Don’t overanalyze it. It’s called Heart, not head.
Twenty-five-year-old Jeff Segal opened Heart wine bar in San Francisco’s Mission District in January as a way to reach non-wine drinkers. Hence the Mason jars and idiosyncratic wine descriptions. Despite its wackiness, or perhaps because of it, it’s been an instant hit. Nearly every night the windows are fogged up, and inside, thirtysomethings noisily pack the communal tables, perched on high stools, in what was formerly a mechanic's garage. It would be so easy to write Heart off as a flavor-of-the-month scenester thing, except the food and wine are seriously good.
Segal smartly tapped a popular catering outfit-cum-lunch counter, Kitchenette, to do the food, so he had a built-in fan base and didn’t have to build out a kitchen. (The Kitchenette chefs make the food in a commercial kitchen off-site, then finish it to order behind the bar using induction burners, a meat slicer, a panini press, and a small convection oven—and man, are they working up a sweat back there.)
We ordered everything on the menu, and nothing disappointed. The Fibrillation was a $5 cardboard container of addictive warm, salty peanuts, sliced jalapeños, chopped fried sardines, green onions, and a tangy squeeze of lime. “A sly take on bar mix,” says Segal. Scallop crudo with chunky bits of lemon zest were elegant, but the updated comfort food like braised short ribs with fried kale and roasted beets, and pig tacos (hey, it’s comfort food in California), were the most satisfying. A Rancho Gordo heirloom bean stew with red peppers and eggplant was incredible, topped with a dollop of chunky pesto.
The Russian roulette-esque experience of ordering off the wine list produced good results as well. A glass of 2005 Fiore Dedalo Ciliegiolo, the red described as “Softer than a Snuggie,” was lush and round in the mouth, but with a not-for-everyone earthy bandage flavor we both dug. The 2009 Andrea Calek Blanc Blonde Petillant, “Soul wine made by a mohawked French badass in a trailer,” had a fizzy head, greenish-gold color, and tasted like a cross between beer, wine, and cider. So that’s what soul wine tastes like.
Go with a clear schedule and an open mind. For those who are not amused by $12-a-glass wine served in Mason jars, stemware is graciously provided upon request.