ABV brilliantly pairs ethereal bar bites and spirits 

click to enlarge The bright, delicious grilled little gems at ABV taste especially delicious with the Gin & Celery cocktail. - GABRIELLE LURIE / SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • GABRIELLE LURIE / SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • The bright, delicious grilled little gems at ABV taste especially delicious with the Gin & Celery cocktail.
I fell in love with ABV the second I took a bite of kimchee fritter and chased it with a sip of Quicksand..

The fritter, a crunchy cabbage pancake doused with spicy sauce and crowned with fluttering bonito flakes, met with the formidable smoke of mezcal and the fruity orange notes of curacao, and the flavors began to hum. As I continued to chew and sip, they sang in increasing harmony, and I realized that the dishes here were going to be more than mere bar bites.

Much has already been said about the beverage program at ABV, and deservedly so. The cocktail list is user-friendly and focused, the drinks clean and refined, with the supporting ingredients always highlighting, never muddying, the essence of the base spirit.

What took me by surprise was chef Kevin Cimino’s menu, an inspired collection of finger foods (no utensils here) with a southern bent and a touch of Asian flair. These small plates pop with big flavors and toe the line between fun, gut-filling bar food and sophisticated, thoughtfully crafted cuisine..

The real marvel is how stunningly well the food pairs with ABV’s cocktails.

Take the grilled little gems, handheld bouquets of lettuce coated in pools of Green Goddess dressing and topped with toothpicks of crunchy radish and a sprinkle of pine nuts. Delicious on their own, sure, but try them with a sip of Gin & Celery, ABV’s dressed-up gin and tonic, and everything makes sense. The rich, round dressing is matched by malty Old Tom gin, quinine amplifies the subtle bitter char on the lettuce, and vegetal and herbal notes echo throughout. The end result is a pairing so complementary it’ll make you feel bad for all of the awkward Tinder dates surrounding you.

Cimino’s southern take on dolmas is a superb dish, a funky filling of dirty rice swaddled in tender leaves of braised collard greens. Each creamy bite melts into a salty, earthy mouthful, and the slick of black sesame tahini adds a bold, nutty note that keeps the richness in check. The ODB, a stirred rhum agricole cocktail, was an oddly delightful counterpart — a touch tropical, a touch bitter, with that signature agricole funk that matched the dish’s earthy profile.

I had a deeply profound moment with the chicken pot pie empanadas, a dish brimming with such homey flavors that it sent me into a tailspin of nostalgia. A strong, savory hit of celery emerges from within an ethereally flaky pastry crust, giving way to a steaming hot classic pot pie filling. There’s no edginess here — just a pure homage to an old favorite. I washed it down with sips of the clean, classic house Gibson, crisp and strong with just a hint of pungency from the pickled onion petal garnish.

ABV has service down to a science, with constantly roving servers eliminating the need for guests to shove their way through crowds at the bar to order. Even during peak evening hours, drinks and food appeared astoundingly quickly, and every goofy cocktail-geek question I had was answered with aplomb.

While I reveled for hours in a multi-course gustatory experience, people around me came and went — a cocktail here, a burger and a beer there. It may just be a bar to some, but to me, it’s a culinary destination.

ABV

Location: 3174 16th St., S.F.

Contact: (415) 400-4748, www.abvsf.com

Hours: 2 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily (bar open until 2 a.m.)

Recommended dishes: Kimchee fritter ($8), collard green dolmas ($7), grilled little gems ($6), chicken pot pie empanadas ($8), mapo sloppy joe ($8), plantain churros ($7)

Credit cards: All major

Reservations: For parties of 12 or more only

About The Author

Wendy Hector

Wendy Hector

Bio:
Restaurant reviewer for the SF Examiner.
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