Tag Archives: restaurant review

Craft Cocktails + Savory Bites at Maven SF

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Monday was Michael’s birthday, so of course a celebratory dinner was in order. After throwing around the usual ideas, we decided to veer a little out of our neighborhood to try out a new place—Maven. 

Located in lower Haight, Maven has a modern look accentuated with a stainless steel open kitchen and a sleek bar. However, this is balanced out by the warm hues of small votive candles placed along polished log communal tables, and large, vibrant green plants growing above the bar (seriously).

Superficially, you might ask yourself: What sets Maven apart from all the other craft cocktail + American fare + industrial looking bars and restaurants?

Well, for starters, Maven pairs its craft cocktails with its menu items! For example, the eponymous Maven Burger, is listed on the menu along with its paired cocktail, the Mr. Wiggles, a bourbon cocktail.

It’s a genius idea that merges the craft cocktail and foodie experiences into one. Although I initially doubted it, Maven manages to do it really well. 

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I actually ordered the burger, but was hesitant to order Mr. Wiggles, since bourbon cocktails are typically a little too strong for my weekday drinking. I instead opted to order Summer in the City, a gin cocktail made with stone fruit gin, creme de violette, and riesling. It was served beautifully in a tulip flute, but I immediately regretted not getting the Mr. Wiggles because the Summer in the City ended up tasting a bit too much like lavender bath soap. Luckily, Michael did order the Mr. Wiggles (can anyone say that without chuckling a little?), so I got the chance to sip on it while I ate my burger. The cocktail resembles an Old Fashioned—bourbon, angostura bitters, lemon rind—but ends with a smoother finish and really was a great pairing with the burger, which also had angostura listed as one of its ingredients.

As for Michael’s entree, he ordered the pork chop, which was served along with corn puree, shishito peppers, and loaded potato croquette. I’m personally not a huge fan of pork chop, but I will say that this one was tender and tasted amazing dipped in the spicy mustard sauce that was drizzled beneath it. YUM. 

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I caught a few glances at the small bites that the people around us were ordering and am absolutely determined to return just to eat all the appetizers and starters. Just to give you a sense of what’s offered, the small bites include Chilled Strawberry Soup with burrata, Grilled Corn on the Cob topped with miso butter, breadrumbs, parmesan, and Chinatown Duck Sliders.

Is your mouth watering yet?

Thought so.

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The one downside is that the servers exude a sophisticated rigidity that could be mistaken for snobbery. This is most likely intentional and adds to the look and feel—it’s just not a personal preference. However, it didn’t ruin the experience. If anything, it gave the atmosphere an air of elegance, even if that meant sacrificing approachability.

Overall, Maven is an attractive place and I can see myself frequenting it for drinks and appetizers. The entrees are bit pricey, but standard for San Francisco dining, and perfect for a birthday celebration. What’s even better, I’ve heard Maven also has a great brunch! Having already had a taste for its drinks and range in menu, my interest is piqued enough to have me wanting to go back for more.

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Delightful Divisadero Dining at Nopa

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“Cooks in the Kitchen” by Thomas Hawk / CC BY 2.0

If there’s a restaurant whose dining experience is more coveted than a glance of Taylor Swift’s belly button, it’s Nopa. Located on Divisadero, its hip factor is established by default, but it’s farm-to-table looks and friendly staff keep it from feeling too pretentious.

Since moving into the neighborhood, my boyfriend and I have been trying to get a seat at Nopa, first at brunch and then at dinner. Unfortunately, both times (even though we got there when they opened) were 2-hour waits and we just couldn’t do it. However, this past Monday, we committed and were able to land a seat at the bar, and I mean a single seat – my boyfriend stood for most of our meal. However, this didn’t ruin the experience. The bartenders were delightful and attentive, and we were just so excited to finally see what Nopa was all about.

I started out the evening with the Summit cocktail, a gin cocktail with grapefruit, while my boyfriend had the Quintessential, another gin cocktail but with Bonal Quinquina. The Summit had an expected tangy kick that was evened out with some honey. As for the Quintessential, we weren’t really sure what to expect, not being acquianted with Bonal Quinquina, but it too was refreshing and sweet without being saccharine.

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Summit cocktail on the left and the Quintessential on the right.

Wanting to try everything we decided to order an appetizer, an entree, as well as a small side plate, starting first with the warm goat cheese and berries crostini. The berries were rubbed with olive oil and the goat cheese, served warm in a ramekin, was topped with chives, salt and pepper. It ended up being a pretty substantial amount of goat cheese that by the end of the bread, we still had goat cheese! But no worries, we took the spoon to it…

For our main course we shared the fried duck leg with pinto beans, figs and chorizo, and a small plate of roasted squash with tzatziki.

The roasted squash was presented beautifully, with its deep green skin contrasted with what looked like some kind of pickled vegetable. But it’s flavors were too mild and ended up being overshadowed by everything else.

The duck leg was anything but mild. It was infused with the savory Mexican flavors from the chorizo and pinto beans, which were balanced out with the sweetness of figs. The most surprising part was that I’ve never been too big a fan of pinto beans since I think they lack flavor, but these were so delicious, I had every last spoonful. The duck itself was, as our waiter put it, divine. It was tender and tasted as if its coating was a kind of mole rub, which, as a Mexican-American, I appreciated. However, I do have to say that the figs were the best part of the dish. They paired so well with the rich, earthy flavors of the duck, beans and chorizo, and really brought the entire dish together.

Overall, it was a great dining experience. I recommend going on a weeknight and grabbing a couple of seats at the bar (once they open up), unless you want to wait two hours for a table (you could also make a reservation). During happy hour it feels like a fierce competition trying to snag a seat, but it’s well worth it. The plates are substantial and ultimately fairly priced, and the flavors are wonderfully balanced. I’ve had experiences at restaurants like Nopa that err so much on the side of savory that the dishes end up tasting salty. Luckily, Nopa knows the difference and caters to the palate perfectly.

We didn’t end up getting dessert (we were stuffed!), but I definitely look forward to coming back for brunch or even just a night of cocktails and dessert.

Have you been to Nopa? What were your thoughts?

“Nopa” by Thomas Hawk / CC BY 2.0

Credited Photo Source: Thomas Hawk

Mellow Vibes & Good Wine Served at Benchmark Eatery

I’ve been wanting to go to Benchmark Eatery for a while, but didn’t make the effort. Donned with the typical industrial look of contemporary restaurants along with the large self-serve carafes of water on the tables, it didn’t seem like anything extraordinary or intriguing. However, living in Santa Barbara and being a self-proclaimed foodie, I own an Axxess card. And, since my partner and I are leaving Santa Barbara to move to San Francisco (that’s a whole different blog post), we decided it was time to use our Axxess two-for-one deal at Benchmark.

We stepped in on a Wednesday, so it was fairly empty, which made the open layout feel extra spacious. We were greeted graciously by the hostess and seated immediately in a rustic-looking booth. The ambiance of the place is mellow with warm dim-lights and a farm-table-industrial touch. Next to our booth was a quirky marquee with the Leo Tolstoy quote, “If you want to be happy, be”, which connects back to Benchmark’s initials, B.E.

Benchmark Eatery - The Most Splendid Thing

While we waited for our food, we munched on their battered-and-herbed chickpeas, which are meant to replace bread baskets but are just as addicting. (I’ll definitely be trying to replicate them in my own kitchen!)

I ordered the grilled ahi with butter beans, roasted cherry tomotoes, over a bed of arugula and a garlic white wine soy sauce. It was delightfully savory while also being light yet filling—my favorite kind of meal. I broke all the rules and paired my ahi tuna with a S.B.C’s Etude ‘Lyric’ Pinot Noir. But it was worth it because the rich pinot complimented the flavorful dish very well.

Grilled Ahi & Pinot Noir

Michael, my boyfriend, ordered the pan seared salmon, with potatoes, and greens (zucchini, broccoli and asaparagus). I had a taste of the salmon, and it was good, but not particularly breathtaking. However, the greens were cooked to perfect crispness and are always a solid choice to pair with salmon. For his beverage he went with a Belgian-Style Telegraph Ale and he was into it, to say the least!

It was a lovely meal and I was pleasantly surprised by how filling and flavorful my ahi dish was. Would I go again? Probably not. The main dishes are around $20+ and, other than the ahi I ordered, nothing else seems all that interesting. I would recommend it to a first-timer though. The food is served well, the environment is relaxing and casual, and the experience was overall positive. If given the chance, I’d want to go back mainly to try their Dante’s Inferno cocktail, which is 100% agave blanco tequila, clément mahina coconut liquor, arbol chili, fresh lime, strawberry shrub. YES PLEASE!

Grilled Ahi at Benchmark Eatery