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Tap(415): Westfield's Latest Tenant Delivers on Local Brews 

Tuesday, Dec 9 2014
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At some point in the next few weeks, odds are good that you're going to set foot in a mall. This is notable only because it's not normal behavior for most San Franciscans, who tend to face formula retail with the same spiritual exhaustion called upon to endure Fisherman's Wharf. But sometimes the pull of easy commerce is just too strong to resist. And so, that mall will probably be the Westfield San Francisco Centre, right in the commercial heart of the city, and at some point in your visit, you are going to need to eat.

I know a lot about Westfield, more than I ever wanted to, because I go there every day; SF Weekly moved to an office suite very nearly Under the Dome at the beginning of the summer. I've spent breaks gazing out our lounge window on the concourse below, watching people get mallssages and check their phones as they chug docilely ever upward on the escalators. I've learned the system of hallways that snake behind the stores, allowing mall workers to move freely and invisibly without being accosted by kiosk people or the wafting scent of Wetzels Pretzels (Disney uses the same strategy for its princesses at its theme parks). And I've eaten my share of meals in the basement food court, meals rife with cheap, gristly meat and floppy, oversteamed vegetables. (The only place really worth a damn is Ajisen Ramen. Trust.)

There is an alternative to the food court at Westfield: the pretentiously named "Restaurant Collection Under the Dome" on the fourth floor, which aims to cater to a higher class of mall shopper. Restaurants like Martin Yang's M.Y. China and Cupola Pizzeria attempt to straddle the line between mall food and fine dining, with mixed results. The Collection recently gained a new tenant: Tap(415), a new restaurant from the folks behind the much fancier 25 Lusk in SOMA. Its press release heralded it as a "modern beer garden," as though it offered a view of the Rhine instead of a Sunglass Hut. The menu concept is updated bar-snacks-meets-hearty-German-fare, with a strong focus on local beers. It is almost certainly trying too hard.

The best thing Tap(415) has going for it is, appropriately, its tap list, composed of about a dozen local brews from the likes of Almanac, Lost Coast, Magnolia, and Firestone-Walker, as well as a few California white and red wines, available by the glass or pitcher/carafe. It's definitely the most comprehensive beer selection in the mall and among the best in a three- or four-block radius, and though the restaurant's long blond communal tables are built for scale, not intimacy, they'd do for a quick break from the shopping madness. (Though it wouldn't be an especially relaxing one: There is a loud soundtrack featuring mostly '90s alt-rock, and the restaurant's back room lined with TVs is oppressively screen-heavy, like a sports-gambling room in Vegas, though it does have wifi and many plugs for cellphone charging.)

This tap list works because it doesn't offer anything too crazy, just a simple, well-balanced list of good beers. If only the restaurant had followed that rule for the kitchen. Everything was dialed up a little too much. A burger was cooked to a perfect medium-rare and was made with good-quality beef, but was spoiled by a topping of tempura bacon. There is no reason on earth to deep-fry perfectly good bacon. Chicken wings had a muddy mole sauce that tasted nothing like the complex, nutty Mexican version, though I did like the fresh, pepper-infused dipping sauce. And gulf prawn corn dogs were nothing more than fried shrimp on a stick, three measly portions for $14.

Tap(415) fared better with some of the entrees: A chicken schnitzel was brightened with green spaetzle and a lively lemon sauce; a sandwich with smoked burrata, roasted mushrooms, and nettle pesto was delicious, even if it fell apart after a few bites.

Cocktails are mostly as over-the-top as the menu. New Trick, with genever and liqueur de violettes, had verve and complexity that belied its pink appearance, but the bacon old fashioned tasted nothing like bacon and everything like a poorly balanced cup of alcohol. And there are "adult milkshakes," a term that always makes me cringe; there are few activities less illicit than ordering a milkshake, even one spiked with booze. Tap(415)'s take on the mudslide wasn't good enough to put me in a forgiving mood. Sweet and thick, it was like Kahlua-ing my way back to my 19-year-old self. The demographic for these drinks has always puzzled me. Are grownups somewhere regularly ordering alcoholic milkshakes with dinner?

Some must. And that's the thing — at a mall restaurant, the demographics must be much harder to assess than at a trendy Mission bistro or a North Beach red sauce joint. You have to appeal to every transient who walks through the polished, white-tiled halls, and also offer something to get San Franciscans to come in the doors. That's a trickier proposition. Westfield has always aspired to be something bigger, grander, than a mere mall — but though it's two blocks from Union Square, and anchored by Nordstrom and Bloomingdale's, it is definitely still a mall. Its restaurants may be one step up from the food court, but in a city of great dining, that's just not enough.

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About The Author

Anna Roth

Anna Roth

Bio:
Anna Roth is SF Weekly's former Food & Drink Editor and author of West Coast Road Eats: The Best Road Food From San Diego to the Canadian Border.

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