A fluorescent blue cartoon moose beckoned the hungry and thirsty to the beloved old Moose’s. At Park Tavern, which just opened in the same location, the first thing that caught my eye was a big round seal set in mosaic floor tiles at the front door that reads est. 2011. Pretty confident, I thought, in a town where many restaurants come and go. In fact, several had revolved through this very spot since the late, legendary Ed Moose threw in his bar towel.
Park Tavern, conceived by two talented, self assured women, chef Jennifer Puccio and manager Anna Weinberg, feels uncannily right for this choice space across the street from Washington Square Park. A convergence of masculine bar room and feminine attention to detail–or maybe the reverse– plus a versatile, affordable, well executed menu, have made Park Tavern an immediate, and roaring, success.
Lots of small plates, organized on the menu by preparation method, leads to sharing. Puccio’s vertically-cut deviled eggs ($1.50 each) are devastatingly rich but fluffy, with meltingly soft yolks, a crisp wisp of pancetta offset by a pickled jalapeno relish awash in olive oil. Everyone dips blanched and raw fall vegetables in a tarragony green goddess sauce ($7). A tangle of multi-colored baby carrots ($9), cooked al dente and chilled, turn luscious when smeared in a carrot top-pine nut pesto scented with cilantro. A rectangular bowl of deep fried brussels sprout leaves ($6) disappear in seconds. Even crunchy, crumb-coated, fried oysters ($12) become finger food along side a pile of baby romaine leaves napped in “Caesar” dressing. Do-it-yourself crostini of smoked sable fish spread ($10) topped with tongue popping salmon roe, can be finished with a few drops of lemon from wedges dusted in cayenne. So clever. Old fashioned, American dinner rolls served with butter whipped with pork cracklings, bring the finger food full circle.
Entrees and sides do require knives and forks, though, I like the idea of sharing a succulent, whole, wood oven roasted baby chicken ($22), brought to the table with legs in the air, cooked and served vertically in its own special cast iron pan. Tiny potatoes and savoy spinach are baked at the bottom of the pan, salty and basted in chicken juices. Moist, rare slices of seared local albacore ($25), an oil-rich white tuna, currently the darling of the sustainable fish movement, come scattered with crispy sun choke chips that taste just like artichokes, and artichokes, which taste just like sun chokes. A huge, thick, grilled pork chop ($24) gets a pistou-seasoned ragout of butter beans and kale.
Side dishes also benefit from the wood fired oven. A crusty-top casserole of twice baked potatoes, creme fraiche and cheddar ($7), is so decadent it hardly counts as a vegetable. Chopped, tender, creamed greens ($8) are enhanced by a whisper of smoke, while mild, bite-sized red and green padron peppers ($7), lubricated with olive oil, attain a tasty char.
North Beach, a San Francisco crossroads for locals and tourists, journalists, politicos, artists and the society crowd, needs a rollicking, well run place with a big bar and unfussy, modern bar food. Park Tavern fills the niche. It is here to stay.
Park Tavern, 1652 Stockton Street (between Union and Filbert), San Francisco
Contact: 415 989-7300; www.parktavernsf.comg
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday from 5:30 to 11 p.m.
Price range: small plates $1.50 to $12; entrees $13 to $29
Recommended dishes: brussels sprout chips; deviled eggs; fried oyster “caesar”; twice baked potato; wood oven roasted chicken
Credit cards: all major