Sunday, February 18, 2007

HFF Returns Again: Maverick

There are a handful of restaurants that really hold my interest. Places to which I feel compelled to return. In some cases, like with Sophia, it's a case of really loving falafel and knowing that any falafel besides Sophia's is a pointless waste of calories. In other cases it's a combined respect for my perception of a restaurant's modus operandi and values (and food quality, naturally), places like Gregoire, Magnolia, Daimo, Lanesplitter, Solano Cellars....

But there's one restaurant that has stood apart from all the other places I've dined.... Apart from Zuni, Rivoli, Chez Panisse Cafe, Globe, Cav, Range, Cesar, Bouchon, Auberge de Soleil, Boonville Hotel, et al....

That place is Maverick, a tiny, funky neighborhood spot at 17th and Mission.

I went there for the first time shortly after they opened and enjoyed the food and loved the concept. Neo-American comfort food. In a similar vein to the "New American" that has since sprouted up all over the City, but with a consistency of focus. American food, (mostly) American wine from all over, and a crowded but comfortable space. The fried chicken comes with mashed potatoes, gravy, and greens. The fish (American staples like steelhead and monkfish) is always cooked perfectly. Maryland blue crab puffs. Cincinnati style risb with coleslaw. And the steak comes with fries and porter mustard sauce. Gourmet organic takes on classic American food without the froofy "twists" that characterize some other attempts at American classics.

Every now and then something falls flat (like the anger-inducing "hot" fudge sundae) but very rarely. But sometimes experimentation soars--like the frogs' legs "hot wings" and the whole bacon-wrapped trout stuffed with cauliflower. And Maverick's not afraid of combining big flavors together. On my most recent visit the steelhead was combined with cabbage, spiced apples, and chartenay carrots--accompaniments seemingly more appropriate for a pork chop than an anadromous trout--that slapped each other around on my plate and left the steelhead all the better for it.

There's a care and attentiveness on the part of the chef and manager (both 30ish guys, and the co-owners). On my first visit, the chef (Scott Youkilis) was working the floor to give Michael Pierce (wine-director/manager) a night off. On my most recent visit, Pierce advised our server that our wine (an excellent German riesling) was corked (it was) and, after a new bottle was provided he came back to decant it for us, which opened the wine up very nicely. Service in general has always been quite good, albeit idiosyncratic.

Other highlights from our most recent visit: the molasses-glazed pork shoulder with turnips, celery root, and potato dumplings was fabulous. The server provided a steak knife but a butter knife wasn't even needed--the tender meat pulled apart with the touch of a fork. Maverick continued to show a devotion to dense, flavorful salads without a lot of bulky greens. The ginger marinated beet and avocado salad with tatsoi and a blood orange vinaigrette was fabulous, as was the duck confit salad in a phyllo cup. A side of oven-roasted cauliflower and the Kentucky bourbon pecan pie rounded out our meal expertly. This most recent visit was the strongest showing by the kitchen in all my trips to Maverick, which is particularly remarkable because this was late on a very busy night (on Mondays Maverick offers 40% off all bottles of wine).

Maverick seems to be pushing itself forward even after being open for almost two years and the area is catching on and appreciating what Youkilis and Pierce are doing. Despite only decent initial reviews from the Chronicle and other Powers That Be, Maverick has shown that a quality product and quality cultivation of a customer base can achieve success that transcends one douche bag's opinion. Recent accolades include best weekend brunch from SF Weekly Readers' Poll and Best New Restaurant from SF Magazine's Readers' Poll--besting both Range and Mamacita.

Get to Maverick ASAP. Great concept. Great food. Great people. Young talented entrepreneurs making it work in San Francisco.

No comments: