Are you ready for this beautiful new wine bar that feels as if an Austrian chalet was dropped into North Beach? Owners Jay Esopenko and Melissa Gugni (Union Larder, Little Vine) have opened The Salzburg (663 Union Street) in the former Cinecittà space, and you won’t even recognize it. You’ll now notice the massive wood facade and huge door, crafted from redwood with little trademark diamonds you’ll see repeated as a design motif within.
Inside is a soaring ceiling with stained Douglas fir beams — to the left is a standing area and a smooth walnut bar with resin diamond inlays and 10 round padded barstools upholstered in a nubby wool fabric. There are six booths on the right with high bench upholstered seats for four guests, 24 seats in all. There is a marvelous birch bark like a wallpaper, tufts of moss included, under the bar and on the exterior side of the booths. Each of the booths has charming little lights with antlers, and the floor is made of French oak, the individual pieces forming a pattern like woven wicker —they were ordered from a French company that is more than 400 years old. It feels like an unearthed chalet — all these natural and wood elements create such a European woodsy feeling.
The beautiful woodwork was done by Michael Bermosk, who has done a lot of work for Peter Doolittle, who is known for his woodwork at Nopa, Tartine Manufactory, Little Gem, and more.
In the back you’ll find a patio complete with a fire pit and tables, with room for 35. Esopenko grew up in the Canadian Rockies in Alberta and always loved that après-ski time, that warm and cozy feeling you have over a beer and the fire after a day of skiing.
Esopenko has curated a wine list celebrating the wines you’d find around the Alps, from regions like the Jura to Valle d’Aosta and Slovenia. It’s a chance to highlight Riesling, his favorite and a total passion, and you’ll find some California producers as well. There are 45 wines by the glass, some on tap, plus bottles, too. Four beers are on tap, with many more in the bottle.
Chef Ramon Siewert is now overseeing The Salzburg’s and Union Larder’s kitchens and menus. The menu is structured around small plates you can share, with some Alpine heritage, but not direct facsimiles of classic dishes, like flammenküche, fondue, beef goulash, spätzle stroganoff, a schnitzel sandwich, and the cleverly named Salzburger. And then there’s the jäger pommes, which sounds like Alpine poutine: French fries, wild mushrooms, gravy, and Gruyère.
Highlights are the house-made sausages: käsekrainer (a classic, made with pork and Emmentaler cheese), bratwurst, kaninchenwurst (rabbit), and meeresfrüchte wurst (shrimp seasoned with chorizo spices), and their epic cheese and charcuterie boards. Sunday and Tuesday–Wednesday 5–10 p.m., Thursday–Saturday 5–11 p.m. Plans for lunch and brunch are in the works.
Auguri to Claudio Villani, owner of Cole Valley’s popular Italian enoteca, InoVino, who is taking over the former Mason Pacific to open AltoVino (1358 Mason Street). Villani says he’s only making some cosmetic changes like lowering the bar and making it cozier, and replacing the front room’s high seating and tables with banquettes and normal-height seating, so he hopes to be open before Christmas.
InoVino’s chef, Nick Kelly, will lead the kitchen. The concept will be neighborhood seasonal and regional Italian — they want to be authentic to Italy’s regional cooking, but not limited to just one area. In addition to some of InoVino’s top appetizers, they plan to add seven or eight pasta dishes, both fresh/handmade and artisan dry pasta as well. Look for quality ingredients, but Villani doesn’t want prices to skyrocket, so pasta dishes will range from $16–$20 or so.
Villani, who is Tuscan and grew up in Florence, is also excited to be bringing some tableside dishes to the dining experience, and top of his list is a bistecca alla fiorentina, served off a cart medium rare and a minimum of a kilo! There will be other main courses as well, some featuring Northern Mediterranean flavors, with plans to price them at $30 and under.
The wines will be all-Italian, with the exception of Champagne, and while Villani is focused on volcanic and Alpine wines at InoVino, at AltoVino, he’s excited to build up a list with some wines from Tuscany, too, where he first learned about wine, and is excited to offer some beautiful classics.