Thursday, March 14, 2013
First Look at Hard Water in San Francisco
I wish I could say that it was an act of sheer hipness or being in the know that brought us to an awesome look at Charles Phan's latest project, Hard Water, tonight. It was actually an act of confusion. "Those rumor mill websites say that Hard Water is opening later this week," I told Josh. But, naturally suspicious of all hearsay, we thought that maybe it actually opened earlier this week.
It was, of course, still closed. Huh. Those "rumor mill websites" turned out to be right.
Thus was our surprise when we arrived at Hard Water to see not a customer in sight and busy staff sweeping the floors and readying the kitchens for the real opening—the soft opening, which is planned for tomorrow, will ramp up to full service around next week or so.
We waved timidly from the door to say hello, and incredibly, they invited us peons inside to take a look (perhaps out of some combination of mercy, pity, and kindess).
I was simultaneously excited and overwhelmed. We have eagerly looked forward to Hard Water over the last several months. The restaurant bar is the latest expansion of Charles Phan's Slanted Door Group which has—in addition to the original and insanely popular Slanted Door in the Ferry Building—in recent years started Heaven's Dog (currently tragically under renovation), a catering business, Wo Hing General Store in the Mission, and also created the program at the new SF Jazz (opened just several days ago). The restaurants are known for a variety of fine exotic foods, mostly Asian thus far, and a highly recognized, top-notch bar program, led under the steady hand of beverage director Erik Adkins. Last year, Mr. Adkins was honored at Tales of the Cocktail, the most important cocktail event in the country, for the best restaurant bar. I love to mention that the Slanted Door group, especially its bar staff, has also been such wonderful people—one of the great examples of service driven by friendly folk in the city.
This new spot, Hard Water, will focus on a New Orleans theme. The food will incorporate those familiar rich flavors, such as fried chicken, boiled peanuts, sausage, collared greens, grits, and gumbo. The drink menu, meanwhile, will pull largely on brown spirits and classic New Orleans drinks. Mr. Adkins appears to be taking a special interest in the menu for this spot, which we have been excited about since last year.
I had heard much about the beautiful space—the 18-seat u-shaped bar, the vaulted ceilings, and the Bay-Bridge-facing windows. I felt amazed at the ability to see the place quiet before the crowds fill the room with their voices. And we were also very happy to see Mr. Adkins there who was busily getting the space ready (naturally I managed to gracefully navigate the moment with my trademark hug-no wait handshake-oh crap just hug-oh well they are just doing the handshake and it's probably more appropriate anyway-shake shake shake shake shake).
We felt very happy to see the space and so we wanted to share with you a few pictures of what it looks like.
The tall back bar rises to the very top of the vaulted ceilings. The space is so large that though the shelves are currently not crowded, they actually represent a very wide range of whiskies. The idea is that the collection will continue to grow with more special and precious products over time.
The wells, which are back to back, are quite narrow. While you might think it's cramped, Josh and I actually really appreciated the intimacy created by the design. You can comfortably look across at the patrons across the way, and the bartender seems a little less estranged.
The main light in the dining room provides an arresting centerpiece. It's essentially a large buoy cut in half.
A few of the bar seats are against the tall windows, looking out at the Bay. It allows for a very clear view of the Bay Bridge, all lit up from The Bay Lights sculpture. You can bet this is prime real estate for couples on a special night.
Mr. Adkins appeared to be smoking something very exciting, using a variety of botanicals. It looked mysterious and exciting!
We were quite taken by the clean design, thoughtful lighting, and intimacy of the space. And that's not even to speak of the drinks to come! Hope you all get to try it over the next few weeks and months. Many thanks to the staff for their kindness tonight.
Feel free to check out the full slide show:
San Francisco, CA 94111