Editors’ note: Last month we profiled a round-up of neighborhood wine bars; now there are two more to add to your list.
A few weeks ago, I had a sneak peek of Howells (2373 Chestnut Street) wine bar, which just opened in the former Mezes space. You’ll recognize Nate Welch behind the bar, who managed the California Wine Merchant for a decade, and has now partnered with Sameet Mehta and Adam Weiner for this new project.
There’s a spacious and beautiful 25-foot bar built by Welch’s father-in-law, Don McCall. It’s rustic and handcrafted of walnut and roof metal from an old barn that suffered in the Butte Fire of 2015, with hickory frames, wood dowels, and a resin top. (McCall is quite the craftsman — he has been working on the bar since September). The space has bright blue vinyl bar chairs with tufted backs, and there are skylights, Deco-style brass sconces, an unusual chandelier made of sticks, and a pressed-tin ceiling actually made of acoustic tiles.
It’s a handsome space, and there’s also a mezzanine with more seating and a private cellar room you can rent for tastings of high-end and rare wines, which accommodates six to eight people. There are also plans to open the back patio soon for brunch.
The main wine list has 20 by the glass, featuring a variety of Californian, Old World, and Southern Hemisphere wines. There’s quite a cellar list of high-end wines, too.
Chef Sarah Galloway (Spruce, Trestle, Stones Throw, Mason Pacific) is offering a varied and California comfort menu spanning cheese and charcuterie options, plus sandwiches, salads, and some Midwestern dishes (with a California touch) like stuffed peppers and beef stroganoff. Dishes will range around $8-$16, but you can also splurge on some caviar from The Caviar Co.
While the block doesn’t seem to be wanting for wine options, they have created a space and vibe that is a bit different than the others, and they want guests to come by for dinner, or a glass before or after. Opening hours will be daily 4 p.m.–midnight, and until 2 a.m. Thursday–Saturday.
Dominque Crenn’s latest jewel box, Bar Crenn (3131 Fillmore Street, 415-440-0460), just opened in the former Cellar Door in Cow Hollow. It’s like a Parisian salon, or as a friend and I thought, a French consul’s New York apartment from another time.
The light from the vintage chandeliers and wall fixtures is dim and creates an intimate atmosphere, while the chairs are loungy and take up a fair amount of room — it’s a luxury to sit back and have that much space around your table. The marble bar is flanked by stools covered in fuzzy wool, and there are bookshelves full of books, an array of antiques, and assorted objets that all contribute to a residential and cozy, lived-in feeling, along with a fresco on the wall. An array of global rugs and heavy green-gray velvet curtains close off the outside world and help dampen the sound. Karan Brady is the designer behind this refined hideaway.
The à la carte menu is an homage to classic French dishes and chefs, with their recipes dutifully followed by chef Jonathan Black, executive chef of Crenn Dining Group (Atelier Crenn, Petit Crenn, and Bar Crenn). He says his team has really been having fun learning and working on the dishes.
The menu includes the names of the chefs next to their dishes, from Guy Savoy’s ice-poached oysters tucked within two layers of gelée (oyster cream, Meyer lemon, New Zealand spinach), to Éric Fréchon’s oeufs mimosa au thon et au crabe, basically some of the fanciest and most flavorful deviled eggs you have ever tasted (especially the version with confit of tuna belly topped with cured tuna heart).
The house pâté en croûte is a pièce de résistance: pork shoulder and back fat and bacon lardons and Cognac and shallots and pistachios, too. (The pastry is really a thing of beauty.) There are a couple of larger plates as well, including quenelles Lyonnaise and pied de cochon. Just wait for the exquisite canelés de Bordeaux for dessert from Juan Contreras. Everything comes out on vintage china and you’ll see some silver too, adding to the elegant, old-world feeling.
It’s food built for wine, and wine director Matt Montrose has you covered with quite the list, with a focus on organic, biodynamic, and environmentally responsible vignerons and domaines, primarily French and Californian. You’ll also find some old-school French-style and low-proof aperitifs featuring vermouths and sherries, including the Partage (crème de cassis, amontillado sherry, sparkling wine, and bitters).
Mark your calendar for April 15 (it’s not just Tax Day) when the reservations open up for May (you can plan when to drink your tax woes away). Reservations are for parties of two to four, at varying price points and experiences, and there is a deposit. Parties of one, five, or six can call for availability. You can also try to sneak in, maybe late one night — they’ll accommodate however they can and are keeping half the room open for walk-ins. Hours for now are Tuesday–Saturday 4:30 p.m.–midnight (last kitchen call is 11 p.m.).