As a vegetarian (more or less–despite the occasional fish, I can’t actually seriously utter the term “pescatarian” without a self conscious smirk), I have always felt left out in the cold when it came to wine bars. Though meat’s intensity is said to “dull the palate,” the delicate flavors of the vegetarian dish is incompatible with the complex nuances of a finely poured glass of vino? Pish tosh I say, but the countless charcuterie slabs would state otherwise.
Chris Tavelli will change all that, and he will do it with such panache that even the most carnivorous of wine enthusiasts will raise their glasses with respect. Introducing Pause Wine Bar, recently opened in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley. Realizing the veggie-void in the saturated San Francisco wine bar scene, Tavelli, the wine director and owner of SF’s acclaimed wine bar, Yield, conceptualized Pause as a wine bar for the vegetarian-inclined.
Pause’s focus, appropriately, is on “green” wines (sustainably produced, environmentally friendly fermentations) and complimenting them with an elegant menu that is as rich in flavors as it is in vitamins. The menu’s simple grace belies the broad range and meal-worthy dishes that go beyond the average tapas-style pairing. With emphasis on the immediacy of the fresh ingredients and the sensuality of flavor, even the wine list follows suit with unusually artful descriptions—simple, yet evocative of the senses.
We were lucky enough to arrive at Pause on its opening day. Walking in, we were welcomed by warm candlelight, a live jazz trio, and a celebratory glass of blissful Portuguese sparkling rosé—I knew immediately this spot was a very special find.
A gracious host with engaging enthusiasm, Tavelli guided us gently through the menu, recommending seasonal specialties and unusual treats. Not very common on most menus, wild nettles piled atop toasted baguette rounds were earthy and bright all at once. Rich and tangy Taleggio oozed into its garnish of honeyed Meyer lemon marmalade, emphasizing the decadence of the bold cheese’s sweet and pungent flavor. The plate of Hiramasa crudo, intoxicating with leafy green shiso oil and the delicate crunch of pepitas and maldon sea salt, was simple and stunning. All three dishes rang like bells to the tune of the excellent Manifesto Chardonnay that Tavelli expertly advised us to order.
Though I didn’t get to sample it this time around, my dreams have been haunted by the description of the chai ice cream sandwiches on the dessert menu. Created from heavenly coconut milk and fresh spices, the organic frozen confection is simultaneously non-dairy/vegan and defiantly decadent (my favorite combination). Oh such sweet dreams they are!
– Ava Fedorov
Photographs by Jeffery Owens for Socially Superlative