Adding to an increasingly foodie-conscious neighborhood, the newest entrant, Maven, combines small plates with sophisticated cocktails and high-end beer and wine. The concept, designed by restaurateurs Jay Bordeleau and David Kurtz, has proven enormously popular in the Lower Haight in Maven’s first weeks — sometimes leaving nary an open seat. Another industry veteran, Kate Bolton, has developed an inspired and innovative cocktail menu to pair with the food. Maven is at 598 Haight St., San Francisco, (415) 829-7982 or www.maven-sf.com.
Can you describe the concept here? We’ve set up the menu in three columns, with small plates in the middle, and the left column for distilled drinks to pair with them. The third column suggests wine or beer to pair with the food. The food is California seasonal, and we are sourcing locally and striving for sustainability.
What’s it like when it’s busy? We have communal seating, so when the restaurant is full, there is incredible energy. The decor is sexy, modern, alive, and there’s lots of candlelight so it’s very warm.
What is the significance of the name? Actually a Yiddish word, Maven means a humble connoisseur or authority in one’s chosen field.
Is there a theme to your cocktails? I am creating cocktails to pair with the food, so I think a lot about the flavors in the food to see what we can bring out. Lowering the alcohol is important. For example, the standard Manhattan is too hot to pair with food. For our Global Warming cocktail, we use absinthe sorbet, which is a more gentle way to add absinthe. I go to the farmers market a lot, so if I have a style, it’s to use fresh produce.
How closely do you work with the chef? David [Kurtz] and I both worked at Michael Mina, so we had a rapport. It’s very collaborative and we’ll talk about what we might change in the food and in the drinks.
How do you know which spirits pair best with the food? An example might be Campari, which works really well with sweet corn. It pairs a bitter flavor with a sweet. The Global Warming, which we make with riesling, works great with the scallop crudo. The drink has slightly sweet and citrus notes, which work with the tart apple in the dish.
How long have you been a bartender? My first job was when I was 15 and I was a hostess. I grew up in Palos Verdes, but I moved around a lot. I worked in Chico, South Dakota and Costa Rica. I’ve been in the Bay Area since 2003 and have worked for Michael Mina [252 California St.] and 15 Romolo, and I wrote the cocktail list for Wexler’s [568 Sacramento St.].
What spirits do you feature here? We have a wide variety. Right now, we have a lot of rum drinks on the menu, but that’s just how it worked out.
What’s the clientele like? We are trying to be a neighborhood spot while keeping our standards very high.
Do you have regulars? Yes. There are people in San Francisco who follow bartenders. I’m very grateful people are willing to come up from the Financial District to the Lower Haight. It’s always very flattering.
Dry shake (without ice) all ingredients. Vigorously shake again with ice. Fine strain into a single-malt glass and garnish with drops of Angostura bitters.