Tasty, tiny are operative words at Bubble Lounge 

click to enlarge The croque madame, topped with quail eggs and caviar, is a good-looking starter at Bubble Lounge, where Champagne flows freely. - BETH LABERGE/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Beth Laberge/Special to the S.F. Examiner
  • The croque madame, topped with quail eggs and caviar, is a good-looking starter at Bubble Lounge, where Champagne flows freely.

I’ve been vaguely aware for a couple of years of the Bubble Lounge, that bicoastal temple of Champagne worship.

Inspecting its comic-font website, with a cascade of bubbles framing the city skyline, it always seemed like a place “not for me.”

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy Champagne, in theory. It’s a toast to victory, or new babies, or sexy times. It’s a way for high rollers to flaunt their wealth, an ostentatious bit of nightclub theater. It’s stiletto heels and shellfish, boats and bachelorettes, cigars and stretch limos.

Champagne is a paean to money, giddy and tacky all at once.

So I never would have visited Bubble Lounge until I read about a recent menu overhaul. Bob Petzold, executive chef at Bocadillos and chef de cuisine at Piperade, was brought in to “sexify” the food offerings.

Well pop my cork, it’s time for dinner.

On my first visit, I was surprised by the classiness. I anticipated leopard print and Ke$ha, instead finding blazers and Perry Como’s Christmas tunes.

Everyone looked clean and content, blessed with good teeth, flawless complexions and (I assume) pleasant fragrances. By comparison, my friends looked like roadies for Steely Dan. Yet none of the staff made us feel declassé, to their credit.

Many patrons mingled on their feet, but that’s not how I eat. Your sit-down choices are either the bar or a splay of sultan’s sofas and low tables.

For the sexy, boring beast, you can order chocolate-dipped strawberries or oysters. But do you really want to be a walking cliché?

The new menu offers what a server dubbed “French tapas,” perhaps a melding of Petzold’s work at Bocadillos and Piperade.  Be warned: Everything is tiny, not just the small plates. Bring a dainty appetite, or a thick wallet.

Curried deviled eggs, topped with a dab of salmon roe, surprised with their boldness. Similarly, chubby little burgers came alive with chili-spiced chuck, house-made pickles and smears of coarse mustard.

An Alsatian tart was flaky and light, made with bacon, Gruyere and a balsamic reduction. Phyllo-crusted, prosciutto-wrapped hearts of palm were tasty trifles.

In an order of mini Yukon Gold potatoes, the insides were whipped and truffled, then baked in their crisp outer skins. Think potato skins for the nouveau riche.

The smoked duck and brie panini was punctuated with fig jam, a familiar pairing of smoky, sweet and pungent.

More intriguing was the croque madame, a smoked salmon and cream cheese panini topped with quail eggs and caviar. The latter two ingredients provided more flash than flavor, producing a visually arresting hors d’oeuvre that tasted like a New York breakfast.

Finish your meal with a light dessert, like the airy chocolate pain perdu served with citrus caramel sauce and pink peppercorn Chantilly.

There was an air of the inconsequential to much of the food, pleasant diversions that left me hungry in a couple of hours. Trying to fill up was like trying to get drunk on nice Champagne: costly and a bit silly.

If every night on the town is a meal, I’d call Bubble Lounge the perfect snack. I suggest an early stopover on your way to more substantial plans.

I suppose you could head there after dinner, though the scene gets clubbier as the evening wears on. You may see some leopard-print stilettos after all.

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Jesse Hirsch

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