The Restaurant Business is thriving in the San Francisco Bay Area and the trend is for successful and talented Chefs to open second locations. Executive Chef Sean Baker, who was Esquire Magazine’s 2010 Chef of the Year, opened a very successful vegetarian, vegan, omnivore restaurant called Gather in Berkeley near U.C. Berkeley about four years ago. Now, he has just opened Verbena in San Francisco in the Russian Hill neighborhood on Polk Street across from the deco Alhambra Theatre. Verbena has an impressive entrance with their massive custom wood Front Door which dates back many decades. The interior décor features a Black Walnut Bar enhanced by the accent lit brick wall. There is also a very unusual illuminated wooden “Pickle Wall” which displays beautiful jars of rows of marinating pickles. There is also an Upstairs Mezzanine for intimate dining which is quite romantic. The tables in the main dining area are nicely spaced and the 20 foot ceilings which keeps the noise level low.
We sat in the main dining room which was almost full on the Thursday evening that we dined. We started with Artisan Cocktails from their Full Bar which features Spirits from small producers and uses seasonal ingredients. We loved the Verbena Fog Cutter made with Oola Vodka, falernum, Strega, lemon and sparkling wine. It was quite refreshing and a great way to unwind. The menu is small and focused offering California Cuisine with mostly locally sourced and sustainable ingredients. Our first WOW was the extremely fresh Firebrand Artisan Bread which is baked in Oakland in an 800 degree wood fired brick oven. It was amazing... with great crisp crust and it was delectably moist.
Our knowledgeable server advised us that all menu items were meant to be shared and helped us pair wines from their Producer Driven Wine List. We loved the Button Mushrooms with celeriac, lovage and tomato vinegar which were just wonderful! This is a must have to any dinner! It was served in a lovely Wheelstoneware deep bowl. The Carrots Verbena with Aleppo pepper, nettles and cashew was sweet and slightly spicy which we love. Next, we enjoyed the Meatballs braised in black mole with collards, hominy and whey. The flavor of the meatballs was excellent and they were a combination of beef, pork and duck. The Beef Rib in broth with Bok Choy, Garum and mint had a medley of flavors which were particularly fabulous and great comfort food.The outstanding dish was the Koji Quail.... with Sonoma grains cooked dirty, hedgehog mushrooms and pumpkin juice. It was smokey, tender and truly a favorite!
The Wine List is Producer Driven which means that they offer 3 or 4 wines from each producer. Our favorite white wine was the 2012 Niepoort Vinho Verde from Portugal which was clean and light with a crisp finish and our favorite red wine was the 2005 Lopez de Heredia “Vina Cubillo,” Crianza, Rioja from Spain which was rich and bold. We appreciate that they are very accommodating and we enjoyed sampling a couple of flights of wine to discover our favorite.
The Desserts were delicious and works of art. We loved the Molasses Ginger Bread with carrot sorbet and IPA caramel and the Chocolate and Parsnip ice cream, custard and cranberry gelee. A Saint Frank Coffee double espresso and an Amaro Montenegro Italian dijestiv were the perfect finish to our excellent dining experience. Verbena is a worthy addition to the San Francisco dining scene and they interesting Nob Hill neighborhood. The décor was inviting, the cuisine was fresh, unique and delicicous and the service was professional and friendly. We look forward to returning soon!
2323 Polk Street (@ Union St.)
San Francisco, CA 94109