Not much is certain in the restaurant business in San Francisco except change. And change is what Coskun “George” Bektas did with Marina & Kebab on Chestnut Street. In its place, Bektas opened Marina Bistro & Wine Bar last fall, a snug wine bar offering bar bites and full-service dinner. The restaurant has a Mediterranean-inspired California menu (Bektas is from Turkey), with a few French classics mixed in.
Living up to its billing as a wine bar, the Marina Bistro has an ample cross section of California and plenty of French, Spanish, and Italian wines. For those who like to experiment, there are flights of three reds or whites for $18, offering tastes of three varietals. The wine list includes “bubbles,” and other wines described by style, such as “mineral-driven and racy” whites and “elegant, classic and earthy” reds, to name a few. On weekend nights, the bar can be crowded and noisy, so eating on the earlier side is a quieter option.
Lighter fare includes French onion soup; crab cakes with a spiced mango-pineapple salsa and saffron vinaigrette; tuna tartar; lamb meatballs with fresh basil marinara sauce; crusted goat cheese with caramelized onions, pistachio, golden raisins, and wildflower honey; and a choice of two, three, or four pomegranate lamb chops on a bed of chervil pesto, wild arugula and goat cheese. Those at the bar might enjoy sharing an assorted cheese plate or a side of delectable truffle fries. Salads range from fresh lobster with arugula and Meyer lemon vinaigrette to roasted beets, mache and goat cheese with raspberry vinaigrette.
For a fuller plate, try the fennel-crusted seared ahi tuna; paella with salmon chorizo, chicken and prawns served over salmon risotto; a duck leg; or herb-roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and sautéed seasonal greens. Bouillabaisse is a restaurant specialty, overflowing with fresh clams, prawns, mussels, scallops, and salmon in a rich seafood broth. Other entrees include a giant grilled rib-eye steak served with wasabi mashed potatoes, mushroom sauce, and sautéed kale; and spaghetti and meatballs. For dessert, choose Key Lime pie, crème brûlée, a hazelnut mousse, or New York cheesecake.
For a pleasant break from the heavy-duty bar action at neighboring spots like the Tipsy Pig and Reed and Greenough, the Marina Bistro is an oasis with good food and great wine pairings at a reasonable price for a quieter version of a night on the town. The restaurant offers private dining for special events, including private parties, wine tasting, receptions, and fundraisers for approximately 40 people.
Marina Bistro & Wine Bar: 2257 Chestnut Street (near Scott), 415-441-9010, www.marinabistrosf.com, Daily 4–10 p.m. (The bar will stay open later if there are patrons.)