San Francisco Wine Bar: Que Syrah

Every neighborhood needs a wine bar. The world would be a be a better place if we all had one. The oft unexplored little neighborhood of West Portal is certainly a better place for the existence of Que Syrah, a cozy postage-stamp-sized space on the main drag. This narrow, bright space offers a couple of small tables, a loveseat and a comfy chair, and a few seats at the bar for wine-loving denizens of the fog.

Unfortunately, Que Syrah doesn’t have much more going for it than its casual comfort and neighborhood convenience.

Let me start with the wine list. The bar suggests on its extensive web site that it “specializes in small production wines from around the world.” That’s a good start, and the by-the-glass list does indeed have wines from many places around the world, including Croatia. Whether they are all small production could be the subject for a lengthy discussion some other time, but the main problem is the number of wines actually available to taste. Last night, the list included 6 whites and 7 reds. plus a couple of dessert wines. Thirteen wines? It seems awfully strange that a wine bar would offer so few wines for tasting. Now I don’t know how often they change their wine list, but I didn’t get the impression that it was weekly.

Furthermore, Que Syrah violates one of my cardinal criteria for wine bars — they don’t offer wines by the “taste” or half glass. Even more galling, when I was there last night, they even refused to open one of the bottles that they serve by the glass to give me a sip to help determine whether I wanted to order a glass or not. I eventually talked someone into selling me half a glass at half-price on the menu, which I drank without much pleasure and left, never to return.

In addition to the short by-the-glass list, which is served in a single style of Riedel restaurant glass — no matter what kind of wine you order, the bar a weekly changing “flight” of wines (which DO come in half-glass sizes) that are organized around varietal or region, as well as a decent list of wines by the bottle in the $25 to $50 price range. This list is somewhat California heavy, and all current vintages. The bar also offers a couple of beers and non-alcoholic drinks for the teetotalers or designated drivers in the crowd.

Like some of the other smaller wine bars in the city, Que Syrah offers a small selection of nibbles to accompany your glass or bottle of wine. These include a reasonably good selection of cheeses (which are unfortunately accompanied by baguette rounds, supermarket crackers out of a box, and some dried fruit) and a few dessert items such as blue cheese with honey and a cheesecake sampler.

Service is friendly and casual as you might expect, and you’re likely to be served by the owner, who knows all the wines on the list well. The other folks who work there seem to have tasted the wines and possess enough knowledge to answer most questions about their style, despite their unwillingness to actually let me try the wine before buying.

Despite not measuring up to most of my criteria for what is required to call yourself a proper wine bar, it’s clear that Que Syrah is well patronized by neighborhood wine lovers. If you live in the neighborhood, you probably already know about it. If you don’t, this bar is not worth going out of your way to visit.

WINE LIST: one star

STEMWARE: one and a half stars

SERVICE: one and a half stars

FOOD: one half star

ATMOSPHERE: two stars

OVERALL: one star

Que Syrah
230 W Portal Avenue
San Francisco, CA

Open Tuesday through Sunday starting at 3:00 PM until 10:00 PM weekdays, 11:00 PM on Friday and Saturday, and 9:00 PM on Sunday.

Parking in West Portal can be difficult, but anyone willing to venture into the surrounding residential neighborhood can usually find a spot. The K,L, and M trains from downtown all stop at the nearby West Portal station.

Dress is casual.