Friday, May 7, 2010

Heirloom Café: The Mission's New Wine Bistro

The foodie-driven gentrification of San Francisco's Mission neighborhoods shows no letup. In the past century, it was writers and artists who colonized blighted urban corners at places like Greenwich Village, SoHo, and North Beach. Today, in San Francisco, young, inspired restaurateurs flock to the Mission to open up hipster food joints.

The latest in this parade is Heirloom Café, a project by Matt Straus, a young sommelier from L.A. who cut his teeth at Wilshire and Grace. I was there last night at a closed-door soft opening, and he mentioned that the new 48-seat bistro will open Tuesday, May 11th. What sets off Heirloom from other trendy food establishments in the Mission--Flour + Water, Bar Bambino, Beretta, Delfina--is it's definitely not, yet another Italian joint, but a wine bistro with a cuisine that's decidedly Californian-- fresh, local ingredients that are simply cooked. The menu recalls an Il Cane Rosso or even a Chez Panisse-light, with prices that are very, very reasonable. Apparently, the bistro's model is, whip up some nice, simple food but priced them low and make up the margins with the wines.

The main draw will be Matt's cellar, reportedly numbering over 3,000 bottles and consisting heavily of Burgundy, California, Italian, Loire, and German wines, with vintages stretching back several decades. He told me that it took him the past eight years to put together the collection for his dream restaurant. I didn't have the chance to look at the list of the collection but the regular list is not too shabby, with bottles and by the glass selections of Vineyard Gate faves such as the 2008 Muscadet, Pepiere ($34); 2005 Pouilly-Fuisse "Les Menetrieres", Ferret ($80), 2003 Carema "Etichetta Bianca", Ferrando ($81); and 2008 Coenobium, Monasterio Suore Cistercensi ($39) the luscious "orange" wine by Bea.

And speaking of Bea, Giampiero Bea was with us last night as we tasted his spectacular range of avant-garde wines (more on this in a separate post). Actually, I think us folks in the wine trade where the main crowd.

Curiously, the bistro's corkage policy is slanted: $25/bottle for 2003 vintage and younger, but just $10/bottle for 2002 and older! I may have to bring a few bottles from the old stash to this place. However, there's a two-bottle limit per party. Sigh.

My starter plate of "roasted asparagus, salsa rustica" ($6) was crunchy and tasty, perfect with the 2008 Santa Chiara from Bea. If you're not sure about what to pair with asparagus, I guarantee you an "orange" wine like this from Bea is a perfect match.

My main was a mound of "orechiette, sausage, rapini, yellow eye beans, parmesan" ($7). I love it for the generous portion of well-spiced sausage. It's a meal! I definitely favored the earthier and less lifted 2005, than the 2006, San Valentino from Bea with this dish. The wine is a blend of 70% Sangiovese and 30% Montepulciano and Sagrantino.

Owner Matt Straus and Giampiero Bea. And by the way, that's the plate of "roasted halibut, ramps, English peas, cauliflower puree" in front of Giampiero. It's part of the $25 3-course menu, with matching glasses of wine for the starter and the main.

The kitchen, tidying up after the first night of service.

I like the vibe of this new bistro. Casual and airy. The place, in a corner spot, where Folsom Street and 21st Street meet, has high-ceilings and plenty of room for just 48 seats, but it's definitely a noise chamber, especially if you're at the long table in the middle of the room. Parking is a challenge in this mainly residential neighborhood, but when you do get to the bistro all that is forgotten.

Heirloom Café
2500 Folsom Street (at 21st Street)
San Francisco, CA
Opening for dinner on Tuesday May 11th

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