Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Park Tavern

It feels like forever since I've had a good restaurant adventure in the city. The lapse has been well "Un"Documented by my lack of activity here on the blog. Thankfully this week I had the perfect excuse to spend some money and ignore some calorie counts for the night! One of my oldest and dearest friends Heidi, who I have known since our days of dancing and theater throughout High School, was visiting this week from AZ and wanted to go some where really cool and exciting. It took me about 2.5 seconds to decide we were going to Park Tavern. This decision was 3 fold: 1- I have been wanting to go here for an official dinner since they opened in 2011. I got a little sneak peak when I stopped in after the North Beach festival a couple months ago but at that time I sat at the bar by myself primarily sobering up (it was still delightful!) 2- Park Tavern is the sister restaurant to my absolute favorite restaurant in the city Marlowe so I knew the quality and wonderfulness of their menu would be guaranteed - Anna Weinberg & Jennifer Puccio know what they are doing 3- I had just seen on my Facebook feed that they had opened a new cocktail lounge in their upstairs space that previously only been used for private parties and I was dying to check it out.

I made a 7pm reservation thinking that should give us ample time to make it up through the city. My first suggestion? Do not take 3rd to Kearny off the freeway. Just stay on the Embarcadero and then make your way into North Beach. Having to go through the Market street area is a guaranteed traffic-y pain in the ass. I know Embarcadero might not be that much better but at least you get a view of the water. We pulled up just in time and decided to forget hoofing it all over and instead went for their Valet service ($12 on week nights, looked like $15 on weekends.... just do it unless you want to add 30 - 45 looking for parking and walking, you are already throwing down for a classy dinner, save yourself and let them park for you)
ACME Bread a local staple

The restaurant and bar were bustling when we arrived and as I heard the 2 groups ahead of us directed to the bar I was glad I made reservations. After a small amount of agonizing prior to arrival I had planned out our meal consisting of all the Park Tavern "must haves". I had been heavily deliberating the wine (they have a wonderful wine list full of interesting options and moderate prices) but knew right away after checking the by the glass list that we would have the Tablas Creek Rose (out of Paso Robles, I had been tasting there a few years ago and knew their profile would be a great fit with the meal I had planned)
Deviled eggs with Pickled Jalapeno & Bacon
As an "Amuse Bouche" of sorts we started with the house favorite Deviled Eggs topped with a slice of pickled jalapeno and crisp bacon. I'm fascinated first and foremost by how they get the eggs to hard boil into the perfect shape the hole for the yolk directly in the middle. I have to guess that they remove them from their shells and boil them in some kind of mold so that they make the perfect shape. I think if I were to ever interview Jennifer that might be my first question! The yolks have been whipped to a nice smooth consistency and the added flavors and textures from the jalapeno and bacon overwhelm your mouth as sweet spicy salty and crispy all converge. Two bites will never be enough!
Brussels Sprout Chips
Next up were the Brussels sprout chips made famous at Marlowe, an absolute must have at either restaurant. I continue to try to recreate them at home . The crisp nutty flavor made bright with the essence of lemon I can eat these by the handful. Thankfully they are served in a generous bowl so there were plenty to share!
Lobster Bisque (Half Portion)
My first visit to Park Tavern after the North Beach festival I was looking for a simple bar dining experience. After reading the description of the Lobster Bisque I knew it would hit the spot. Holy Heck! I was so happy to enjoy this dish again but incredibly glad to have someone to split it with. The tender pieces of lobster are engulfed by the rich bisque that is absolute decadence on a spoon. Seriously eat this stuff and tell me you don't feel like you should also be swimming in money a la Scrooge McDuck. The baton of crisp puff pastry is lovely for dipping and the soup comes at the perfect temperature to slowly enjoy each spoon full as it coats your mouth and lingers there.
Poulet Rouge
One of the important features to Park Tavern setting it apart from it's sister Marlowe is it's wood fire oven. That appliance brings us the delight that is the Poulet Rouge. Roasted to order (it takes about 30 minutes, as long as you are having appetizers you won't be bothered by this at all) on a cast iron pan with a huge spike in the middle (which is what is holding the whole bird up) it is served with sauteed spinach and small potatoes which are roasted in the pan with the chicken. Table side a warm jus is poured over the bird as a final touch. Now I have made it clear how I feel about bones but I felt this was not an experience to be missed (the table to each side of us seemed to agree since both ordered 1 as well). This is a great dish to share for two as we had been with each other element of our meal (though Park Tavern is not technically a "family style" restaurant, I just really like to share). After consulting our server on what he thought was the best butchery technique we started first by carving off the thighs, then the breast, lastly the little wings. It is hard to put into words (because in my life I have never experienced anything like it) how moist this chicken was. There were no overwhelming flavors or seasoning just chicken cooked to absolute perfection shining in a glory that would be impossible to match. Each bite with juicy and tender and dare I say it succulent? Never have I imagined describing chicken as succulent but this was indeed. Although as always I struggled with my fork and knife skills on the thigh I worked my darndest to get every available piece of meat off and in to my mouth. The simple potatoes and spinach were a wonderful accompaniment to this rustic and homey dish that had somehow been elevated to a level truly befitting fine dining.
Feeling satiated it was still impossible to not take an opportunity to peruse the dessert menu. You may remember the one thing lacking at Marlowe was good dessert. Not so at Park Tavern. Their menu was filled with tempting items. After such a filling meal however we decided to take light route and shared the coffee ice cream with cocoa nibs, toffee pieces and fresh figs. A fascinating combination the presentation was pretty (though dwarfed by the huge bowl it was in) The figs fresh and firm added just the right fruit component to the mostly toasty flavors. Just the right size to curb that sweet craving at the end of a savory meal we were very pleased with our choice.
After settling the bill we were excited to head upstairs to check out the newly opened Eden's Lounge. The article I had read in the SF Gate described Anna's desire to create this as a more casual and feminine space to counter the high energy often crowded bar in the restaurant below. You step back in time as you climb the stairs. Floral wall paper and stuffed Victorian couches beg you to whisper softly in a corner as you enjoy the libations prepared by the vest and bow tie wearing bar tender. With the limited space upstairs they serve only a daily selection of 3 house cocktails from the restaurants broad list. On this night we enjoyed the Maryetta's Bubbles - Sparkling Wine, Framboise, and lemon a crisp refreshing blend and the Mclaren- Hendricks Gin, Cucumber juice, lemon, & ginger beer which made me feel like I was relaxing at the spa (I felt like combo had a cedar like essence... Heidi and the bar tender thought I was crazy). This would be a lovely spot for a romantic evening the dim lighting is romantic, the couches are cozy, and the cocktails are top notch! If you don't have the time (or budget) to go full out on a meal, take an opportunity to check out some of the bar snacks (such as the Deviled Eggs and Brussel sprout chips mentioned above!) in Eden's Lounge along with some amazing drinks. Just be sure to check the link above as it is only open on days they do not have private events.

This was a fantastic evening of reconnecting for Heidi and I. Finding your place as friends when you become adults can sometimes be hard, I have seen as many old friends fall by the wayside as anyone, so it is always something special when you enter a new stage of life and you find yourself in step once again with a friend of many years. Though time and distance separate us our friendship needs only an amazing meal and a tipple or two to reignite again! I look forward to seeing her in March as I head back to Scottsdale for our yearly trip to Spring Training. Hopefully I will have another fun restaurant to tell you about then as well!