New & Notable

Verbena reinvents itself as the charming Reverb

Crispy pork ribs, greens, and galangal-tamari

If at first you don’t succeed … reinvent yourself. This is perhaps the motto behind Reverb Kitchen & Bar on Polk Street, most recently known as Verbena. When the chef of 18-month-old Verbena, Sean Baker, departed this spring, co-owners and partners Eric Fenster and Ari Derfel listened to feedback from their Russian Hill community and transformed the restaurant into a more downscale, casual neighborhood spot. According to the owners, “We chose the name ‘Reverb’ for three reasons. First, as homage to our first take as Verbena, and second, we value and welcome feedback from our community of guests so that we can truly offer something that resonates with them. Third, we define re/verb as ‘the second note of an expression, action or state of being.'”

The restaurant’s decor hasn’t changed much; it features an illuminated reclaimed wooden architectural wall, long bar, and mezzanine dining room. But executive chef Ryan Shelton, (former pastry chef at Chez TJ in Mountain View, and chef de cuisine at Baumé in Palo Alto), has developed a new menu offering a balance of omnivore and vegetable dishes largely inspired by Gather, Reverb’s sister restaurant in Berkeley, and veering away from Verbena’s decidedly vegetarian slant. The full bar features a combination of classic and craft cocktails and small-producer wines.

Reverb’s dinner menu is divided into Snacks, Farm & Garden, Ranch & Sea, Pasta, and Mains. A charcuterie trio ($9) and brassica fritters made from chickpea flour and served with chutneys and yogurt ($7) both make for good starters. Farm & Garden items feature a smooth asparagus soup with lemon-coconut ice cream and grilled asparagus ($12); a kale salad enlivened by carrots, pumpkin seeds, capers, and cheese ($13); and caramelized heirloom carrots ($12). The Ranch & Sea category includes tasty small plates such as grilled octopus with gigante beans, salsa verde, and romesco ($17); and charred Marin Sun Farms strip steak served with wilted baby roots and a red-wine reduction ($22).

There are three pastas on the menu, including pappardelle with braised broccolini, breadcrumbs, and fennel ($14/$22); and orecchiette with red-wine-braised oxtail and horseradish cream ($17/$25).

Main courses range from wild black cod with artichokes, lemon, and butter ($28); mushroom risotto with a poached egg and crispy kale ($19); and a burger with local cheddar, aioli, house ketchup, onion rings, and potato sticks ($16). The risotto is a creamy delight heightened by the savory kale, but the cod had to be sent back after it arrived too rare to cut. The kind and attentive waiter brought us a new plate, but I found the dish on the bland side. Desserts include brioche doughnuts ($9) and a kumquat chocolate tart ($10), also served for brunch.

Brunch-goers can enjoy French toast ($12); carrot cake pancakes ($12); an English pea frittata ($15); slow-poached eggs with pork belly ($18); and fried chicken with amaranth waffle, charred kale, and butterscotch-apple maple syrup ($23; also on the dinner menu). Eggs any style, crispy potatoes, and bacon are also available, along with other sweet and savory choices. Reverb serves local Saint Frank coffee and a variety of espresso drinks and teas, and vegan and gluten-free diners are accommodated.

If you liked Verbena, you’ll like Reverb, and if you never got a chance to try it, Reverb has plenty to offer all.

Editor’s note: Diners may find slight variations in the dishes described above (for example, the fish type, pasta shape, or vegetables) but can expect to find representative menu items.

Reverb Kitchen & Bar: 2323 Polk Street, 415-441-2323,; daily 5:30–10 p.m., Saturday–Sunday 10 a.m.–2:30 p.m.

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