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Maverick American Eatery & Wine Bar

Reaching a New Frontier

The buzz from this shoebox-sized boite is electric. Step in and the whirlwind experience begins. Tables immediately greet you at the door -- including a large communal one that features kitchen views. Since opening in July, general manager and wine director Mike Pierce and executive chef Scott Youkilis from Sociale haven't had time to look back, and neither will you.

Once inside, the vibe is warm and welcoming. But if you choose to visit during the weekend, don't plan on lingering after your meal -- they have tables to turn over. Judging by my visit, this Mission District restaurant is the place to go if you're a foodie staying on the pulse of the dining scene or a local checking out what's new in your neighborhood.

The interior design makes the best out of a diminutive space. There are two main rooms; and at the front of the 40-seat restaurant are tall, wood-framed windows which open for circulation and noise control. Rich, pumpkin-hued walls with back-lit sconces compliment oak floors to make the atmosphere feel woodsy and sleek at the same time. Copper salt and pepper shakers add to that rustic yet modern ambience.

True to its "eatery and wine" tag, Maverick gives equal billing to both food and wine. Wines by the glass are domestic, but if you're thinking Napa and Sonoma, think again. Regions in New Mexico, New York, Virginia, and Michigan also make the list. With roughly 80% American wines and 20% European, half-glasses run from $3 to $6, full- glasses from $6 to $12, bottles run from $23 to $97, and half-bottles from $22 to $42. Our favorite ended up being a bottle of the Terre Rouge ($34), a 2000 Mourvedre from Amador County here in California.

As for the food part, the menu represents comforting regional American cuisine with an overlying California twist. The starters are the best reflection of this culinary vision, but you'll find it throughout the menu. Showcasing the season's bounty, the list of dishes reads like a summer garden -- from the heirloom tomato salad and the organic beet salad all the way to the organic nectarine cobbler.

Fast becoming the restaurant's signature dish, the Baltimore crab fluffs ($10), came highly recommended. At first bite we understood why they were called "fluffs" and not "cakes." As a born-and-bred Marylander, I've nominated myself a blue crab expert, and these fluffs, made of Maryland blue crab lump meat, were light (less fried) and meatier than most. Sticking with the seafood theme, I opted for the Low Country shrimp and grits ($10), which won the best-presentation award of the night -- the long, rectangular dish framed perfectly cooked shrimp that were placed atop a bed of grits.

Popular mains include the steak frite ($22), a grilled dry-aged New York strip, the "Dad's Half-Chicken" ($17), and the Colorado lamb prepared two ways ($20). But if you like surf more than turf. don't miss the sea bass ($17) with fresh tomatoes and gnocchi in a white-wine and butter sauce. The cherry tomatoes were sliced in half and were so fresh that they burst in my mouth with each bite.

To finish off our meal, we ordered the cheese plate ($12), which was accompanied by gigantic raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries. We also shoveled our spoons into the organic nectarine crisp ($7), a blend of tart and sweet that paired excellently with a glass of the Ice Wine ($10).

This fast-paced restaurant takes classic American cuisine up a few notches. Showcasing flavors from coast to coast, a meal at Maverick virtually guarantees that while you might be reminded of dishes from your hometown, you won't have ever tasted them quite like this.