Who would have thought that San Francisco needed another wine bar? I guess we did, given the kind of slamming business RN74—named after the road that travels up and down the Cote D'Or, the heart of the Burgundy wine region—has been doing since it opened a few weeks back. (A couple of disclaimers: My wife, Christie Dufault, is one of the sommeliers there, and I am good friends with RN74's visionary Rajat Parr, one of the world's foremost Burgundy experts. So take what I say as you will. I also attended a comped "media dinner," but I've also been there and paid straight up for food and drink.) Nevertheless, my enthusiasm is genuine.
1. The wine program here is the best in the city. Maybe the best in the country—even the world. Quite simply, it's got a list of top wines and an energetic and convivial atmosphere in which to drink it. The core of the huge wine list is made up from the dazzling cellar of wine collector and venture capitalist Wilf Jaeger (where else can you find Burgundies from 1900 on up through 2007?). There's also a Bordeaux from 1870 (Lafite, at a relative bargain price of $12,500) and the youngest Bordeaux on the list is from 1983. There's also plenty of great old California Cabernet and an awesome collection of old sweet wines from Germany, France and Portugal.
2. There are great deals. Fifty wines by the glass (nothing over $20). The list is very well priced. The "last bottle board"—an authentic electric train station board from Italy (you know, where the letters and numbers flip as trains arrive and depart), which displays the names of bottles that are the last of their particular lot, is one of the most innovative and exciting ideas to grace a wine program ever. The periodic clatter of the board's flipping lends immediate drama to what the fairly staid world of restaurant wine sales. Last time I was there, I couldn't resist splitting the 1971 Maximin Grunhauser Riesling for $135 with a friend--an amazing wine at a ridiculous price.
3. The sommelier team is topnotch. Including my wife Christie (ex of Danko and Quince), master sommelier Bernabe De Luna (ex Highlands Inn, StripSteak), Justin Hall (ex of Rose Pistola, Charlie Trotter's) and up-and-comer Eric Railsback.
My only issue with RN74 is that I'm not convinced you can really call it a wine bar—despite being marketed as such. It suffers from an identity crisis. Jessica really nailed it in her post. Yes, by putting its waiters and somms in jeans and sneakers it definitely has the look (for some reason, though, cocktail waitresses still have to wear fairly sauve little black dresses). But the menu is rather complicated, featuring among other things a "navarin of morel mushrooms" and "black truffle creme fraiche"—hardly typical wine bar food, hardly simple. I'm often of the mind that simple food is the best match for complex wine. Chef Jason Berthold is obviously a talented guy and his food is good, but there's a lot going on on his menu which has the effect of sucking some of the casual air out of the place. I think people were very effectively told to expect a wine bar, but instead they got a restaurant and a sophisticated one at that. Nevertheless, for its wine and, more importantly, the spirit and gusto with which it serves and sells it, RN74 is a great addition to our city.