North Beach comes with a blessing and a curse: It’s iconic, beautiful, and sprinkled with just enough biscotti crumbs to keep Italophiles from losing their way. It also has more than its share of tourists who have wandered over from Fisherman’s Wharf and are ready to settle in to dinner at The Stinking Rose.
Maybe because of the latter, the neighborhood hasn’t yet developed into the place to eat and be seen. Though a few non-Italian spots such as Don Pistos and Bottle Cap have infiltrated, peppering Columbus Street with a mix of cuisines, no restaurant of recent past has turned the heads of destination-dining locals.
But with the opening of Park Tavern, the new restaurant from owner Anna Weinberg and chef Jennifer Puccio of Marlowe in SoMa, things might be changing. While tiny Marlowe, which sits across from the Caltrain station, is about as modest as it gets, Park Tavern suits its name. It’s a sweeping, tasteful restaurant to which you’d feel comfortable bringing both your mother-in-law and your boss. Reminiscent of restaurants like Town Hall or Wayfare Tavern, it’s a people-pleaser that has enough of everything to satisfy most dining dilemmas—unless, that is, you’re looking for a bowl of pasta. When I dined, there wasn’t a noodle on the menu.
Located across from Washington Square Park, the Park Tavern space formerly housed Moose’s—the North Beach institution that closed its doors four years back. Though the layout hasn’t changed, the look is completely different. With its white tiled floors, bistro chairs, tufted banquettes, and handsome charcoal accents, Park Tavern has a bit of French brasserie to it, but its agenda is Californian through and through.
Puccio serves up hearty items such as a signature burger, steak frites, and a thick pork chop atop braised dino kale and big, creamy beans. But she always has a few things on the menu that show her attention to detail, especially with vegetables. A carrot salad takes the wallflower root and pushes it front and center. Topped with a bit of pesto, a plate of colorful, neatly trimmed baby heirloom carrots is beautiful. Also on offer are deep-fried, breaded pork belly nuggets (imagine mini cheese sticks, subtract the cheese, and add hot pork fat). Better yet are fried, paper-thin slices of lemon that you assemble by topping them with a spoonful of oozy burrata cheese and fresh basil. It’s incredibly simple but clever.
Park Tavern is a grown-up restaurant. There are cocktails, and the bar is long and inviting. Meticulously made smoked deviled eggs topped with bacon and pickled jalapeños beg for an ice-cold gin martini. In fact, snacks abound: beef jerky, almonds with brown butter, Marlowe’s now-famous Brussels sprout chips. Weinberg and Puccio have made a concerted effort to make Park Tavern a good place for a bite and a drink.
A drink of a different sort comes at dessert: an ice cream float made with Fernet Branca, which tastes better than it sounds. The medicinal, sludgy, brown amaro tempered by sweet vanilla makes for an almost licorice-like treat. I wanted to keep it all for myself. And I did.