The onslaught of wine bar openings continues. It's relentless. It's almost like the era of frozen yogurt--a shop on every corner. But, being a big fan of the grape and its many permutations, it makes me wonderâ¦ Perhaps we really do need a wine bar (caveat: a good one) in every neighborhood so the few decent ones around town who know what the hell they are doing aren't always overrun with people who "aren't from your side of town." I am still thinking on this.
But for now, ~AMÉLIE~ is one of the slicker-looking additions to the scene--nary a wine barrel in site. Instead, the shotgun space glows like it's Bacchus's bordello in the Red Light District, if he was a hooker (with a Dutch designer for a pimp).
The project is a venture from Samie Didda, the owner of Chouchou, and the fresh-faced German Michel, who managed the floor staff of Chouchou for over two years. The lanky German (no, he is French, and it is not Germain) reportedly makes a number of the ladies swoon. For the record, he has a girlfriend. (Yes, it's important for the tablehopper to inform you of these kinds of details.) Oh, and the place was not named after the movie--that would be so pathetic and lame. It's actually named after one of the owner's daughters, so don't expect any accordion music or arrows pointing you to a booth with a cutie waiting for you with a bottle of bubbly and waving your photo booth picture.
You'll probably see some folks lounging and smoking out front in theater seats (the first hint of Frenchie presence), or perhaps you'll hear some Frenchie snippets of conversation from those perched at the slick lipstick-red bar that's the shape of a super-elongated banana board. The interior has some mod stylistic touches, like the jaunty and bright red wine bottles that are backlit along the wall and a large "chandelier" made of personal notes and quotes suspended overhead (I think I saw my friend's phone number up there promising a good time). While not the most cutting-edge design per se, it is fun, and notable for the neighborhood.
Perhaps my favorite element was the music--there was a brilliant and supa-slow remix of "Hey Ya" that made me feel like someone sprinkled some heroin on my flatbread pizza. Shaaaaaake it, shaaaaaaaaaak it, like a Poooolarooooooid pictuuuuuure. Obscure and impossible to get, I was informed. Also loved the boss nova remixes of well-known 20-year-old tracks (it's a fun way to play name that tune). Good musical vibe that wasn't like every other flimsy lite-house easy-lounge Wallpaper*-magazine approved soundtrack you hear around town.
There's a tight menu of small plates that definitely leans on the heavier side of things, like a nicely presented but obviously Daddy Warbucks rich foie gras torchon ($13), some escargot gratinée ($8), and warmed Camembert that comes wrapped like an "I'm gonna get you fat" present in phyllo dough served atop a poached apple ($8). Can I get a month-trial gym membership at Gorilla with that? Thanks.
There are a few salads and the requisite charcuterie and cheese plates ($14 and $10), but I'd like to see a few lighter options that aren't full-tilt executions of butter and cheese and liver, but aren't just mixed greens either. We started with one of the few lighter dishes, the mache and Dungeness crab salad ($9) with blood orange segments and a swatch of avocado puree--most guys would protest the "chick in low waist jeans on a diet" portion, but it was refreshing nonetheless. Mache was fresh but a little gritty--one extra washing would fix it.
The flatbread with oxtail ($8), roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, watercress, and black truffle oil with little shavings of Parmesan was surprisingly lighter than the heavyweight beast I expected to arrive. It just needed to be a touch crisper--otherwise, it was a man-pleasing portion and certainly wine-friendly. I'll ignore the salacious presence of the truffle oil, my own personal pet peeve.
The specialty of the house, and for good reason, is the raviole du Royans--you can't get these anywhere in town, and in fact, they have them sent from France each week. If you are going to order anything off the menu, this is it. They are totally diminutive ravioli, sublimely supple and delicate and creamy and strike that perfect "bad for you" note, served piping hot in a ceramic gratin dish. ($12, or $15 for the mushroom version.) We're talking a high-class French tickler. I don't care if you are lactose intolerant--pop that pill and grab a fork.
Dessert rotates each night, usually a tart of some kind. (Fits the red theme.) Ask what's in the house if your sweet tooth needs servicing.
Now, for the wine. There are a number of international wines available by the glass, and affordable ones to boot (most hover around $8-$9 by the glass). Those with wanton proclivities, take note: on weekdays you can do a flight of three for $10.
A few issues: first, both of the wines I ordered were served at the wrong temp. My Crémant de Bourgogne was served far too warm--I should have sent it back. Ditto on my Grenache, which did zero favors to the already challenged wine. It's not a cool room by any stretch. And when it's a feeding frenzy weekend with little ventilation, you do the math. One friend reportedly had to add ice to his red on a recent visit to render it drinkable.
The list also reads a little haphazardly and doesn't have a clear focus--with some attention and a nice brushing, it could actually be more engaging and easier to read, with some more interesting choices. I am going to try to ignore the Freixenet on the list.
Amelie is proud about the industry crowd they are capturing late night--but if they hope to retain them, the wine issues will need to be ironed out right quick. This town is tough--there are only so many 20-somethings content to sip $7 soju cocktails and flirt with the French bar staff who you can pack your bar with.
Weekends are supposed to be just crazy-I can't move-hey bartender-help-what is that touching my butt-can you pass me my glass of wine please. I also can't imagine the line to the single stall bathroom. Okay, not solely to take Amelie to task, but I am going to start a policy of noting places around town that don't offer toilet-seat covers for women in their bathrooms. I am so over this. The gauntlet is tossed down here, right now. Any resto or wine bar that doesn't have toilet-seat covers from here on out is getting called out; I am sorry if the stainless steel holder clashes with your design scheme.
Unless you are out for some big game hunting, I'd opt for early in the week to check it out so you can score a seat at the bar and just kick it. There is also a smattering of proper tables with banquettes and a larger booth in the back that are a little removed from the action.
So, the scene: it's a mixed bag, and good for catching up with some friends, a night of flirting with strangers, or a second or third date (the red theme and the opportunity to misconstrue the name are just too quaint-deluxe for a first date).
1754 Polk St.
Cross: Washington St.
San Francisco, CA 94109
Limited menu until 1am
Small plates $8-$15
Desserts $ AQ