Related Articles: Restaurants, Bars, All

Bar Dining

Pull Up a Stool

Dining at the bar is my favorite way to experience a restaurant, and I'm amazed at how many people don't think of it, or shun the idea when they show up sans reservation. Often it's the only way to dine spontaneously at many of the city's best restaurants. And while I've had many truly elegant dinners atop a bar stool, there's often a casualness that makes you feel more a part of the action.

Tidbits of gossip slip from servers' mouths and for a moment the work façade drops. And anyone who's worked in a restaurant knows that any mistakenly "extra" dishes often go to the bar. What better way to entice the guests to stay for just one more?

Rose Pistola is one my favorite places to grab a space at the bar. White truffle focaccia and octopus salad are better enjoyed amidst the bar energy that the main dining room lacks, especially Thursday through Sunday when there's live music. It can be packed, but let the bartender know you want to eat and they'll try to let you know when someone's going to a table.

A16's bar staff is similarly minded and will do their best to keep an eye out for you. If you're really nice they may even put together a wine flight to perfectly match the burrata. Both places also have chef's counters that fall somewhere between the informal bar and a dining room table, with a show included. However, decisions become harder when you see most of the menu items prepared in front of you.

There are also a handful of places like Absinthe that, in addition to the regular menu, offer a bar menu with cheaper, snack oriented fare. There aren't many burgers in the city that surpass, especially when served with melted Gruyere and a glass of Bordeaux.

For those larger-than-life places you've always avoided because of the price tag, you can experience them at half price with a couple of appetizers at the bar. Slide on down to Jardinière just after the curtain rises across the theater district and you'll find a relatively empty bar where a few glasses of champagne, duck mousse, an endive, proscuitto and pear salad, and a cheese plate make a very fine meal.

So next Friday night when you really want oysters instead of a Mission burrito, but no reservations are to be had, walk right past the hostess, hover patiently behind that couple settling up, and then ask for the dinner menu.