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First Bite: Charlie Palmer's Burritt Tavern

First Bite: Charlie Palmer's Burritt Tavern

Burritt Tavern's salmon over wheat berry risotto. [Photo courtesy of Burritt Tavern/Facebook]

It's about time Charlie Palmer opened a restaurant in San Francisco. Palmer is the chef who put the Michelin-starred Aureole on the map in New York in 1988—when he was just 28 years old. He's gone on to open some other restaurants you may have heard of: Astra, Charlie Palmer Steak and Dry Creek Kitchen in the Hotel Healdsburg. A born business-man, Palmer also owns the hotels that house many of his restaurants, including Union Square's Crescent Hotel, which he's renamed the Mystic Hotel in conjunction with his brand new restaurant inside it: Burritt Tavern.

You may have already been to this odd stretch of Stockton Street (just before it's swallowed up by the tunnel) for the bar. The Burritt Room is a rarity for San Francisco. It nails the glam vintage look with a gorgeous, weeping chandelier set against exposed brick and—on many nights of the week—a live three-piece jazz band. When I first scaled the hotel's steps to enter this second-story bar about a year ago, the room intoxicated me before I even got to sip former barman Kevin Diedrich's cocktails.

The bar went through a little slump after Diedrich left to start up Jasper's Corner Tap, but thanks to Palmer's purchase of the space, and his new hire Josh Trabulsi, it's a solid draw again. The poquito picante (tequila, lime, serrano) and smokin' hops (mezcal, IPA, lemon) were balanced, interesting and perhaps a little too easy to drink on my visits. 

Now bar visitors have the advantage of a full meal within spitting distance. Thanks to the magic of Charlie Palmer, Burritt Tavern has been built out in a formerly unused space adjacent to the bar's left wall. A departure from The Burritt Room's natural glamour: shaded globe lights overhead lend a bit of a film noir detective feel, while a handful of blue velvet curtains shield some private booths from the rest of the dining room. The rest feels clean and manly with wood chairs, wood floors and black-and-white vintage photography tying in the bar a bit on one wall. 

Further evidence Charlie Palmer knows what he's doing: he has actually been working the floor on both of my visits. I can tell you with certainty that he's a fan of the brussel sprouts salad with Chinese sausage and the fried oysters his chef de cuisine Ashley Weaver is putting out of the kitchen. Since sharable plates are so in fashion these days, I usually lean towards appetizers, but at Burritt the entrees have been the standouts. The Duroc pork chop is jam-packed with flavor from its herb-forward brine, and served over some creamy bacon-steeped white beans. The Scottish salmon—beautifully cooked and set on top of al dente wheat berry risotto with English peas, and bright lemony creme fraiche—is my favorite. I recommend the Charlie Palmer label Pinot Noir to wash either one down. 

If you're lucky, Palmer will be there in the flesh to suggest a wine pairing. And you may be surprised to know, he's a very down-to-earth, easy-going guy—unlike some other chefs that've made it to 10-plus restaurants and spots on national TV.

On my last visit, Palmer told me to get the word out about lunch, which started at the end of April. I'd say it's a perfect spot for Financial District workers who need to meet over a meal. The pork and the salmon are on the lunch menu, although you might want to order this burger, which looks like it could kill you in a very literal sense. Another warning: it's going to be tough to resist that bar and get back to work. 

Burritt Room + Tavern, 417 Stockton St., San Francisco, CA