Restaurants and bars have a challenge in Union Square, where they’re up against the fact that locals think they’re over-run by tourists. And when you’re tucked on the second floor of a boutique hotel, it can be downright a mystery.
But sometimes places in Union Square provide that old San Francisco charm, and that’s very much the essence of the Burritt Room + Tavern inside the Mystic Hotel on Stockton Street. The tavern gets its name from Burritt Alley, which played a role in the 1941 classic The Maltese Falcon.
The brick-wall bar has that film noir feel with a touch of the Prohibition-era with the attire of the often-busy bartenders. The restaurant and bar were refurbished by Chef/Restaurateur Charlie Palmer (Aureole, Dry Creek Kitchen) and recently got a reboot in the kitchen when a new chef came on board about four months ago.
This week I was invited to a media roundtable at the Burritt Room + Tavern, where I got a chance to experience the craft cocktails bar and the dining room under the helm of Chef Lucas Knox from Palmer’s Aureole Las Vegas property.
So far, the bar is where all the magic happens. It might be the live music or the eclectic décor, but a lot of it is because of head bartender Josh Trabulsi. He treated us to some of his signature drinks, like the Knickerbocker ala Monsieur (aged rhum agricole, contreau) and Vesper Lynd (gin and cucumber-infused Dolin Blanc).
I fell in love with the Vesper Lynd, named so because it was what James Bond made up in the latest movie. The drink is deceiving, looking like a glass of water and made only with two ingredients. But while it might seem like pure liquor, it goes down smooth and refreshing.
Later we left the bustling bar to the dining room, which looks huge – partly because of the few guests dining there. Still, the room is cozy and I would come back to try and sit in the private booths along one side of the room.
Chef Knox created a tasting menu for us that featured a few items from the regular menu and some created especially for the evening. The Burritt Room + Tavern focused on a locally inspired menu with Palmer’s “progressive American tavern” theme. But apparently the previous menu under the old chef was a mixed bag, sometimes weighing too heavily on diners.
While Knox is still evolving the menu, he’s planning to continue using local, seasonal ingredients. What I tried were all well-executed and plated appropriately, with some dishes packing a lot of flavor like the special oxtail stew I had for my entree. Still, I feel Knox might be holding back a bit, slowing getting his feet wet in the Bay Area restaurant scene. I’m hoping as he develops his menu, he’ll be a bit more bold in his creativity.
Because this was a media event, I’m not giving my typical rating that I do for most reviews. But the Burritt Room + Tavern has definitely piqued my interest. The bar is a no-brainer for a fun way to start the evening, and the kitchen holds a lot of promise.
Burritt Room + Tavern, 417 Stockton St., (second floor of the Mystic Hotel). PH: 415.400.0561. Open for dinner nightly from 5:30 p.m. Major credit cards, reservations accepted. burritttavern.com
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