In January, Valencia Street mortuary turned music venue The Chapel laid its sister bar and restaurant, The Vestry, to rest. Later this month, owner Jack Knowles (also of À Côté in Rockridge) will resurrect the 85-seat restaurant space, bar, and outdoor patio as Curio, bringing in new artistic direction from Michael Brennan, Curio’s designer and artist-in-residence, and a new menu from chef Mario Tolentino.
Brennan’s paintings and art installations will be familiar to some San Francisco diners, hanging everywhere from Farallon and Jardiniere, where his work was commissioned by Pat Kuleto, to Tonic and Mission Beach Cafe. At Curio, Brennan is taking his cues from the building’s history, past and present, hanging Dali-inspired clocks that tick backwards, painting skeletons on the ceiling, and using instruments like a tangle of trumpets filled with light bulbs as chandeliers.
Tolentino, a Chopped season 3 winner who was most recently culinary director at The Market on Market, is also a known quantity in the Bay Area. He’s a Mission District native who’s spent 20 years building his restaurant resume, opening businesses under Laurent Manrique and revamping well-known establishments like the Fifth Floor, Fog City Diner, and Betelnut, where he closed out that restaurant’s run as its executive chef.
At Curio, Tolentino teases a menu of regional American cuisine. “This country has such a great variety of things to pull from so I’m focusing in on the American lens,” he says. The menu will also feature a raw bar with fun, flashy shellfish towers and a “holy grail” burger Tolentino hopes will be a signature item, with mushrooms, tomato jam, Raclette cheese, and an option to substitute an Impossible burger patty. Brunch — which was the Vestry’s most popular meal — is also in the works.
Stay tuned for menus and more as Curio’s fateful hour approaches.