[Photo: Noelle Chun]
Casey Thompson, the fan favorite from Top Chef's third season, will open two new spots this week—California-inspired restaurant Aveline and adjacent bar The European, both in the Warwick San Francisco hotel near Union Square. For The European, her menu is centered around cocktails from bar director Adam Wilson. A Beretta alum, Wilson gave Eater a sneak peek of the style of drinks he hopes to bring to the forefront: European drinks (surprise!) created during the early 20th century, Champagne drinks, and approachable cocktails that appeal to the lighter side of the palate.
While Thompson is not a partner in The European, its proximity to Aveline meant that coming up with an exclusive food menu for the 50-seat bar was a natural fit. On the flip side, the European will provide cocktails for Aveline. Its name comes from the cocktail recipes that inspired Wilson. "There's a trend of bars doing Prohibition-era cocktails," he says. "So my idea for this was, what were people drinking in Europe while people in America were experiencing Prohibition?"
To find the answer, Wilson delved into the cocktail history books and also went on a bar tour of Paris, gaining a better understanding of both classic drinks and new trends. Specifically, he's drawing on a cocktail tradition of lighter, more approachable drinks, largely aperitifs and digestifs. Spirits and liqueurs he found in old recipe books and in bars in Paris play a large role. He's also considering offering a classic absinthe service—a pour of absinthe, a sugar cube, and a bit of water to add as you like—and cocktail table service, which he witnessed in his travels.
"In San Francisco, so often a 1.5-oz pour will turn into 6 ounces [for a cocktail]," he says. "So I wanted to slow people down—Champagne cocktails that are complex, stylish, and lower-proof all at the same time." The impressively large 22-cocktail menu is divided into three sections: aperitifs, Champagne cocktails, and featured cocktails. Featured cocktails are broken down further into long drinks (lighter drinks served in a Collins glass), crushed drinks (served over crushed ice), up drinks (served with no ice in a cocktail glass), and "down" drinks (served on the rocks). Apart from the menu, the bar is also happy to serve heavier cocktails, according to the customer's whimsy.
"My whole motto is, 'I don't care what you drink, as long as you drink and enjoy yourself,'" said Wilson. "I'm not here to fill you with alcohol. I'm here to help you have a good time."
With his emphasis on Champagne cocktails, Wilson is also working with house sommelier Betsy Ross to build a strong Champagne program. There will be four Champagnes available by the glass and a robust offering of half-bottle sizes, all exclusive to The European. "I really want bubbles flowing everywhere," said Wilson. "They make you feel good, and they're also sexy."
But the biggest lesson from Wilson's travels in Europe? Surprisingly, it was the service. "They didn't have vests and ties, and they didn't necessarily call themselves 'mixologists.' It wasn't like they were trying to hit my flavor palate," he said. "Everyone we talked to was just sincere, and that was the trick." Wilson hopes to emulate them by training his staff to be both knowledgeable about the menu and accommodating to guests' desires. If this is what a little taste of Europe is like, we can't wait to see it come to life.
· Aveline and The European to Open June 6 [~ ESF ~]
· SF's 12 Most Anticipated Spring/Early Summer Restaurants [~ ESF ~]
· Top Chef Casey Thompson Opening Union Square Spot [~ ESF ~]