Squeaking in just under the wire before the holiday slowdown in openings, Verbena, the new Russian Hill project from the team behind Berkeley's acclaimed Gather, made its debut on Polk Street last night. Housed in the former Marbella and Rex Cafe space, the 72-seat space comes from the team of chef Sean Baker and owners Ari Derfel and Eric Fenster, and shares Gather's emphasis on combining plates for a menu that appeals to vegetarians, vegans, and carnivores alike, using the best local and seasonal produce.
The menu is divided into four categories: small plates like trotter terrine with red and green pepper, medium vegetarian plates like turnips and sunchokes with red hummus, black trumpet mushrooms, and farro, medium meat plates like duck meatballs with black mole and collard greens, and larger plates like koji quail or swordfish in a green cioppino. The restaurant's namesake herb appears in the Firebrand bread and butter plate, and in a dish of carrots with verbena, Aleppo pepper, nettles, and cashew. Here's the dinner menu.
On the beverage side, Michael Ireland (The Restaurant at Meadowood, Wingtip) has returned to consult on the wine menu, which he also does for Gather. His emphasis is on local sustainable producers like Broc, Matthiasson, and Lioco, as well as international grower-producers from around the globe, including France, Spain, Italy, and Portugal. There's also a creative cocktail list ($11-12) with concoctions like the Craycroft & Chanca (rye, Chartreuse, Fernet-Branca, cacao, horchata) and the Regards to the East (bourbon, apple brandy, cardamom, IPA), as well as four local draft beers from Linden Street, Green Flash, Almanac, and Fog Town. Here's the bar menu.
The mega-high-ceilinged space, designed by Abueg Morris Architects (Comal, Hi-Lo BBQ, Nopalito), features three distinct dining areas: the main dining room, which seats 62 and includes a central black-walnut bar; an upstairs mezzanine, which seats another 12 patrons; and outdoor sidewalk seating (weather permitting), which can accommodate 16 diners. There's an illuminated wood wall displaying jars of house-pickled goodies, a set of art panels made with soil from local farms, and a custom chandelier and plateware from Berkeley potter Jered's. Sabrina Matlin (La Mar) is the general manager. Hours are Sunday-Wednesday, 5:30-10:30pm, and Thursday-Saturday, 5:30-11:30pm. Weekend brunch should come online sometime in the spring.
· Verbena Targeting Mid-December Opening [~ ESF ~]
· Sean Baker Talks About The New Gather Spinoff On Polk [~ ESF ~]
· SF's 10 Most Anticipated Fall Restaurants [~ ESF ~]
· Verbena [Official website]