An urban refuge at Herlen Place

by foodhoe on December 16, 2017

334 Grant Avenue (at Harlan Place), San Francisco | 415.391.0207 | website | Open 8am-9:30pm

It’s the holiday season so you have every reason to be in Union Square right now either for shopping or to immerse yourself in the holiday spirit by enjoying the giant Christmas tree glittering with thousands of lights, the huge 25-foot glowing menorah, or ice skating in the middle of the square.  There are fantastic window displays to enjoy like the Macy’s/SPCA holiday windows showcasing adoptable kitties and pups or there’s the Winter Walk popup in the middle of the square to check out.  Luckily there is Herlen Place, a stylish, casual wine bar from Laurent Manrique and the Café de la Presse team that opened last month, just a few blocks away from all the crowds and hubbub.  It is a lovely spot with 70-seats (including the bar and sidewalk patio) with comfortable sofas and lounge chairs strategically placed by the front windows, offering sanctuary from the crowds, excellent libations and delectable eats.

The dining room has dramatically high ceilings with intimate arrangements of marble topped bistro tables surrounded with sleek chairs.  The walls display work from French-born, Oakland-based photographer Bénédicte Lassalle.  

The quasi overhead dome, backlit bar and clusters of  suspended glass-globe light fixtures dramatically illuminate the marble bartop and reminds me of the beautiful rotunda at 5A5 steakhouse.  Very pretty, right?  The lighting makes everyone look good too.  The list of organic, biodynamic and sustainable wines span Old and New World is selected by Olivier Daridon, Café de la Presse’s general manager.

Tucked into the rear wall are two candlelit closets which looked like cozy spots for secret conversations… a little bit claustrophobic, but cute.

I was invited to dine as a guest of the house and went with my friend Chris who lives in the City and we loved hanging out in the plush lounge chairs in the front where we could sprawl out and relax.  Our server recommended some organic and biodynamic wines and brought us some samples before we committed to a glass.  Once we made our decisions, they dropped off portioned carafes for us to pour ourselves.

The menu from co-owner and chef Patrick Albert is concise, with small vegetable-centric plates meant to be shared, simple dishes like deviled eggs, whole roasted cauliflower, charcuterie and cheese plates and a few desserts. Coffee and brunchy items are available from 8am-2:30 pm.  I had to take a close up shot of the delicious Cheese and Puff Pastry Twist ($14) that arrived fresh from the oven filling our senses with the heavenly fragrance of baked bread and toasted cheese.  We relished the delicate crispy crust sprinkled with the nutty flavors of toasted sesame and poppy seeds, savory coriander and oregano, swooning over the tender buttery layers within.  Highly recommended.

We also enjoyed the Avocado Hummus with pistachio salsa verde served with triangles of baked pita ($14).  The hummus had a rich creamy texture and the toppings added gorgeous texture and flavor.  We savored the Cheese Board, a selection of local cheeses: Humboldt Fog, a goat milk cheese from Cypress Grove, which has the trademark thin layer of vegetable ash, something cheddary and our favorite was the Red Hawk, a triple-creme, aged cow’s milk cheese with a brine-washed rind from Cowgirl Creamery.  On the board was a bit of honeycomb and apricot jam, served with slices of crusty baguette.

We decided to split the chocolate mousse and our man said he had just the thing to pair with it, a lovely Port which was perfect.

It was fabulous, slightly sweet and boozy to sip in between bites of the rich and creamy bittersweet chocolate mousse.  A perfect ending to our delicious meal. I loved everything about it, especially that it’s so close to the frenetically packed sidewalks of Union Square, but once inside you feel far away from it all.

By the time we left, the cafe was packed with people and lively conversation.

Thank you Herlen Place for hosting us, I had such a lovely time, and definitely plan on going back to check out their brunch/lunch menu!

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