That’s the #1 reason I love Park Tavern, the 9-month-old restaurant across from San Francisco's Washington Square Park.
Chef Jennifer Puccio calls her patrician take on the plebian chick “Petit Poulet Rouge.” It’s actually a fat, juicy Cornish Game Hen that she rubs with homemade harissa, a wildly aromatic and flavorful paste of smoked paprika, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, New Mexico chile, fresh thyme and olive oil. Puccio then roasts the bird to crackly, bronzed perfection on a French chicken roaster in a wood oven. Underneath the chick sits Bloomsdale spinach and Peewee potatoes, soaking up the luscious juices in a handsome cast iron plate. (This photo is courtesy of Frankeny Images, Copyright 2011.)
Not only is the presentation dramatic – I expected applause to break out when our server delivered the eye-popping, upright creation to our table ---but the flavors are dramatic, too: bold, multi-layered, and lip-smacking.
Reason #2 for my infatuation: Brussels Sprouts Chips. Wispy. Crispy. Perfectly seasoned. Downright addictive. And, in my book, far more exciting than the fried kale chips that are the rage these days. (This photo is from Foodspotting.com, a tantalizing website that you should not look at when you're hungry!)
Reasons #3 to, oh, say about #10, can also be found on the Park Tavern menu, an appealing roster of modern American bar food. Voluptuous burrata cheese shares a plate with lemon chips, paper-thin citrus slices that are dredged in rice flour and deep-fried. Deviled eggs are dressed up with bacon and pickled jalapenos, a far-cry from the bridal-shower-buffet-table of the old days.
If it’s a rollicking plate-sharing experience you’re looking for, you’ll be in heaven here. If you’re up for a more traditional three-course affair, move on to the creative salads – arugula is paired with a garlicky, thyme-scented mushroom conserve; or a sublime soup such as the caramelized onion and wild mushroom potage that’s topped with Swiss chard and a poached egg.
As long as you can talk someone at your table into ordering the Poulet Rouge, you are free to explore the other options. The Angus filet mignon with twice-cooked potatoes is terrific; the Hawaiaan tombo tuna is impressive all by itself; teamed with crisp sunchokes and baby artichokes, it’s a work of art.
It’s totally pointless to exhort folks to save room for dessert. Puccio's food is just too tempting. But even if you haven’t saved room, you've gotta spring for the Birthday Cake of the Month. In April it was "Jenn’s Yellow Cake with Chocolate Peanut Butter Frosting" and it was sensational.
The dessert menu also includes a Tcho chocolate crème brulee, and two “Boozy Floats,” such as Hank’s Root Beer Float with fennel ice cream, Absinthe and lime.
And, speaking of booze, the Tavern’s bar scene is one of contagious conviviality, presided over by skilled and amiable bartenders. The wine list is also impressive, with wines (including some lovely, lesser-known surprises) that match well with the assertive flavors of the food.
One last reason to love Park Tavern: the happy, high-spirited vibe that permeates both sides of the "counter." Owner Anna Weinberg and her team seem genuinely happy to serve their guests, and the guests on the recent night I visited appeared to be wildly happy to be there. Park Tavern is at 1652 Stockton Street; (415) 989-7300. (This photo is courtesy of Frankeny Images, Copyright 2011.)