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Restaurant Review: First Crush, San Francisco

It’s often fun to walk into a restaurant and feel like you’ve just discovered a place that only the hip crowd knows about. First Crush, though it’s sandwiched in the triangle between the Tenderloin, the nasty parts of Market Street and Union Square, definitely makes up in atmosphere what it lacks in location. It feels intimate and small, the low lights and lots of glass giving it the feel of a small club. You know you’re eating on the cutting edge when your bottled water shows up in what looks like a glorified shampoo bottle. But on to more important things….

The wine list is hefty, and a mix between old standards like the Ridge Zinfandels, and fresher, newer wines that are quickly becoming cult favorites like the Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay or even the 2001 Ramey Diamond Mountain Cabernet which I loved so much at this year’s family winemaker tasting and is incredibly tough to find even just 9 weeks after that event.

As a nice touch and an indication of their seriousness about wine, they put the production size (# of cases) AND the winemaker for each of their wines. They’ve got a hefty selection of smaller varietals (12 Sangioveses) and nearly 35 wines by the half bottle.

They also have a lovely set of wines by the glass arranged in “flights” with fun names like “Ray of White,” “Chards of Class,” or “The Godfather.” I got a trio of wines labelled “The Monty Python” which included the following:

2000 Chappellet Sangiovese
An old favorite of mine, this wine never misses a beat. Soft and supple with a great balance between fruit and a touch of tannins. I can drink this wine all night long and not get tired of it. It’s also a great value, generally priced around $24 a bottle. 7.5

1999 Shypole Charbono
Charbono is a varietal I’ve never tried, and was pleased at its combination of smoky tobacco and fig flavors with a touch of spicyness like you find in some Zinfandels. Barron’s Food Lover’s companion gave the varietal this glowing review:

“Charbono. An uncommon red-wine grape grown in California’s Napa valley and Mendocino county. Charbono wines are very dark in color, lackluster in flavor, and tend to be both tannic and acidic. Charbono is thought to have links to Corbeau (or Charbonneau), a rare French variety. ”

Well. It was certainly better than that — proving that good winemakers can spin gold, or at least bronze, from flax. I couldn’t take a lot of it but definitely something I’d try again. 5.5

2002 Vinum Cellars Petite Syrah
This wine was a classic example of why most Petite Syrahs do nothing for me. So much extracted fruit to the point that the nose smelled just like the grape soda I used to get for free out of easily shaken vending machines in middle school. Very little balance to the wine made me think the best thing I could do with it was eat some really ripe cheese to cut the sugar. 2.0

It’s Dine About Town season in San Francisco, so for $30 each, Ruth and I got a three course meal apiece, and as usual, we rotated plates halfway through each dish:

  • Crab cake over sauteed leeks with mustard cream sauce
  • Spicy pan seared prawns with spicy remoulade sauce over smoked corn relish
  • Mesquite grilled Rib Eye with shoestring frites and a mixed salad
  • Goat cheese infused chicken breast with spinach and mashed potatoes in au jus
  • Lavender creme brulee with a homemade sugar cookie (x2)

    The flavors were good, and the presentation was decent. Not highly refined food, but definitely high quality ingredients (very tender steak) and made with care. I’d definitely go back for the wine, and look forward to sampling the rest of their kitchen. Ruth wants me to mention that the cheese plate looked stellar, (we noticed a lot of people getting it).

    First Crush Restaurant
    101 Cyril Magnin St.
    San Francisco, CA 94102
    (415) 982-7874

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