Verbena on Polk, SF
Being a fan of Berkeley's Gather, I long looked forward to the SF outpost. Believe me, I wanted to love it.
I suppose it was slightly unfair to expect a Gather replica, but at least my unconscious seemed to!.
We found the menu difficult to decipher, even for a "food person," and the portions inhospitably small.
My Better Half was still hungry after we got home.,
As for flavors, they were hit and miss. My $23 "Brassicas" dish was more "interesting": than drop-dead delicious. Likewise a beet salad. Nothing really sang, though I think my BH enjoyed the tiny sardine dish and the meatballs, as far as they went., With 2 IPAs and one glass of rose, the bill came to $100 before tip, a bit too much for a neighborhood week night meal that left us slightly unsatisfied, both aesthetically and physically.
I'll probably give it another chance after it's been open longer, assuming I like what I see on the online menu.
PS Those of you fond of Gather's grass-fed burger will be disappointed--not on the menu.when we were there.
I gave Verbena a try earlier this week. It's definitely not as in the mold of Gather as I was hoping, but I think it's still a good addition to the neighborhood.
I totally agree on the menu. I hate it when my only clue on how to put together a meal is to go off of the relative prices of the different items. Some headings telling me what's an entree and what's a "small plate" would go a long way.
On the other hand, the food I had was delicious. The celeriac and mushrooms had me scraping every last bit I could out of the bowl. I'm still not convinced they didn't slip some veal stock into the sauce on the mushrooms. The duck meatballs with kale and mole were rich, but not overly so, and a great combination of flavors.
Unfortunately my guesswork on prices was off the mark, so I was definitely hungry afterwards. The parsnip and chocolate gelato was pretty good, but not worth a trip or anything. I could have used an additional appetizer to make it a full meal.
The cocktails I tried were good. One, the noble bay, was pleasant, but felt like it was missing some backbone. The emerald remedy, with gin, pimm's, chartreuse, and celery was one of the best savory cocktails I've had in a long time.
I think if they can make it clearer on the menu how they expect you to feed yourself, they'll have a good neighborhood restaurant. I don't see it being worth a special trip the way Gather is.
Wow I have had such a different experience. We went the second day they were open and this past weekend. Both time the service was great, food came quickly but not too quickly and almost everything I would order again. First time it was just me and the French Spouse and the second was with another couple, one of whom does eat seafood and one who has celiac and an almond allergy.
I guess I didn't find the menu difficult to decipher since on both our visits the server asked if it was our first time and then explained both the portion sizes and the menu in detail. I certainly did think anything was inhospitably small but I prefer 2-3 small dishes to one big entree any day. I also would never pay over 10 dollars a hamburger.
I liked the food far better than the meal I've had at Gather and the portions better especially for the last section of entree sized portions. The quail dish had two large dish and was more than enough for two people.
I think realistically you will spend at least 30 a person and we spent around 50 a person but we are glutton and especially the second time they were able to make everything we order except one thing gluten and almond free so we went a bit crazy and probably ordered too much.
Dishes we had the first visit
The dishes we had:
1. Sprouted seed bread, chevre, beet sauerkraut $6 the bread was straight forward, two dense thin slices, there was large portion of chevre, the twist was the beet sauerkraut which was dehydrated powdered beet sauerkraut. The bread was really excellent but I wish there was one more slice because it was so damn good. This a small portion.
2.Beets, harzelnut curds, treviso, citrus $11, I've seen version of this at other restuarants but this stood out for the contrast of the citrus to the earthiness of the beets which had a smoked flavour to them, there were beets in all the ways, compressed cubes, thin jellee layers with citrus segment. This dish is good as a starter dish for one or shared for two.
3. cardoons and parsnips, kale, yogurt, charmoula $13 Another smaller starter sized dish, this had all the savory aspects you expect from the cardoons and parsnips with the charmoula and yogurt giving it a depth of flavour. Very satisfying dish.
4. Sardine, cauliflower, horseradish, steelhead roe, chickweed $15, This was my favorite dish, with four small pieces of sardines on top of a divine cauliflower mash. I wish it was larger only because I liked it so much. It is interesting textured and flavoured dish with the oil from the sardine, the saltiness of the roe, the cream of the cauliflower and subtle bite of the horseradish.
5. Cioppino verde, fennel, potato, new oil $27- This was the French spouse favorite dish. It came with a slice of seared bread that was great for the broth. It was an entree size but on the smaller size. It consisted of a butter poached fish, mussels, clams and grill octopus. The broth was beautiful with lots of flavour without being over salted.
6. keffir lime cheese cake, burnt marshmallow, black sesame meringue, $9, the components were all good but I found the marshmallow which was plentiful overwhelmed my palate with the sweetness still the cheese cakes had a lovely tartness.
7. drinks-1 fake mojito, 1 ginger beer, 1 cappuccino which was done in a traditional Italian roast than a third wave west coast one. They also have small and large French Press in regular and decaf.
Second visit we had so many:
1. sprouted seed bread again-actually got two orders cause the celiac friend was so happy to have bread at a restaurant.
2.Mushrooms with celeriac & lovage 7 nice homey dish, small, bread is need to sopping up the liquid.
3.Trotter terrine, served cold of course, nice slice topped with a spicy mustard and pepper compote. 8
4.Beets again, still good
5. sardines again-still adore these as did all the seafood eaters.
7.Koji Quail- two big quail, crispy on the outside, lots of meat, grains cooked perfectly- I liked it better than State Bird's Quail 28
8.Swordfish aka cippino verde- there was more seafood in it this time still delicious broth
9. Brassicas- as a large entree size dish this was pretty one not in terms of flavour and everyone agreed would be better as small dish.
we finished with the ginger cake which the German and the FS both agreed tasted just like the traditonal ginger cake you fine the south of Germany.
The Chocolate and parsnip dessert was gluten and almond free and it was the best dessert, it was chocolate flourless cake with parsnip sorbet, a light custard and a cranberry gelee.
Service for this first night:
For only being open less than a week, the service was excellent. They aren't taking reservation by open table yet so I called to see if a table was open on the spur, they had room at the bar but though they could get me into a two-top in dining area and they had one free by the time we arrived. The host was pleasant and prompt. Our main server was fabulous, she knew all about the menu, asked us questions about dietary issues, made good suggestions and was just darn friendly as was the rest of the staff. Everyone in the front of the house seemed to be working together seemlessly. The folks at the table next to us were happy with the cocktail suggestions and our server was happy to have the bartender make us mocktails.
Service for the second night: they were exceptional. Our server went through the entire menu with a pen and marked what the celiac and the FS who is pescatarian could have. We did order two dishes that are normally gluten and almond free and the kitchen ended up making them both gluten free. Everyone from the host to the manager was on top of things.
The best thing is what is on the ceiling-sound baffling panels!! Along with making the place look nice they actually thought about sound. The music was at a nice low level and communication was easy most of the time. The dining room was only 2/3 full as four 4-tops were still be prepped for use. There is also a room upstairs that is even better if you are hard of hearing or need a quieter space. There is a bar along one side and as it gets busier, I am sure there will be more noise in the dining area. There is one wheelchair accessible unisex bathroom on the main level. The entire main floor is wheelchair accessible and it would be easy to get around. The upper level does not look accessible and there are more bathrooms up on that level. The lighting is on the dim side for reading the menu. There is a wow wall of shelving for all the canned goods with a ladder I really wanted to climb. Second visit the place was completely full and we still had no problem hearing including myself who is HOH.
Price- It was 108 for 6 dishes, two non-alcoholic drinks. Plan 25-50 a person depending on how much and what you choose to eat and at least two dishes per person. The portions are small but I think very worth in terms of taste.