There are some beautiful restaurants making a splash in the San Francisco dining scene lately, and one that hasn’t really gotten much press is Abbot’s Cellar.
The restaurant – in the white-hot 700 block of Valencia Street in the Mission district – is by the same people behind Monk’s Kettle (which explains the play on the abbot). But while Monk’s Kettle is an intimate gastropub with an extensive beer selection, Abbot’s Cellar is the grown up sibling who went to college and earned an MBA.
Abbot’s Cellar has a splashy décor, with a heavy reclaimed-wood look throughout and splashy open kitchen and even splashier mirrored shelving section that showcases the stemware. The menu by Chef Adam Dulye is smaller but more sophisticated, offering up a tasting menu along with the regular ala carte menu.
Like Monk’s Kettle, though, there’s still an emphasis on pairing the food with great beer and wine. The servers are adept at offering recommendations to pair with your menu selections.
Charlie Brown’s beer
I thought Abbot’s Cellar would be a great place to bring my friend Cynthia, who’s visiting from Los Angeles. Cynthia loves beer, but she’s also on a strict diet, so she’s avoiding drinking alcohol and coffee. So yeah, Abbot’s Cellar didn’t turn out to be such a great idea because I was basically tempting her all night, especially with my wonderful glass of amber-brown beer called Charles B. Brown ($6.75) from Fifty Fifty Brewery in Trukee. (I like to refer to it as the “Charlie Brown” beer.)
The beer had a nice undertone of bittersweet chocolate, which made it a medium beer to go with my starter of sweetbreads and main entrée of vegetable pasta.
Before getting into the food, I have to vent a bit.
I feel recently that I’ve been dining at places that are all about the great vibe and décor, but the food is good but mostly overpriced. Entrées are running around $28-$30 these days at hip-casual restaurants, but the portion sizes don’t live up to the price tag.
For example, Cynthia had the halibut. It came beautifully browned on top, and served with a small bit of crab, shiitake mushrooms and pea shoots. It really looked sad on that very large plate (why do places that charge a lot always have to serve it on such big platters?). Total: $29.
My farfalle pasta wasn’t that much larger, with freshly shucked English peas and aged white cheddar. It tasted fine, but it also tasted like something I could have made at home. My total at least was a somewhat decent $23.
I did also try the fried sweetbreads with cauliflower puree ($14). I know I don’t usually eat deep-fried foods, but I love sweetbreads. I didn’t have to worry about being a glutton because – while nicely fried and tasty – there were only three pieces of sweetbread on the plate that arrived.
The food was good, but no flavors seemed dominant or fascinating to my tongue, and it was a situation where the description seemed bigger than what actually came on the plate.
Side note: We did enjoy an amazing dessert called the opera cake ($9), which was a layered cake of chocolate and panna cotta topped with hazelnuts. That was a nice ending to our dinner.
The Last Bite
Service is friendly and smart with suggestions for drink pairing with your meal, and the décor is sustainably hip. But the food sounds better on paper than in reality and the selections definitely aren’t a value. I’m wondering if it’s better to just come for a drink and try the bar menu than going for a full dinner? Maybe the market will decide.
The Abbot’s Cellar, 742 Valencia St., San Francisco. PH: 415.626.8700. Open dinner nightly from 5:30 p.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. $4 Healthy SF tax added to your tab. www.abbotscellar.com
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