While there is no shortage of new restaurant openings in our food-centric city, there has always been a dearth of quality late-night spots. After a show, the symphony, or the opera, where does one go for a lively and fun dinner, a quick bite, or a nightcap? If burritos in the Mission or Chinese food are not what you have in mind, there are two new players in town offering very different experiences, in two distinctive and up-and-coming neighborhoods.
Recently opened at 661 Divisadero Street—just one block from the very popular, late-night restaurant, Nopa—La Urbana is thoroughly modern Mexican. The Nopa—or “North of Pan Handle”—neighborhood promises to be the next Valencia Street corridor in terms of hipness and new restaurants. Owners Eduardo Rallo and Juan Garduño, an architect and restaurateur from Mexico, designed the space as a modern take on the classic cantina and mezcaleria. While tall ceilings, exposed beams, and beautiful zinc bars have become de rigueur for San Francisco eateries, this one has all that plus an eclectic array of repurposed old furniture from Puebla, Oaxaca, and Toluca, which creates a one-of-a-kind look and feel. There is also a back bar, which is wrapped around a tree next to a lounge area covered in colorful tiles from Mérida. The main dining room seats 60 (the bar, 20) and—while fairly loud—it feels cool and relaxed, thanks to the subdued lighting and incredibly gracious servers.
Executive chef and Bay Area native Benjamin Klein (Mala Ocean Tavern, Maui) and chef de cuisine Julio Aguilera (Ozumo, Waterbar, Saison) have created a clever collection of contemporary small plates, playful interpretations of traditional Mexican cuisine. Instead of chips and salsa, you will find chicharrón de arroz (rice cracker, chipotle salt, guacamole) or huevos con chorizo (potato purée, lime crema, nasturtium leaf). The betabeles y chayote dish (roasted beets, smoked almonds, habanero) is a symphony of smoke, spice, and sweet notes. And both the tierra y mar (Dungeness crab, rib eye, pineapple purée, papalo) and the costillas de res (braised short ribs, seared bone marrow, tomatillo) are medleys of bold, assertive flavors that pair well with the restaurant’s vast collection of tequilas and mezcals. Bar manager Lucas Ranzuglia has served cocktails all over the world and opened Lilit, Mexico City’s first cocktail bar. A must-try is the Acapulco Manila (mezcal, agave de Cortés, sake). Served up with a skewer of radishes, this Mexican martini packs a clean and exotic punch. Open every day from 5 p.m. until 1 a.m.
Although open for nearly two years at 603 Bush Street (in the old Bar Crudo space and next to the iconic Tunnel Top bar), Bouche was recently reborn with the hiring of executive chef Jerome Albaric (Bliss in Sint Maarten, La Goulou in Manhattan, Waterfront and Bourbon Steakhouse here). Husband-and-wife owners Guillaume and Jennifer Issaverdens envisioned Bouche (“mouth” in French) to be a specialized wine bar; a showcase for remarkable French producers. With the addition of Albaric, their dream has expanded to presenting elevated cuisine, which combines French, Mediterranean, and Bay Area sensibilities—prepared in what might be the city’s tiniest commercial kitchen. The small downstairs bar and rustic design elements—there are a wild boar’s head and a pig weather vane above the bar—make Bouche feel inviting and intimate. There is additional seating upstairs (accommodating 20 guests).
The place to sit is at the bar with a view of the open kitchen and four-burner gas range. Comfortably seated, order a glass of French rosé. Guillaume, a native of Provence, offers 30 unique wine labels from fine appellations throughout France. Then start off nibbling on the fougasse, a hearty bread embedded with smoky bacon. It’s baked to perfection. Be adventurous and try the sautéed sweetbreads (porcini cream, chanterelles, and lobster mushroom persillade).
You might be surprised not to find a classic steak frites among the entrees. Instead, opt for the local lamb salad with tomatoes, olives, and goat cheese or the tomahawk pork chop (butter beans, walnut and quince marmalade, grape and cognac sauce). All of the food is plated and served on stunning ceramic dishes made by Ms. Issaverdens. Open Monday through Saturday, from 5 p.m. until 1 a.m.; Sunday brunch, from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. If you arrive after 10 p.m., you will find yourself in the good company of industry people: restaurateurs, waiters, chefs, and line cooks.
Many San Francisco residents will recall long-time BBQ joint Da ‘Pitt (formerly Brother-in-Law’s, and on the same block as La Urbana) at 705 Divisadero Street. After years of infusing Divisadero Street with the aroma of smoked brisket, the restaurant has closed its doors. Taking over the space—and the city’s only smoker—will be Ryan Farr, of the very popular 4505 Meats. Farr plans to revamp the entire restaurant—save the grandfathered-in wood-fired BBQ pit—and offer his own line of burgers, barbequed pork shoulder, and, yes, brisket. He’ll also serve artisanal sausages and an assortment of other meats, plus beer and wine. Watch for an opening date later this year and the continued gentrification of the Nopa neighborhood.
James Stolich’s CookWithJames.com provides regional Italian and Spanish dishes for all occasions. He has been featured in UrbanDaddy.com, AgencySpy.com, and Jenn Garbee’s intriguing book, Secret Suppers, about rogue chefs and their little known culinary lives.