New it might be, but it feels familiar. Perhaps because it’s an homage to a stylish past. The gastropub’s architects were going for a drugged-out French chateau: Villa Nellcote, where the Rolling Stones recorded “Exile on Main Street” circa 1970s, with plenty of makeout couches, faux fur throws, animal prints, little cafe chairs at small tables, big overstuffed chairs at large tables and a fireplace in the back.
It reminded me of old North Beach cafes and dens like Oakland’s Ruby Room — and indeed, my East Bay friends found themselves at home here. The Turtles and Pink Floyd pumped through the speakers on one night, low-key electronica on another.
The menu is pitched perfectly to the vibe of the place: party-friendly, recognizable, filled with panache and personality. Straightforward but subtly flavored, the food had a sophistication that kept it just shy of blandness or timidity.
The menu stretches so far as to dip into some comforting kitsch — pigs in blankets, deviled eggs and grasshopper cocktails are made with solid ingredients, know-how and tongue well in cheek. Plates are appetizer-sized; order three and you’ve got dinner.
Meaty dishes are particularly good. The sliders, which come in a platter of three, are wonderful. In a city where every good burger has its own character, this one stood up just fine. The beef, ground fresh daily, has a tartness that gives the tomato jam a reason to be there.
The Alsace meatballs were a triple threat of pork, beef and bacon that made me remember the Swedish ones of my youth without a hint of irony. They go beautifully with the truffle fries — shoestring cut, dressed lightly but discernibly with truffle salt and garlic.
Perhaps the best, and most unusual, thing on the menu was the Kung Fu Tacos. The barbecued duck was cooked to tender submission with a touch of sweetness and spice, served in a small iron pot beside delicate, lacy crepes. But I found the name misleading; they were more like mu shu pancakes than tacos, and I wondered if the duck got not only a braising but an unnecessarily fanciful, dressed-up stage name.
The place recommends reservations, but I didn’t have trouble walking in with parties of two at dinner hour. On one Friday, I had a relatively sedate meal, sipping on a gin-based Love in Vain cocktail — refreshing, well-made and mellowed by a touch of sour-sweet pineapple.
On another Friday, I found the place filled with the employees of a nearby Internet company. On other nights, later in the evening, the bartenders have been known to do fire tricks — grain alcohol spewing from their mouths in a torrent of flame.
I was never quite sure what kind of night I was in for, but I think that’s part of the unpredictable “anything goes” vibe of the place — flamboyant, friendly and very San Francisco.
Location: 316 11th St. (near Folsom Street), S.F.
Contact: (415) 215-9440, www.bergeracsf.com
Hours: 5 p.m. to midnight Tuesdays–Thursdays, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays-Saturdays
Price range: $6 to $19
Credit cards: All major
Recommended dishes: Berger sliders ($12), Alsace meatballs ($12), Kung Fu Tacos ($14)