked potato is so unremittingly smoky that it ends up as an annoying gimmick.
The dessert menu features several appealing options, particularly the cookies and milkshake, one of the best sweet courses in the city. You have to order it 15 minutes before you want it because the cookies (studded with Scharffen Berger's incomparable chocolate chips) aren't placed in the oven until the last minute, resulting in the sort of warm, chewy, gooey bite usually encountered only in the home kitchen. They come with a milkshake unlike any other, more a slender glass of sweet, frothy milk steeped in vanilla than the behemoth of yore. It's the cookies' perfect complement. The cheesecake is wonderful -- fluffier than its Manhattan brethren, with a citrusy flavor and a bed of huckleberry compote beneath. The chocolate mousse devil's food layer cake isn't nearly as rich and moist and decadent as it sounds -- there's a dried-out, freezer-burn character to it -- but its trimmings (a luscious cherry purée and a thick, fudgy sauce) are worthwhile. Finally, the crème caramel is simple and refreshing, a soft, sugary custard permeated with the tang of Meyer lemon and served with a bright array of blueberries, kiwi, and mango.
The 100-item wine list features an adequate selection of moderately priced vintages, primarily varietals from California and Oregon with a few ringers from Argentina and Australia thrown in. Nineteen come by the half-bottle, 18 by the glass. Clos Pegase Mitsuko's Vineyard Chardonnay is a particularly buttery sip with the crab cakes and salmon.
In addition to the 45-seat dining room downstairs, there's a 30-seat mezzanine overlooking the bar. But the restaurant's fulcrum is the bar itself, the place where you can meet a friend, close a deal, shoot the breeze, catch the game, or simply enjoy a JD over while staying out of the late-evening fog. They're San Francisco traditions, after all.