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First Bite: St. Vincent

First Bite: St. Vincent

Chef Bill Niles' fried green tomatoes. 

The popular Heart Wine Bar abruptly closed last year when the owner decided to move back to New York, leaving a huge vacant spot on the corner of Valencia and 24th Streets. Not two weeks after opening in its stead, new "wine tavern" St. Vincent is jam-packed nightly, and already seems to be quite the second act at this address. Owner David Lynch trailblazed a $40 fixed price wine list during his last job as the sommelier for Quince and Cotogna, and he's forging into new terriority here at St. Vincent too. All 100 bottles of wine on his list are priced under $100, and here's the real twist: all of them can be ordered as half bottles, encourging the sampling of several different wines in one sitting. Lynch says every server on the floor has a wine background, and while the idea behind St. Vincent was to be more wine- than food-centric, the food chef Bill Niles is putting out of the kitchen definitely deserves a close look.

Pickled eggs flavored with nicely tart curry or horseradish/beet flavors come to the table almost instantly after ordered, making a smart start to the meal with a crisp white wine. Before his last job at Bar Tartine, Niles cooked in Philadelphia, so you should definitely try his hand-rolled pretzel. The dough is a little sweet and soft in the middle, just as it should be. Big salt granules pinched into the flesh provide an extra crunch up front, and it's served with whipped butter and a sharp, grainy mustard for dipping. There's also a lot of thought put into the salad of garden greens and herbs, beautifully presented with baby radishes, wild sorrel and dabs of mashed avocado. The fried green tomatoes were properly tart with a light, even crust of fry encasing them.

Sitting at the counter by the open kitchen, you can see the serious focus bringing the staff together. These seats also provides a nice vantage on the very nice job Lynch did overhauling the interior on a shoestring. A huge painter's dropcloth serves as a curtain, providing warmth and drama on one side of the room, while an evergreen paint job and birdcage light fixtures lend a rich, relaxing tone. I much prefer it to the stark gallery feel of the last incarnation, and Lynch says he's not even close to done with the decor or the wine list. Considering the place was humming smoothly through the din of opening week chaos, they're off to a very nice start. 

St. Vincent, 1270 Valencia St., 415-285-1200