Maven: A destination brunch spot in the Lower Haight [San Francisco]
Last weekend I noticed Maven in the Lower Haight for the first time, as I was walking by. It's at the corner of Haight and Steiner. They've apparently been open since last December, serving dinner (small plates) with cocktail pairings. But they started serving brunch about a month ago, and the open door and menu in the window caught my eye. The menu looked delicious, so I went back today to try it out.
I loved the space, so airy and soothing. High ceilings, communal wooden tables (I think I counted four communal tables; there are no individual tables unless some are hiding up on the mezzanine level--I didn't wander up there), with a living wall above the full bar. It has an open kitchen, with a bar across the front of it that reminded me of a sushi bar. And in fact the minimalism of the space, the swoopy chandeliers that looked like flowers to me, and the stripped down plates and presentations all reminded me of a Japanese aesthetic. Oh yes, and the bathrooms are clean. (This is something that cannot be overrated in my book.)
The owner came over to talk with us twice, David Kurtz. I didn't notice him interacting a bunch with other customers so I wondered if he'd mistaken us for reviewers or something because I was asking a lot of questions (I'm just a naturally curious person). He also sent over a complimentary sausage, the mezcal-infused chorizo, which was very nice of him. I don't eat meat but the dining companion who joined me this morning does; he'd finished his Southern-style Eggs Benedict (tasso ham, chard, hollandaise), nearly groaning in pleasure more than once about how good it was (he particularly liked the addition of chard to the Benedict), and he was full, but somehow he managed to eat the whole sausage. Apparently it was really good too! He also thoroughly enjoyed his French press Blue Bottle coffee.
For those who prefer to avoid dairy in their morning coffee, note that Maven doesn't have soy milk. And instead of sugar they bring you a syrup for sweetening your coffee and tea (I can't remember what kind of syrup, maybe agave?). I had the Five Mountains crimson black tea. We both very much liked the glasses that the coffee and tea were served in. They're small, translucent, and I thought they might be glass when they were first set down, which struck me as odd (weren't we going to burn our hands?). But turns out they're "layered" (I don't know how else to describe it) and I *think* they're plastic; the part of the vessel that holds the liquid is suspended within an outer layer, so a bit of warmth seeps through to your hand, but no heat. Chef Kurtz said those glasses were chosen to protect the wooden tables (the tea pot is the same design). But it's a nice bonus for customers. One more plus about the cups, mentioned by my friend, is the smooth, curved lip on them, making it pleasurable to drink out of them.
I got the Good Day Omelet, a delicate layer of egg folded over summer squash, summer beans, tomato confit, and their house ricotta. Both meals came with the smashed potatoes, which the menu describes as spicy but I wouldn't. I still enjoyed them, and I liked that a purple potato or two was mixed in. No seasonings are brought to the table with your meal, and I felt my omelet could use some salt. I'm not sure if they brought me kosher or sea salt (it was definitely a large-flake salt), but it doesn't really matter. Adding salt to the omelet actually destroyed the flavor somewhat, so I'd say trust Kurtz and company on the seasoning of the dishes.
I finished my meal with the Morning Market Fruit, a very pretty array that today consisted of strawberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, and THE MOST AMAZING PEACH I HAVE EVER EATEN. Thank you farmers' market, and thank you Chef Kurtz for getting up "really fucking early" (or maybe he said "early as fuck"--either way, it was funny) to shop there.
Service was friendly and attentive (our server was Magic Mike, according to our receipt), and our meal for two came out to $44. It was delicious and enjoyable, and I will definitely be eating at Maven again.
A small postscript: Not only is the food right for me at Maven, but the crowd apparently is too. During our brunch, an old friend and coworker whom I haven't seen in maybe six years was seated at our same communal table. It was a nice reconnection. Thanks Maven!
598 Haight at Steiner, SF
UPDATE: Chef David Kurtz has left Maven:
Seems a shame in the sense that he was so friendly and approachable at brunch the couple times I was there. (Plus I enjoyed the food.) But I'll be curious to see what "more robust" means for the brunch menu. (Small plates & cocktail pairings at dinner aren't my thing, but it sounds like some of that menu has been updated already.)
Just writing to say that I was there for brunch this Sunday and really enjoyed it. I got a souped-up BLT with mashed avocado smeared on the bread and a high-quality tomato slice. Bread was sliced too thin to support the sandwich's heft--it collapsed the second I picked it up--but I ate it with a knife and fork and liked it enough to order it again despite the mess.
I was really hungry and also ordered a fruit plate--often this is a throw-away bowl of mucusy melon, but Maven's fruit plate was carefully tended: beautiful in-season fruit sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, a pleasure to eat. My guy ate an omelette that was apparently so good he could not share.
Loved the flavor of the coffee, did not love that the sugar syrup it came with was refrigerated and ice cold. Maven is a place that nails the details, so a minor slip-up like this stood out.
I was there for a second brunch the same day as you pane! This time the smashed potatoes were appropriately spicy, which balanced the omelet well. And I had the fruit plate again as well, and it was just as lovely as the first time around.
I don't eat meat, and I'm not a sweet-breakfast kind of person, so the menu here doesn't offer much (if anything) beyond the omelet for me. But for a once-in-a-while destination brunch, I like Maven a lot.
Thanks Deborah! You know Madrileños drink their morning coffee from those glasses! Very cool that they serve them in the same style! I'm going to check out their menu, I'm looking for a sunday breakfast place with great French toasts and pancakes, not much into savory in the morning...