Is the New French Wine Bar & Retail Shop, Verjus, Worth the Hype?
OFF MENU IS SPONSORED BY EMPEROR NORTON’S BOOZELAND THE TENDERLOIN’S NEWEST HISTORIC DIVE. HAPPY HOUR NOON – 7PM
Worth the Hype? is a column by longtime food and drink writer Geri Koeppel, who will check out bars and restaurants (some new, others popular or exceptional in some way) on her own dime and tell you whether she thinks they’re worth the hype or not. The deciding factor: Whether she’d go back and spend money again. She might not be exactly broke-ass, but she’s definitely cheap-ass and doesn’t put up with a rip-off.
Where is it?:is at 528 Washington St. at the corner of Hotaling Place—the alley where people wait in line forever to duck under the red, white and blue balloons on Bastille Day—and it’s across the alley from Aventine, in Jackson Square. It formerly housed Chiaroscuro.
What is it?: A wine bar and retail shop with an eye-popping red lacquered ceiling, warm wood accents, vintage furniture, standing-only bar, a smattering of tables, not-so-obvious by-the-glass selections, a killer bottle list and a compact yet enticing daily menu of small, predominantly French bistro dishes, including house-made charcuterie. It only seats 40, though they also have three standing bars/counters, and they don’t take reservations.
How much is it?: It’s definitely not cheap, as you’d expect from the owners of Quince and Cotogna, Michael and Lindsay Tusk. A few small plates and a few glasses of wine with tip will run you well over $100. But wine prices aren’t necessarily stratospheric; the cost comes mainly if you order multiple plates of food.
Hours: Bar à Vin, 5 to 10 p.m. Monday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday–Wednesday, 11:30 a.m.–midnight Thursday–Friday and 5 p.m. to midnight Saturday. Cave (retail shop), 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday–Saturday.
Worth the hype?: Yes.
Why?: In a nutshell, the wines are remarkable, the cuisine is incredible and the service is outstanding. It’s something different, too — the vibe is relaxed, yet with every attention to detail and quality.
I walked in on a rainy Saturday night and immediately one of the numerous staff on duty welcomed me, walked me through the retail shelf organization and told me to ask if I had any questions. He also highly recommended coming in sometime just for a glass of wine and one of their cute little tins of sardines or anchovies from the shelf.
But that night, I had a heartier appetite. I ended up trying the escargot (served on garlic toast, $18), radishes with salted butter ($18) and pâté en croûte ($18). The plates are made for sharing, but I was solo and scarfed all of it.
Along with a small basket of sliced baguette, it was just enough for me, but if you’re used to bigger meals, you might feel like Fred Flintstone when Wilma put him on a diet and served him a single pea on a plate. They have larger dishes, but you’ll pay more dearly for those.
I watched the open kitchen as a team of attractive hipster dudes prepared my food with focus and care. As at the sister restaurants, dishes are well-sourced and beautifully presented.
Major thought was given to the wines as well. The bottle list was what you might expect from the pedigreed people who put it together, with plenty of expense-account splurges, but also a surprising number around $50-70 and definitely less than $100.
Oddly, for a French wine bar, there weren’t many French wines by the glass on the night I was there, but at least there wasn’t anything obvious, either. Too often, I peruse a list only to find all of the same shit I saw the night before on a different list, which consists of whatever the major distributors are pushing right now. (If I never see a glass of Kung Fu Girl Riesling or Guigal Cotes du Rhone by the glass again, it’ll be too soon.)
I started with a glass of Nicolas Réau Attention Chenin Mechant 2017 ($14), an elegant but fruity Loire white that paired perfectly with the escargot and radishes, and moved on to a silky, earthy, dark fruit-forward Château Massereau Graves 2011 ($15) with my pâté, both of which the bartender, Sam, wisely suggested for me. The Bordeaux wasn’t on the glass list that night, but she poured it as a special.
That’s the kind of service that creates regulars — she read me, knew what I’d enjoy and made it happen. Over the course of my stay, no fewer than half a dozen employees stopped by with a friendly smile to make sure everything was OK and I had everything I needed.
There might have been nearly as many workers as customers when I was there, in fact. You’re certainly paying more for the attention, but it’s nice for a change. I haven’t set foot in years in two wine bars that are just blocks from my apartment because the staff is either snooty or indifferent, or both.
Overall, Verjus is a great spot for a glass and quick snack before getting on with the rest of your night or for a relaxed, unstuffy dinner. It has a cool vibe for a first date or a fiftieth date, and when I was there, a few groups of friends met up and shared bottles and bites. So yeah, I’ll be back. Maybe not every week, but as a treat as often as possible.