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Pres a Vi

Hit-and-Miss Global Small Plates in the Presidio

This restaurant is now CLOSED.

The Presidio, once a leafy bunker, appears to be morphing into San Francisco's new dining destination. Joining the nearby Presidio Social Club and La Terrasse, Walnut Creek's Va de Vi restaurant family opened Pres a Vi in December 2006 in Lucasfilm's Letterman Digital Arts complex, a former army hospital. Serving a hit-and-miss mix of Spanish, Filipino, French, Italian and Latin American small plates -- and a grand selection of wines -- Pres a Vi struggles to meet the high expectations inherent to its location.

The Presidio itself is a beautiful spot for this ambitious, 150-seat restaurant. There’s an abundance of space, and plenty of parking, though we were perturbed to find Pres a Vi’s building unmarked and the presence of a valet a bit deceiving. Not intentionally deceiving, that is -- but the guy in the white jacket turned out to be a figurehead in a little booth, directing diners toward the $5 underground self-parking lot.

This first impression was clearly a little confusing and somewhat emblematic of our entire visit to Pres a Vi. For instance, once in the bland, brightly-lit parking garage and surrounded by a lovely collection of Porsches and SUVs, we found it truly challenging to find the restaurant.

Some professional signage would help; there was a hard-to-find downtown deli-style sandwich board and a flimsy banner, which made for a less-than-appealing start to our evening. Once located, the actual entrance resembled a Holiday Inn banquet room foyer (complete with industrial-grade custodial fumes) -- a bit of a letdown after our labyrinthine journey.

The actual restaurant space, however, is decorated with modern, warm woods, earth tones, and candles, and is therefore much more inviting. But on closer inspection the space is somewhat impersonal, and the details are similar to something found at an upscale airport bar -- tables with soft edges, high bar stools, and oddly-sized flower arrangements. This, like the 90s-kitsch bread assortment presented to each table (cheese bread sticks anyone?), smacks of suburbia. The only visual relief is the wine cellar, centrally located and lit from within, exuding a warm glow that extends to the large chef's table at the far end of the restaurant.

But dining out is all about the food, no? If so, the food at Pres a Vi was generally pleasant, though not necessarily inventive or worldly, per se. We fared well with staples, like a roasted beet salad served with an enormous, though unaccountable, fried onion ring ($9) as well as tasty seared dayboat scallops with house made pappardelle ($13).

Standouts included the understated and delicious tuna tataki ($13), a sort of sushi roll comprised of seared big eye tuna topped with tobiko and lemon oil, and the “duck buns” ($11), a twist on the classic barbeque pork buns found on most dim sum menus, but made here with airy Chinese-style rolls filled with lovely shredded duck.

Other dishes were flat out disappointing, like a ravioli filled with a mixture of oxtails and chanterelles pulverized so completely as to be rid completely of charm and flavor, served in an broth overpowered by too much anise and garnished with an odd little poop of tempura sea urchin, soggy in the anise broth by the time it hit the table.

There is a bit of fun in Pres a Vi's cutely described selection of wines in flights with names like “Garnacha” ($19) and “Burgundian” ($19), and the restaurant boasts a collection of hundreds of wines. However, when a friend asked for the wine list on a recent visit, he was given only the two-page flight list; the "real" wine list was never presented.

Pres a Vi continues in the flight vein with desserts; we found a fruit trio on the menu ($15): an array of dessert offerings with quince-apple crisp, coconut tapioca brulee, and warm toasted banana bread.

Though there were rumors of poor service, we were happy to see improvements -- our waiter was prompt and personable, and despite the size of the restaurant, there were plenty of diners and the room became gradually livelier as the hour got later.

With this, Pres a Vi would be a great spot for a power lunch, a power dinner, or a powerful cocktail should you already be in the Presidio. But despite a menu aiming to please a variety of palates, the truth is in the details, and this restaurant lacks the glamour and distinction that its setting and size would suggest.

Small Plates

Reservations Essential? Recommended.