Located just outside the Grant street gate to Chinatown and next to the utterly hip Hotel Triton, just a stone's throw from Union Square, Rouge et Blanc is perfectly positioned to capture a thriving tourist trade. Rouge et Blanc is the recent reincarnation of Enoteca Viansa, which managed to keep the lights on until recently despite the somewhat scandalous buyout and shakeup of its parent winery in the fall of 2005.
This new incarnation, at the hands of Aqua Development Company who own the restaurant of the same name as well as the recently renovated Cafe De La Presse just three doors up the street, has kept most of the good things about the bar and gotten rid of most of the bad. The lovely high ceilings, Pottery-Barn-style modern decor, comfy couch and stools, and expert lighting are all still there, as is the large front window marble bar seating, which is great for watching the world go by at the gates of Chinatown.
What's missing? Thankfully, the "marketplace" of faux-Tuscan-meets-Sonoma-wine-country products and the Viansa-only wine list, on which one could find merely a few decent wines. Though the list has gotten shorter it now includes about fifteen wines from all over the world, some that are unfortunately still pedestrian to others that are reasonably interesting. Prices are on the high end of reasonable (between $8 and $15 for a full glass), and disappointingly, the bar does not offer half-pours, however the staff tell me that it is their policy to offer a free taste pour of every wine on the list to anyone who asks, which allows Rouge et Blanc to barely hang onto its status as a legitimate wine bar according to my criteria.
The by-the-glass list is complemented by a modest list of wines available by the bottle (20 to 30 each of red and white/sparkling, leaning heavily towards France) that will satisfy most ordinary interests at several price ranges, but which might disappoint serious wine connoisseurs looking for special or off-the-beaten-track wines. As they've only been open a week or so, I have no idea how often either list will be changing, but I hope they'll eventually get rid of the few glaringly mass-market wines and expand their by-the-glass list.
I also hope they spend some time training their floor staff, as both of the folks I spoke with were pretty much clueless about the wines on the list. One even told me he had been asked the same question about what varietals were in the white blend I was drinking several times over the past couple of months, but apparently that hadn't provided enough impetus for him to actually find out the answer, and all I was left with was a shrug.
In addition to employing the wine buying services from its restaurant group, Aqua Development has engaged executive chef Laurent Manrique to come up with a cafe-style lunch menu of sandwiches, salads, and "croque baguettes" of different varieties. After 4:00 PM the bar offers an excellent small plates menu for the bar comprised of different cold "planches" of salumis, meats, cheeses, and other charcuterie, plus other Mediterranean nibbles.
A great location and a much improved offering mean that Rogue et Blanc will likely be a well patronized and increasingly worthy stop both for tourists and the local Union Square business happy hour.
Rouge et Blanc
334 Grant Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Open 7 days a week from 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM, with lunch served from 11 to 4. Parking is nonexistent unless it's Sunday evening -- take a cab or BART (nearest station: Montgomery).
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