Friday, January 06, 2006

Bacar: Flight of Fancy Wine

448 Brannan Street
San Francisco, CA
Chef Arnold Eric Wong (also EOS)
Lunch Fridays only
Dinner nightly

UPDATE: Paul Einbund is now working with Daniel Patterson at Coi.

Last tried: January 2006

In the way that the perfect pair of shoes can make an outfit, a well-matched wine pairing can elevate a meal to new heights. Paul Einbund, who used to flex his wine prowess at Tartare before it closed, is now unleashing his Bacchus touch at Bacar.

The spacious dual-level restaurant looks like a South of Market nightclub (it does have a full bar, including a side stage area for a band that plays on weekends), except with white-tableclothed tables and an open kitchen instead of a dance floor. With two stories of wine stored in the center of the restaurant along the side of the staircase behind thick opaque bubbled glass, as though they were in suspended animation inside an ice block, Bacar is serious about wine but never pretentious. As I waited for my dinner companion to arrive, I enjoyed a glass of Egly-Ouriet champagne ($17) while ogling the wines and listening to the band. Bacar offers six different sparklers by the glass, including Dom Perignon, as well as an option to taste a flight of four, 2 oz. each, for $43.

Since Bacar serves dinner at the bar, the younger generation and the young at heart (as well as anyone on a bad date) can continue to enjoy the band at full volume during dinner. As fun as the band was, I was relieved to be seated upstairs for dinner where it was a little quieter.

As on my two previous visits, the food at Bacar was reliably solid, even if not necessarily the most exciting or the most innovative. With a wave of his wine wand, Paul Einbund made every dish come to life.

To start, we tried the chef's charcuterie plate ($13), consisting of generous slices of salty salami and almost transparently thin slices of prosciutto and serrano ham, presented on a wooden cutting board with a couple slices of grilled bread and a dollop of dijon mustard. We also had the pan-seared scallops on a bed of cauliflower puree and parsley oil, decorated with paper thin chips of fried garlic ($17). With the charcuterie plate, Paul presented a full-bodied chardonnay that stood up to the fat of the cured meats and yet counterbalanced their saltiness with round fruit. The scallop appetizer was well executed, even though the scallops were a little tired and dry. Yet with a glass of Huet Vouvray Sec 2004 ($13.75) paired with it, I felt like I was tasting seared scallops for the first time. The Vouvray had such a refreshing and well-balanced combination of tart and sweet citrus fruit, minerals, herbs, and chiseled acidity that it transformed the scallops from a Gap T-shirt into an Oscar outfit. Like most of the extensive list of wines by the glass at Bacar, the Vouvray is also available in a 2 oz pour, 250 ml, 500 ml, or as part of a wine flight.

For our entrees, we had the Mesquite grilled kurobuta pork chop, which had been brined, with mashed yams and apple compote ($27) and the Muscovy duck leg confit with grilled escarole and a white bean and potato hash, decorated with pomegranate seeds ($31). The brining and the mesquite grilling made the pork chop taste like a smoky ham. (If you are expecting a standard pork chop, I recommend that you select something else.) Together with the syrah that Paul had paired with it, it tasted like Christmas.

The saltiness of the tender and savory duck confit with crispy crunchy skin was nicely offset by the soft and starchy white beans and potatoes. The pungent, bright pink-red pomegranate seeds sprinkled around the plate brought out the sweetness of the duck meat as well as heightening the visual appeal of the dish. When Paul added a glass of the 2003 Puligny-Montrachet ($10.50) to this already lovely dish, all of the flavors and aromas of the food and wine swirled together in perfect harmony.

As the portions at Bacar are quite ample, we were all very full by this point but managed to squeeze in dessert and of course, dessert wine to match. Upon tasting the vanilla bean brown butter financier with caramel baked quince, topped with buttered almond gelato ($9), I was quite happy that I managed to power through dessert. The financier was delicately sweet and moist, with crusty scalloped edges where the sweetness was more concentrated like the top of a perfectly baked muffin. I had a glass of 2003 Mosel Riesling, and my dinner guest had a glass of 2004 Italian Moscato. These fragrant wines, although quite different from one another, both brought out the sweet elements of the dessert, without overpowering any of the delicate nutty flavors.

The food at Bacar is satisfying and generally well prepared. But with the wine pairing, it is spectacular.

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