The opening chef at Old Bus Tavern, Max Snyder, left a couple months ago to return home to Austin, TX. The new chef. David Zbora, was just announced and will be starting soon.
My one time there was in November 2015. Late to report, but I figured this would serve as a benchmark for comparison. Two of us were there for kind of a late night snack after a big lunch that day. We sampled a few things across the menu, but ordered less than a full dinner apiece. Menu prices include sales tax and service. Overall impression was that the cooking is inspired, highly detailed, intellectually stimulating and mostly tasty though often oversalted. But the price point seemed too high for eating in a bar on thrift shop dinnerware.
We started with the Quail Eggs, poached in paprika-spiked bouillon and nested in a bed of fried leeks. It's a mighty impressive bar snack in presentation and munch-worthiness. The tiny eggs were just done, not overcooked, quite salty and a bit spicy. The leeks had an airy crunch to them. At that level of browning, I bit into them expecting some burnt character, but none at all, just a pleasant toasty note and savory-sweet onion flavor.
Sunchoke Tempura turned out to be more heavily battered and greasier than that name would imply. The quenelle of thick yogurt for dipping was garnished with fresh dill and glassy fried onion shards.
Spaetzle with Maitake and Mustard Seed actually had more onions on the plate than mushrooms or Germanic pasta. Red torpedos, cipollini, and scallions, each softened to sweetness. Nice searing on the spaetzle, the bite of the mustard balanced the sweet spectrum of onions on the plate. We had to ask our server what the two different kinds of small spheres in the dish might be. The white one was potato and the juicier, sweeter one with some green skin was Granny Smith apple. I commented to the server that we'd been served an interesting parade of allium preps through these three initial dishes, but no garlic yet. He said that this dish included garlic . . . then later returned from the kitchen to say that he was mistaken, no garlic in the spaetzle prep.
Cod with Potato, Sorrel and Turnip, priced as an entree was one of the smallest pieces of fish I've been served outside a sushi bar. At this point, I don't recall much else about it other than it was not oversalted.
When it came time to order dessert, I told our server that I was interested, but I thought that $14 per dessert was too high. He reminded us that service and tax were included, and we wound up ordering the Vanilla with Roasted Pineapple and Star Anise. Lovely ice cream accented with fresh herbs, and the pineapple was intensified by roasting and the star anise emulsion. Intrigued by the Chocolate dessert that featured barley ice cream, I asked if I could order just a scoop of the ice cream. The kitchen decided to send out the full shebang, that struck me as a re-envisioned chocolate turtle cluster: Gluten-free chocolate brownie, caramel mousse, toasted pecans, sticky caramel, and the barley ice cream. Though we liked both desserts very much, I re-iterated that they were still priced too high, and our server comped one of them.
Service was outstanding with all my questions answered in great detail. Later I figured out that one of the partners had taken care of our table.
Our late night snack with a beverage apiece and one dessert comped came to $97 for two. Now nearly a year later in a period where restaurant prices have been climbing, it still strikes me as high. Looking at the current dinner menu online, I note that the dessert prices are now $10.
Other experiences here?
Old Bus Tavern
3193 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Dinner: Tues-Sat at 5:00pm
Brunch: Saturday 11am-2:30pm
More photos at Old Bus Tavern