Photos and article by Virginia Miller
THE COACHMAN, SoMa (1148 Mission St. between 7th & 8th, 415-831-1701)
British-influenced food from Chef-de-Cuisine Ross Wunderlich (formerly at Bar Tartine, SPQR, A16)? Cocktails from one of the country’s great bar directors, Erik Adkins, and Bar Manager John Codd? Cocktail destination Heaven’s Dog closed and converted into a new restaurant and bar called The Coachman? All under master chef/owner Charles Phan? All this drew me to Coachman three times in the first two weeks alone. And each visit was a pleasure.
Maybe even more so than Heaven’s Dog, which still churned out gratifying late night dim sum and excellent cocktails, but could be criticized for being pricier than the endless affordable dim sum options around.
The Coachman’s food is possibly more realized and cocktails are as strong as ever. Pickled sardines ($10) co-mingle with hedgehog mushrooms and beets, while blood sausage ($19) falls apart with juicy, rosy, spiced glory. Slices of tender prime rib ($30), dribbled with jus and accompanied by Yorkshire pudding plus a side of creamed spinach or mash ($5), results in a deliciously hearty dinner.
My favorite bites, particularly with their gorgeous cocktails? When it’s in season, which was when the restaurant first opened, potted crab ($14) swimming in excess butter and scooped up with brioche toasts is an unctuous pleasure. A filling bowl of lentils and roasted garden carrots ($14) is lively in parsley dill sauce and meaty-sweet in a brilliant smoked date jam. My other favorite is beef tartare ($14) smartly contrasted with fried smelts. Raw beef and mini-fried fish? It’s such a fantastic “bar bite” that I’ve ordered it three times already – and I don’t tend to repeat until I’ve tried everything.
Cocktails ($11) are the showstopper here, though cask conditioned ales, beers and the French and German-centric wine list are no afterthought. Also, keep your eyes out for bartending master Erik Ellestad’s lovely, dry ginger beer which he’s fermenting champenoise-style (Champagne method) in the bottle. Cocktails are reinvented, rare classics from the Georgian through Victorian eras, while the back bar stocks a wealth of rum, sherry, and Scotch selections.
After trying the entire initial cocktail menu, there are a number of standouts, the first being a surprising combination of wine and genever. It’s actually a genius combination: bartender Keli Rivers played with Heidelberg Cup No. 9, an 1869 recipe from Cooling Cups & Dainty Drinks to get the elements just right. Diep 9 Belgian Genever, a house lemon cordial and Nahe Austrian Riesling combine over crushed ice for a dry, malty, stimulating drink, like a Cobbler cocktail born in Austria and Belgium.
An Antique Sour is one of the most balanced and lovely cocktails: Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, Pur Geist Beer Schnaps/bierbrand and lemon hit with flavorful punch, softened by egg white.
Ellestad’s Atholl Brose, a modern interpretation of a traditional Scottish Highlands cocktail, is my ideal dessert… or breakfast: Straus organic milk is infused with toasted oats, combined with whisky, honey, and dash of coffee.
Part owner Olle Lundberg’s Lundberg Design has left their mark on many SF spaces, and this redesigned restaurant opens up in the back at the end of the bar, dramatically lit by a “honey wall” of 76 panels filled with California-sourced honeys in varying shades, changing with light and heat (you might recognize the panels from Phan’s first Out the Door in Westfield Mall).
Though I had a soft spot for Heaven’s Dog, The Coachman feels more holistic. It’s already a necessary stop for the cocktail lover in the ‘hood, that thankfully also serves a great bite.