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First Bite: Bottle Cap's American Comfort Food Takes Over the Old Washbag's Tables

Although the Bottle Cap opened its doors last month in the skeleton of the old Washington Square Bar & Grill in North Beach to much anticipation, it still feels almost empty. Save for the bodies crowding their tables in the sprawling space (there are no shortage of these), there is next to nothing adorning its high walls except for seafoam-green paint. It all feels very cavernous–an echo chamber buzzing with shrieks, laughter, and the sounds of bartenders shaking up drinks bombarding you from all angles. Though the spot itself screams for soft edges and a touch of intimacy, get your paws on an excellent cocktail, mixed up by former Bourbon & Branch barman Pete Gowdy, and wait for the plates to arrive.

Bottle Cap's ingredient-driven American comfort food is the kind of fuel you need on days that begin with flat, gray skies and end with massive fog banks rolling toward you from over the hills. The menu (from Sens chef Dane Boryta and chef de cuisine Matt Sullivan, formerly of Blue Plate) still has time to grow into itself, and it needs to–flavors, while conceptually delicious, sometimes lacked spice and saltiness. But there were definite homeruns: for warmth, order their juicy, lightly-charred grilled nectarines served over a tart, melty bed of goat cheese and topped with some arugula. The fresh crunch of their sweet gems and treviso salad with melon cubes, shaved fennel, mint and seascape cheese was a great yang to the necatrines' yin–although the light dressing could have used a little more punch and presence.

Their entrees skew casual and hearty, from their hefty Humboldt burger to the very-Californian chipotle chicken breast to the absolute star of my meal, their tender, organic Niman Ranch pork chops in a sweet chili glaze on top of romano beans and velvety, cheesy shells generously laced with San Joaquin Gold cheddar from Cowgirl Creamery. Their sophisticated version of mac n' cheese with bacon, perhaps? Vegetarians can choose from entrees like their pierogis stuffed with mushrooms and carmody cheese or a giant bowl of baby organic Castroville artichokes and herbed potato dumplings served with sweet peppers and clusters of hon shimeji mushrooms. The rich, creamy sauce enveloping the perfectly-cooked artichokes needed salt, but there was none to be found on the table.

All of the juices, grenadine and syrups on their drink menu are squeezed and made in house, which is par for the course for any self-respecting cocktail program in the city these days. The effort shows: the delicate floral flavors of honey permeated my vodka-based Bee's Knees, while the lime-green, rye-infused Final Word was bright and citrusy. They were just what we needed after a down-home meal in the fast-fading light of the day.