Inside Michael and Lindsay Tusk’s New Wine Bar VerjusAuthor:Annette Hanami
Entrenched in French culture are the all-day wine bars or bars à vin, casual eateries where one can have satisfying bites and glasses of wine in a convivial atmosphere. Even more popular are caves à manger that combine the bar à vin with a wine shop or cave and more complete fare. In Verjus, Michael and Lindsay Tusk, owners of Quince and Cotogna, bring the same lively, informal and accessible experience to San Francisco in new spaces that exude authenticity in their quality and Lindsay Tusk’s thoughtful design.
In France, a proper cave à manger is located in a centuries-old building, layered with well-loved things accumulated over time. At Verjus, the Tusks were able to find the perfect spot in historic Jackson Square, just around the corner from their landmark restaurant Quince. The spirit of the ca. 1850s Eclipse Champagne Building, home to former speakeasies and gambling dens, survives in the original façade and exposed interior brick and timber in two adjoining spaces, one the bar à vin, the other, the cave.
The high-gloss ceiling was inspired by many meals at Chez Dauphin in Paris, the brilliance finish extending the perceived height of the rooms and the matte, encaustic cement floors grounding it. In the bar à vin dining room, Lindsay sought a focal point, such as the roaring wood-fired oven at Cotogna. Inspired by the typical chalkboard menus in French bistros, Lindsay decided to put the menu board up in lights, encouraging spontaneity in dining as well as illuminating that end of the room.
Simplicity is enduring in the mid-century, solid elm chairs and tables by Pierre Chapo, scored by Lindsay during frequent visits to Paul Bert antique fairs in Paris, their surfaces and stitched leather seats showing a beautiful patina with age. Braided straw chairs and stools by Charlotte Perriand, who influenced Chapo, blend in seamlesslessy. Over the windows, large vertical louvers, another antique fair find, add a sculptural element and set the pattern for the bar counter faces.
The Tusks wanted hearty, hot fare here, prepared à la minute by Chef de Cuisine David Meyer. Think classic boudins noir and blanc, duck confit, suckling pig or escargot to be washed down by terroir-driven, organic wine finds by Wine Director and managing partner Matt Cirne, available by the glass and by well-priced bottles. There is lighter fare too, such as scallops, oysters, mussels and delicious veg. The no-reservations Verjus has a daily changing menu that is part of the Tusk’s vision “to create a high-fidelity atmosphere, one full of gusto, spontaneity and excitement.” The Tusks named the new destination Verjus, because it is fruit-based like their other two restaurants, invoking the pristine sourcing of ingredients from long-term partners like Bolinas’ Fresh Run Farm.
Tusk authentically layers the new with the old, with modern elm millwork in the cave mirroring a fine, ca. 1890s mahogany cabinet across the room filled with a personal collection of culinary ware and antiques. Mid-century lighting by Luigi Caccia Dominioni and Gino Sarfatti add to the classic café look.
The cave adds a spin to the cave à manger with Spanish-style tapas/pinxtos offerings of tinned shellfish and fish, a well-known, or not-so-well-known fact that these are the most tasty ways to preserve them. The conserva can be enjoyed served with bread, lemon, olive oil, salsa verde and pimento peppers, at the bar, at counter-height tables reminiscent of tapas bars, but there are no rules here regarding where one settles down in the two spaces.
Lindsay said of Verjus “It will be an informal, inexpensive, drop in, standing dining counter experience-meets-retail wine shop. This freewheeling concept is still foreign in the United States, and it is our intent to capture this style of dining, with its of-the-moment appeal.” But don’t think of Verjus as ‘fast casual’ or a trend, it’s a lifestyle, and an enduring one.
Verjus is open Tues-Fri 11:30 am til close, Mondays and Saturday from 5:00 pm til close. 528-550 Washington Street, SF.