A fluorescent blue cartoon moose beckoned the hungry and thirsty to the beloved old Moose’s.
At Park Tavern, which just opened in the same location, the first thing that caught my eye was a big round seal set in mosaic floor tiles at the front door that reads “est. 2011.” Pretty confident, I thought, in a town where many restaurants come and go. In fact, several had revolved through this very spot since the late, legendary Ed Moose threw in his bar towel.
Park Tavern, conceived by two talented, self-assured women, chef Jennifer Puccio and manager Anna Weinberg, feels uncannily right for this choice space across the street from Washington Square Park.
A convergence of masculine bar room and feminine attention to detail — or maybe the reverse — plus a versatile, affordable, well-executed menu, have made Park Tavern an immediate, and roaring, success. Lots of small plates, organized on the menu by preparation method, lead to sharing.
Puccio’s vertically cut deviled eggs ($1.50 each) are devastatingly rich but fluffy, with meltingly soft yolks, a crisp wisp of pancetta offset by a pickled jalapeño relish awash in olive oil.
Everyone dips blanched and raw fall vegetables in a tarragony green goddess sauce ($7). A tangle of multicolored baby carrots ($9), cooked al dente and chilled, turn luscious when smeared in a carrot top-pine nut pesto scented with cilantro.
Deep-fried Brussels sprout leaves ($6) disappear in seconds. Even crunchy, crumb-coated, fried oysters ($12) become finger food alongside a pile of baby romaine leaves napped in “Caesar” dressing.
Do-it-yourself crostini of smoked sable fish spread ($10) topped with tongue-popping salmon roe can be finished with a few drops of lemon from wedges dusted in cayenne. So clever. Old-fashioned American dinner rolls served with butter — whipped with pork cracklings — bring the finger food full circle.
Entrees and sides do require knives and forks, though. I like the idea of sharing a succulent, whole, wood-oven roasted baby chicken ($22), brought to the table with legs in the air, cooked and served vertically in its own special cast iron pan. Tiny potatoes and savoy spinach are baked at the bottom of the pan, salty and basted in chicken juices.
Moist, rare slices of seared local albacore ($25) — an oil-rich white tuna currently the darling of the sustainable fish movement — come scattered with crispy sunchoke chips that taste just like artichokes, and artichokes that taste just like sunchokes.
A huge, thick, grilled pork chop ($24) gets a pistou-seasoned ragout of butter beans and kale.
Side dishes also benefit from the wood-fired oven. A crusty-top casserole of twice baked potatoes, creme fraiche and cheddar ($7) is so decadent, it hardly counts as a vegetable.
Chopped, tender, creamed greens ($8) are enhanced by a whisper of smoke, while mild, bite-sized red and green padron peppers ($7) lubricated with olive oil attain a tasty char.
North Beach, a San Francisco crossroads for locals and tourists, journalists, politicos, artists and the society crowd, needs a rollicking, well-run place with a big bar and unfussy, modern bar food. Park Tavern fills the niche. It is here to stay.
Location: 1652 Stockton St. (between Union and Filbert streets), San Francisco
Contact: (415) 989-7300, www.parktavernsf.com
Hours: 5:30 to 11 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays
Price range: Small plates $1.50 to $12; entrees $13 to $29
Recommended dishes: Brussels sprout chips, deviled eggs, fried oyster “Caesar,” twice-baked potato, wood-oven roasted chicken
Credit cards: All major
Patricia Unterman is the author of many editions of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Guide.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.