Although the name of Hayes Valley's new Two Sisters Bar and Books sounds like a place for solo drinkers to dig into a Hemmingway novel and a stiff martini, it's actually a spot you should go to for an impromptu bite with a few friends.
When I visited the 24-seat, wall-papered sliver of a bar on Hayes Street last night, I was struck by how European it felt. A couple was snacking on draft beers and house-brined pickles at the bar. The woman next to me was in for the bar's monthly book club meeting, and her weekly dose of the kitchen's chicken meatballs. "These are so good I dont want to speak when I'm eating them!" She said, both hands shaking emphatically in the air.
Living up to the bar's name, romantically tattered books line the bottom half of one wall. It's a sweet, mood-setting gesture, but most patrons are here to eat and drink.
Owner Mikha Diaz wishes more people would order the kitchen's lamb sandwich, with good reason. Juicy slices of roasted meat are layered on a fresh, soft baguette slab from the Castro's Thorough Bread bakery. A layer of garlicky housemade mint-shallot salsa and a scatter of super thin fried onions gives the whole creation brightness and crunch. The plate gets adorned with a pile of those wonderful pickles. (You can see the jar of cauliflower, string beans, carrots and cucumbers in the background above.) There are also some impressively sturdy thick-cut potato chips made on the premises every morning.
Lighter eaters could try the wild rock cod with a colorful quenelle of arugula pesto, or—a meat lover's vegetarian concession—a savory pate made with roasted walnuts, vermouth, butter and cream. It mimes the color, texture and meatiness of the real thing alarmingly (and deliciously) well.
For drinkers, the bar favors brown booze, and many of the cocktails include ingredients made in house—like the sour cherry-balsamic-peppercorn shrub that came in my "sour." Arrive during weekday happy hour for $6 cocktails and cheaper beers and wines, or Sunday where a brand new a la carte brunch menu unleashes this weekend. On the menu, there's a coma-inducing cross between a Croque Madame and rarebit that's doused with cheddar-ale sauce. Probably best if you don't brave that alone.
Two Sisters Bar, 579 Hayes Street, 415-863-3655