*Editor’s Note 1/30/15: This bar used to have a food menu, but now serves only cocktails
This is San Francisco’s hot new opening. Near Union Square, at the Warwick Hotel, on the cusp of the truly sketchy Tenderloin neighborhood, famed and well-loved Top Chef contestant Casey Thompson has opened a gourmet restaurant named Aveline and an accompanying cocktail bar called The European.
I happened to be staying in a hotel in the neighborhood and stopped by on the opening Friday night. When I arrived at around 9:15 PM it was still a relatively quiet and empty bar, but it wasn’t long before it filled out with the who’s who of the San Francisco dining scene. I was able to secure myself a seat at the truly sexy bar and ordered myself a cocktail while I looked over the bar menu.
While I was still deciding on my order, a little bowl of really fantastic bar nuts was dropped in front of me. They were sticky, sweet, spicy, and crunchy and exactly what I want from a bowl of bar nuts. They also definitely did their duty to make me want to drink.
So I started with The Duke, a strong cocktail served “up” made with rye whiskey, Campari, absinthe, and a twist. Campari is definitely an acquired taste, one I only recently began to enjoy and appreciate. Now that I do, I found this drink was extremely well-balanced, strong, complex, and flavorful. It was right up my alley.
Shortly thereafter, my meal began to arrive. First was the Smoked Wagyu Tartare. This was goddamn incredible. The large, extremely high-quality cubed wagyu beef was super smokey. It was definitely one of the smokiest things I’ve ever consumed. Probably second to my favorite cocktail though; the famed I Hear Banjos at the Wayland literally comes topped with a glass of Applewood smoke.
The raw meat had an incredible texture and the smokiness boldly and pleasantly resonated in my nostrils. Along with the wagyu tartare, a pile of perfectly executed chicharrónes were provided along with a bowl of minced pickled veggies in an incendiary chile oil. The wagyu was plated over a bed of a bright green, vegetal, creamy avocado custard and came topped with garlic chips and drips of something called carrot yogurt. The textural interplay between the fresh raw beef, crunchy chicharrón, and silky custard was an utter treat to the senses. I’ll be drooling over this one for a while.
After that, I had the Shaved Pork Jowl which was actually more of an open-faced flatbread. This smoked plancha flatbread was served warm and was topped with enormous dollops of fresh, cold ricotta and a generous portion of ridiculously smokey spirals of pork jowl with a touch of sea salt and black pepper sprinkled over top. I didn’t think anything could top the smokiness of the tartare, but that thin-sliced, fatty, meaty jowl and smokey flatbread completely proved me wrong.
I loved every single bite of it. The cool, rich, creamy ricotta served as the perfect foil to the salty, smokey, pork pieces and bold black-peppery punches. Also, the warm and soft flatbread was the absolute perfect vessel to transport every one of those outrageously decadent bites directly into my mouth. This was another seriously mind-blowing plate.
The European doesn’t come cheap. In fact, the prices are creeping towards Manhattan levels, but the explosively vivid flavors and textures are truly incredible and worth every one of your hard earned pennies. Goddamn, everything was so good. Please just go and enjoy the ridiculously excellent bar food and die happily from gout in a dreamy, smokey, meat-induced food coma.
Know of another place with great bar food in San Francisco that I should check out? Let me know in the comments below.
490 Geary St. San Francisco, CA 94102