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Filling a void in SOMA

Remember when fondue was all the rage and not only could you find it on most menus but restaurants also started popping up that were entirely devoted to the dipping craze? Well, wine bars seem to be the newest fashion, especially those that offer small plates to nosh on. While wine and gooey cheese dips are different ends of the longevity scale, this recent outcropping still begs the question: does every neighborhood need its own wine bar … or two?

District, tucked in that still awkward but definitely burgeoning area of SOMA near the ballpark, seems to have filled that very clear void in this particular neighborhood. More casual and bar-like than Bacar, more upscale than Momo’s, and with more imaginative offerings than either Nova or 21st Amendment, District is packed every night with the after work and local crowd alike.

Located in the former House of Stools, the space is large and open, but stylishly comfortable -- and you might even say -- cozy. A rotating showcase of local artists warms the exposed brick walls. The right half of the restaurant has a relaxed vibe with sage green chaise lounges, low tables and leather chairs. The left half caters more to the dinner crowd with high top wooden tables. But the most impressive feature is the u-shaped wooden bar smack dab in the middle of the room. Made of a Brazilian hardwood and crowned by a custom-made iron chandelier, it is a strong, elegant anchor to the space.

The concept is nothing new, small plates and good wine, but a solid concept with good execution is what makes a neighborhood place. The team behind District has done just that. Wine director Caterina Mirabelli has put together a list that is fun and approachable while still offering selections that will impress the wine geeks. She’s organized the 32-bottle list into flights of three tastes that allow guests to explore Chardonnay from around the world, Bordeaux blends, or oak versus stainless wines among others. But no need to stick with just tastes; full glasses of any wine are available. Our sampling of flights attested to the diversity of the list with some surprising favorites: Roussane from Washington made by McCrea Cellars, and the Triumph Gurrida from Sicily.

While Chef Jen Solomon isn’t inventing a new wheel with her small plates, the dishes are solid and wine friendly, with a few signature plates showing a playful side like the prosciutto and arugula hand rolls ($10). Soft goat cheese and balsamic fig jam are rolled in crisp leaves of arugula and paper-thin prosciutto to offer a satisfying balance of tangy, sweet, and salty. The lamb lollipops ($17) also hit the mark, done to a perfect medium-rare with a sweet-tart pomegranate glaze and a simple cucumber pine nut salsa that really makes the dish. Crisp, clean and nutty, we would have gladly eaten the salsa alone, but it was the perfect foil to the richness of the lamb. On the other hand, the calamari ($9) was bland and overpowered by a smoked tomato aioli. The ahi tartare ($15) had a similar problem, overwhelmed by the lemon-dijon dressing.

We finished with a cheese plate ($18) for dessert; Caterina’s title of both Wine and Cheese Director became clear as we were presented with generous portions of four cheeses neither of us had ever heard of -- and we often order cheese. Presented on a large oval with traditional accompaniments and a selection of artisan breads, it was a satisfying end.

While obvious trends raise red flags with many diners, District has taken a successful tradition, tailored it for the neighborhood and come up with a winner. Who can argue with that?


No reservations.