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Monday, July 11, 2011

Bottle Cap: First-ish Look

Posted By on Mon, Jul 11, 2011 at 8:37 AM

PHOTOS BY W. BLAKE GRAY
  • Photos by W. Blake Gray

Unlike most of the fooderati, we went to the second night of the soft opening of Bottle Cap, the new restaurant in the old Washington Square Bar & Grill space (1707 Powell at Union). The Chronicle has already written two stories, Yelp has seven reviews and counting; geez, Anthony Bourdain has probably already filmed a one-hour special there for all we know. And the official opening isn't even until Tuesday.

This is what it's like when known chefs like Sens veteran Dane Boryta and his wife, Elizabeth Ferro, take over a highly visible space. We were trying to hide our notebook below the bar table, but the patrons/critics at the two tables closest to us were taking notes right out in the open.

bottle_cap_burger.jpg

First take: It's promising.

The service was the hectic mess that soft openings often are; we got our appetizer a long time after our main. The line cooks probably don't know where everything is yet. It was packed, and everyone's food was late.

But what we ate, admittedly not very much, was not only flawless, it also showed more imagination than we expected from the definition of the place, which is ingredient-based American food. No wonder, with Blue Plate chef Matt Sullivan working on the menu with Boryta.

And the service was bad in the right way. Various staff members kept checking in on us; they don't know what they're doing yet, but they seem to understand that being friendly goes a long way.  

Our server, who showed commendable grace under considerable pressure, gave us an audio tour of the menu when we asked what he recommended. He first plugged the Humboldt burger with San Joaquin Gold cheese, grilled onions, and grain mustard aioli ($12). Though we considered the pierogis with mushroom and Carmody cheese filling ($16), pork chop with sweet chile glaze and cheesy shells ($21), and lamb ribs appetizer ($11), we went back to his first choice.

He didn't ask how we wanted the burger cooked, but that worked out -- it came medium-rare, tasting mostly of savory beef, which is a good thing. The long strips of grilled onion were a little inconvenient, occasionally leading to that noodles-hanging-from-the-mouth look, but they were tasty. We're not sure from the ingredient list why it was a little sweet, but the unexpected spicy pickled carrots on the side were a perfect contrast.

click to enlarge bottle_cap_nectarines.jpg
Eventually we got our grilled nectarines with warm goat cheese appetizer ($8), and that was fantastic. Bitter greens atop balanced the sweetness; the char on the fruit added depth, and the mild, creamy goat cheese (we wouldn't have known it was from goats if it didn't say so on the menu) was a nice textural contrast to the meaty nectarines.

Bartender Pete Gowdy's list of eight cocktails ($9 each) are all classics with a slight twist. We had the Ultima Palabra, a version of the Last Word that uses tequila instead of gin, and found it better conceptually. Next time we might sample Gowdy's Modern Negroni, Bee's Knees, or Isobel.

The wine list looks short at first -- just 23 selections, all $27 to $60 per bottle -- but 14 are available by the glass, and that's fabulous. Next time we might sample Teira Woods Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($8/glass), a label owned by San Francisco resident Dan Donahoe, or Lemelson Six Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2009 ($10/glass). If we were buying a bottle, we'd be tempted by the Correggia Barbera d'Alba 2008 ($38); it is North Beach, after all. Beer drinkers can choose from 8 on tap and 10 by bottle.

click to enlarge bottle_cap_bar.jpg
The handsome brass bar seems the place to be, separated from the dining room by a four-foot-high wooden wall. But even on a hectic night, the dining room has a lived-in feel for a new place, with a hardwood floor, an old piano at one end, and a color scheme of pale yellow atop mental-institution green.

We hated the green at first, but the longer we sat waiting for our food, the more it grew on us. It doesn't look at all modern; it looks like somebody's bad color choice from the '50s. Considering the neighborhood and the American cuisine, it actually gives Bottle Cap an ambience of permanence, which is pretty darn impressive for its second night.

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W. Blake Gray

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