wayfare tavern....they are calling this southern food
Birthdays roll around yearly (double ugh!) and me and Ms. O are journeying out for hers. It has been a couple months since the actual bday but work, life, holidays, etc. get in the way. Eventually we do make it out and her choice was a spot downtown called Wayfare Tavern. A not so little place that has been open a few years now and is the brainchild of that somewhat popular Food Network Chef-anality, Tyler Florence. Since its opening, it has been consistently crowded and I know the ratings on some of those "sites" have it hovering around 4 stars.
Their theme has been upscaled variations on Southern cooking from the get go, but I've always felt upscale just means pricey and Southern food doesn't need to be pricey. Thus I had kind of avoided the spot since there are sooooo many other places in town to get Southern like food.
Walking in, the space feels more live a fancy British tavern than actual restaurant and this particular weeknight, the place is jumping after work. 7 years in and people are still coming. I want to take that as a good sign. The menu for dinner is small and what they call focused. Chicken dish, fish dish, pork dish, steak thing, a burger and something for the vegetarian in your group. Though, that could describe the menu at about 50% of the restaurants in this town.
Me and O are not above trying more than a few things and we start out with a little appetizer.
The roasted short rib bone marrow with blackberries, watercress and shaved radish served with toast points. Well, at least we got one for each of us! Bonus points that the bread was buttered in addition to being toasted, though we could have used a couple more pieces. The meat was tender, juicy and almost tasted like it had some smoke flavor to it. Instead of being all fatty and buttery like some marrows, this was more like tiny shredded meat and kind reminded me of the Underwood canned meat stuff my folks got lots of when I was a kid. I use that reference in a good way as I like those too. This was a more refined, better cut of meat thing though and we both really liked it. The greens and radish help give it crunch and the blackberry brings a little fruity tartness to help break up the richness of the meat. At $18 it is pretty much the cost of an entree (at any number of other restaurants) but we did find ourselves using our spoons to scrape whatever was left inside the bones.
Of course, we can't go anywhere without trying some places burger. Wayfare's seems to show up on those lists that pop up every now and then as one of the better ones in the city. It definitely shows up as one of the most expensive. In the past I think it was called Le Grande but now it is simply referred to as The Tavern Burger. A house special grind of grass fed beef in a roughly 6oz patty on a toasted brioche bun with Marin brie cheese, red onion marmalade and smoked sliced bacon. Since I didn't have to pay extra for the bacon I added the fried egg for $2 making its total $24!! Well, at least it comes with some fries?
I asked for medium rare and definitely got that. The brie had a strong flavor balanced out by the marmalade I did like. Fortunately, there wasn't really much of the brie rind, which I don't like. The burger was juicy, the bread buttered, the bacon smoky and thick enough to taste and the egg just added more richness it probably didn't need. I enjoyed the burger, not a $24 enjoyment. It really needed some kind of crunch in there like maybe fresh lettuce for me, just to counter act all the soft going on. It is like a business man's burger, great if your expensing it out. Good but too pricey if you aren't. The fries didn't necessarily make it worth the price, they were at least hot and crispy, but it wasn't like you were getting a plateful, just a small cup on the side. Definitely a marked contrast from the last burger I had.
Next we went for one of their most popular dishes, the fried chicken. It was 3 pieces of chicken that was sous vide, brined in buttermilk, coated in seasoned flour then fried. All for the princely sum of $26!!!! Yes, that is only 3 kind of small pieces AND NO SIDES?!?!? Beyond the bush of rosemary and tiny lemon wedge that is which came adorned on the plate we got. For that price, I can get 3 full chickens at the store and fry them up my self. It should also be the best I've ever had. After each of us had several bites, the resounding answer to that is NO, not even close.
For one, we didn't exactly get ours hot and crispy directly from the fryer. It wasn't cold, more slightly above warm, but not hot. The outside was mostly crispy, but spots over each of the piece were quite oily. The seasoning was also way too salty. It was the first thing both of us noticed, that and the fact it was right on the edge of being dry. It wasn't stringy or anything, but it wasn't nice and juicy like a deep fried chicken should be. Evidently it made the best fried chicken in America list for 2016 in Food & Wine Magazine. It says so right on their menu. I'm not sure I would put this in the best in San Francisco. Seriously, who did they pay to get on that list. Or, they probably knew they were being judged and tried really, really....really hard. On this night, they missed the mark, and whatever list I have.
Well, it is a birthday and I always hope dessert can be a saving grace so Ms. O picks donuts. If they can't deep fry chicken maybe they can do better with dough. Three donuts with a sugar glaze, creme fraiche and a citrus dipping sauce for $11. Surprise, they did good here. The donuts were big and fluffy. The glaze wasn't too sweet and the creme was spot on. Wasn't the biggest fan of the dipping sauce. It didn't really have a strong citrus flavor, or much of a flavor at all. Me and O kept trying to put our finger on exactly what it was. We asked the waiter when he brought the bill and even though it was very loud in the place by then but we think he said it was guava....or persimmon or kumquat. Yeah, loud.
What can I say, the place is pricey for a "tavern" and Southern food, especially if all you have isn't a winner. But even then, I still get a twingey intake of breath when I think about $22 for a burger. And the less I have to think about that "fried chicken" again, the better. I realize I am probably in the minority and some folks love this place, but me and O will agree, the chicken wasn't all that great. Still, thumbs up for the roasted marrow and the donuts so it wasn't a total flame out. And they did start us out with some bread and butter, which was nice, still doesn't really make this down home food though.
In the end, I will put this in the category of special occasion or expensed business accounts spots. And seeing as how this was for a bday, I'll give it a pass. Since I have been there now, at least I won't have to use it as my bday spot and can continue to pass! This one is all on Ms. O, she picked it you know. She got a few leftovers from it and had the bill covered, she was happy...ish.