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San Francisco Wine Bar: Parea

parea_card.jpgOne of the enduring mysteries of San Francisco will always be why in the world it took the Mission so long to get its own proper wine bar. Valencia street has been gradually colonized over the years by some of San Francisco's new culinary hotspots, but for the longest time, we had no wine bar.

Telly and Nicole Topakas came to the rescue of Mission wine lovers about a year ago when they opened Parea, a comfy, brightly colored space tucked into a storefront on Valencia street. There are only a few wine bars in San Francisco that genuinely have the feeling of being a neighborhood joint, and this is definitely one of them, as Parea lacks anything that might resemble a "scene." Last time we were there we watched curly headed children play with their plastic dinosaurs while their parents sipped wine, while two tables away, two college students swapped homework tips over a platter of olives, feta, and pita bread.

Visitors will appreciate the low key atmosphere after fighting for a parking spot in the neighborhood, especially if they manage to snag one of the coveted window tables with their comfy seats and view of the street. As is sometimes common with such atmosphere's however, the service at Parea fits right into the groove. Friendly, but occasionally disorganized and frantic, the folks working on the floor and in the compact kitchen and bar area give the impression of never quite knowing what is going on. Generally the right food and wine does arrive at your table, but the servers can usually tell you more about the small plates of Greek food you are eating than about what you're drinking. I've even had one server simply tell me that she knew nothing about the wines on the list (she was new), which isn't exactly what I want to hear at a wine bar.

Thankfully, whoever chose the wine list seems to be reasonably competent. A full two pages of Greek wines begin the international list, which offers more than forty wines by the taste or by the glass, and more than twice that many wines by the bottle. Bottles can also be taken away at retail prices 50% off the wine list price. Apart from the very nice Greek wine selection, the by-the-glass list is weighted heavily towards the US and Spain, with one or two wines from other regions like Australia, Germany, Italy, France, and Argentina. The quality of the selection seems mysteriously varied, with most of the wines from delightfully good producers, mixed with an occasional pedestrian choice. Luckily, there is far more good than bad on the list.

All the wines seem to be stored in proper conditions. Indeed two large wine refrigerators are prominently visible in http://www.vinography.com/archives/images/parea_interior-thumb.jpg the back of the restaurant, housing most of the wines only available by the bottle. Full glasses of wine are served in reasonably good, hand polished, varietally appropriate stemware, while tasting pours are generally sent out in tasting size glasses (though you can get a bigger glass if you ask).

If you plan on tasting your way through some tongue twisting Greek wines like Assyrtico from Gerovassiliou in Malagousia, you'll probably want something to munch on. Parea offers a wall-sized blackboard menu of choices (paper menus are available as well) ranging from small "mezze" dishes of tzatziki, hummous, or feta with pita slices, to larger antipasti platters, to more substantial items like panini, salads, and a single daily entree (risotto, when we were there last). The kitchen makes a strong effort to use only organic and artisan ingredients in the food, which ends up being decent and satisfying, but nothing special -- good enough for snacking over a glass, but not good enough to make it an eating destination.

Parea is apparently the Greek word for a group of friends or guests, and it seems an appropriate name for a casual little spot for meeting friends. It's not a wine bar to trek across the city to visit, but for those of us near the Mission it nicely fills a gap that has been glaring for so long.

WINE LIST: two and a half stars

STEMWARE: three stars

SERVICE: one and a half stars

FOOD: two and a half stars

ATMOSPHERE: three stars

OVERALL: two and a half stars

Parea Wine Bar
795 Valencia St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
415 255 2102

Parea is open Wednesday Through Monday, 5:00 PM to Midnight. Reservations for large parties are available.

You could probably wear anything you wanted to this spot, and some people do. Street parking in the neighborhood is tough to find in the prime dinner hour, though there are a few garages within 2 to 3 blocks. 16th Street Bart station is nearby, and the #14 Mission bus will drop you a couple of blocks away.

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