Monday, March 10, 2014

The Coachman Cometh

Bar restaurants are in in San Francisco. And the hub it appears is the SoMa. Here, the current bar restaurant model--offering a voluminous list of wines, spirits, and cocktails accompanied by an abbreviated food menu--was launched five years ago when RN74 opened. Today, this drinking-eating construct is a sprawl, with haunts like Bar Agricole, The Cavalier, TBD, Alta, The Willows, Terroir, 21st Amendment. And something tells me the trend will remain epidemic.* (see addendum note below) Modern bar restaurants are disruptive, fun, needed, and great for the economy. Everyone's happy.

What has caused this drink-eat trend to evolve is the perfect storm of a young and gainfully employed (read tech workers) crowd, a liking for unconventional affordable wines from near and far (read hipster wines), the rise of craft beers and craft whiskies, and modern bar fare that borrows heavily from tapas, izakayas, osterias, and UK pubs, and yes, even American fast foods.

This past week The Coachman, a UK-inspired bar restaurant, opened at the former Heaven's Dog space on Mission Street. I admit I had a soft spot for Heaven's Dog, though its Chinese-inspired food was uninspiring, the exotic Pre-Prohibition and colonial cocktails were heavenly. Plus it was a different era then about three years ago; the SoMa wasn't such a hive yet for the young and mobile, though I miss the easier parking. Today, The Coachman's timing is right on.

Robert Burn's Hunting Flask--with Redbreast 12 yr Irish Whiskey poured tableside over a massive block of ice.

Places like the The Coachman are for drinkers, while those who sip more water than alcohol may not be as intrigued. At a table next to me of twenty-something couples I overheard intense scientific discussions of the precise recipe for the Robert Burn's Hunting Flask, a traditional cocktail from the Scottish Highlands that I also happen to be nursing.

The drinks list at The Coachman is as long as a novella, while the food menu hardly fills a page. The cocktail selection alone (all $11) runs a full page, then there's a craft beer section, a craft cider list, and the full-blown wine list, which I happily noticed include many wines sold at Vineyard Gate. Yay!

Yet, the super compact food menu performs and belies the prowess of the kitchen. Just four mains are offered, two desserts, a couple of salads, five or six apps and a soup. And in case you're wondering, there is no salmon, at least not on this visit.

Three things I tried stood out for me. Fried smelt served with an awesome tartar sauce took no time cleaning up. Then there's the skate wing prepared in classic bistro meunière in brown butter and capers. It is comfort food for me and rarely, if ever, have I seen this dish in SF resto menus.

The bottle of Jura Poulsard I brought went swimmingly well with the skate as words fail to elaborate the genius of the pairing. The corkage is $25 for which I believe I got my money's worth as the sommelier whisked away the generic wine glasses set on the table and brought Burgundy glasses, cut the foil precisely then cleanly pulled the cork and poured.

The third winner on the menu is, of course, the sticky toffee pudding. Not only proper British but also really, really good. I don't think I've ever been this excited about pudding.

The Coachman was only six nights old on this visit, so if it could mend its opening woes asap-- primarily the kitchen taking all night to get our orders out--then success is inevitable.  The last time I went to opening week of a Charles Phan restaurant, Wo Hing in the Mission, I thought it was so flawed I couldn't imagine it could survive. And it didn't. But the signs are more promising for The Coachman as it's not only a good spot, it's riding on a cultural milieu in San Francisco and beyond.

The Coachman
1148 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
415. 813.1701
Open nightly 5pm-11pm

*Wine Yoda note: sure enough as of this writing, at least two more bar restaurants are reported to open soon in the SoMa area: True Normand on New Montgomery and Dirty Habit in the Palomar Hotel on Fourth Street between Market and Mission.

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