Thursday, September 06, 2007

Dish on Dining: District

A Full-Body Wine Bar in South Beach
216 Townsend St. at Third, San Francisco
South Beach neighborhood
PH: 415.896.2120
Food served, Mon.–Sat., 4 p.
m. to 10:30 p.m., bar open till 2 a.m.
No reservations, major credit card accepted

Last week I went to my very last Giants game for the season. I know. You’re thinking the season isn’t over yet. But it might as well be.

So I went with my friend David to try out the District wine bar, which is just two blocks north of AT&T Park. This comfy, almost pre-dot-com-like warehouse location opened just six months ago and has been packed with slick-looking business types and a few sports fan (David and me) on most nights.

District is the brainchild of a trio of newcomers to the restaurant business: brothers Chris and Ryan Vance and their partner, Jon D’Angelica. In a feature in 7X7 magazine’s Eat-Drink issue, the three dressed like how I imagined they’d want their clientele to dress: casual long-sleeve dress shirts with designer jeans. Really, they looked like they were ready to launch an IPO for some Web site where people upload things for free.

Despite being newbies (Chris Vance is the only one with experience having been the general manager at Ace Wasabi), I was impressed at how efficiently the room ran the night we visited.

Being a wine bar, District offers a long list of wine from around the world and offers several tasting flights if you’re in the experimental mood. David and I sat at the U-shaped bar in the center of the room, which gave us a good view of the many after-work clientele trickling in and looking for a spot to lounge in the cushioned chairs off to the side or the stools around the flat screen TV.

I started the evening trying the “Mountains to the Sea” flight that featured red wine from high elevations of Austria and the shores of Sicily. My server poured three glasses: the Glatzer Blaufrankisch, a 2004 from Austria; the Il Brecciarolo Sangiovese Montepulciano blend, a 2003 from Italy; and the Triumph Gurrida, a 2002 from Sicily.

This tasting flight cost me just $14 but each of my glasses were filled more than what I’ve seen at some fancier restaurants. (If you order by the glass, the per-glass pricing ranges from $10 to $16.) It really gave me a lot of chances to taste the three European wines, and I did get to the point where I was so confused that I couldn’t tell which was which. But in the end I would say the Triump Gurrida from Sicily was my favorite—warm and velvety with just a slight berry taste.

The food offerings are just as impressive as the wine list. It’s focused on seasonal ingredients with a light California flair to traditional bar food favorites. David and I decided to share the Kona kampachi tartare ($16) (on the recommendation of our server) and the red-wine braised short ribs ($18). We also ordered a pizetta, which is like an individual-pan pizza. We got the margherita pizzetta ($10) but I wanted prosciutto added on top (extra $2) but David apparently doesn’t like prosciutto. (Yes, and I still consider him a friend.)

Again, based on our server’s recommendation, we got a half-an-half. I have to say that the server was extremely helpful and accommodating, unlike our earlier server who took our wine orders. This guy knew the menu and could describe each dish, and was friendly about talking about it. It really added to the neighborhood vibe of the bar.

First up was the Kona kampachi tartare. It was a generous offering of kampachi cubed and topped with truffled ponzu and uni sauce. It was light, refreshing and slightly spicy. I really loved the extra texture you get from the uni sprinkled on top. (The uni is the thing that looks like black sesame seed but it's what you'd find at a sushi spot.)

Then came our pizzetta, with half prosciutto for me and plain margherita for David. This was another winner with its warm, fresh flavors, especially the tomatoes. The crust was a bit odd. It was a cornmeal-type of pizza crust that tasted OK but wasn’t what I’m used to when I want to munch on a thin crust pizza. Still, it was flavorful and filling.

Our last dish was the braised short ribs. Ironically, our server didn’t want to rush us so he held off on putting in the order for the short ribs and then forgot. But he was very apologetic about it and it arrived not too long afterwards. I tell this back story to explain why there are no clear photos of the short ribs. David and I were so excited to see the short ribs finally arrived that we dug right in, savoring the tender meat and warm Yukon gold mashed potatoes. I neglected to take a photo until we were half-way through devouring the dish. (I know, a first for me as a blogger!) Anywho, I guess that’s a good sign that we liked the ribs. Although honestly, I would say of the three the short ribs were the most predictable. The red-wine braise had the typical taste I’ve had at other restaurants, even at home, but it was still satisfying.

David and I were amazed how it seemed like we were the only ones at the bar eating so many dishes. Many of the people were there mostly for the drinks and the eye candy, which I think is a shame because the food is well executed and flavorful. For this wine bar, you can get the full restaurant experience without the formality.

NOTE: The bar does turn on the Giants game when it occurs, but it’s mostly ambiance. The District had a few Giants fan, but many of them looked disoriented and out of place, wondering what kind of sports bar they stepped into. But David and I didn’t care. We were there for the food.

Single guy rating: 3.5 stars (it's not your father's sports bar)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

District in San Francisco


Unknown said...

the kampachi tartare sounds very interesting... i recently had hamachi with the truffled ponzu which was a big miss, an unfortunate marriage of flavors. But maybe the rich creamy texture and sweetness from the uni balanced it out? the short ribs were that good huh?

Anonymous said...

Is it uni on top, or tobiko? It really looks like black tobiko, the tiny, crunchy, lovely little fish eggs that (as you said) are often served at sushi bars. I've seen black, red, green, in addition to the more traditional orange color.


Single Guy Ben said...

Hmm, I think maybe you're right jadedju. Tobiko sounds more like it. I just thought it was the uni since that was emphasized by the server and the menu. Either way, I think it was a nice added texture.

Foodhoe, I wouldn't say the short ribs were "that" good. It was good but like I said, similar to other restaurants I've tried. It's more comforting than excellent, I would say. But still, it didn't deter from the experience. Overall everything was very flavorful.

Anonymous said...

Based on your delicious looking photo, my guess is that the uni was part of what created the nice creamy "sauce" that appears to be holding the composition together. Given uni's texture, it would make sense. Then the black tobiko eggs were sprinkled on top.

Well, I think I will be forced to go try the dish myself in order to figure out this mystery. All I can say is that I didn't know about this place before, and now I want to go.


Passionate Eater said...

I love that I found you and the Food Hoe, because every time I look both of your blogs, tears come to my eyes. You both are such amazing photographers, and both of you describe the food incredibly well. Most of all, you try places I would love to try myself. I wanna go back to SF now to try the District!!! Wah!

Single Guy Ben said...

PE, you're so sweet! Hopefully you don't always cry reading my blog, especially the recipes or you might miss a step! ;-)

Now you have to start making a list of places you want to try when you come back to visit San Francisco!