Walking into 20 Spot, a new wine bar in the Mission district, feels more like a visit to a mid-century antique store than to a restaurant. Low-slung, post-war style couches line the entryway, glass bulb pendant lamps cast a soft glow onto the space, and upcycled record box wine shelves hang behind the bar. The boxes are particularly appropriate—in its last incarnation, the small storefront that now houses 20 Spot was home to Force of Habit, a record store, and there’s still a neon “records” sign outside to prove it. The décor, envisioned by Trick Dog architect Wylie Price, feels heavily twee, but it’s a nice break from the rustic-chic design of far too many Mission joints.
While 20 Spot bills itself as both a wine bar and a restaurant, just going for drinks makes a visit far more enjoyable than attempting to craft a full meal from their menu, unless you’ve got a flush pocketbook. At first glance, it’s easy to assume that the profusion of blue jean-clad diners indicates an affordable restaurant. But much like the Mission district as a whole, the cost is much higher than it may appear at first glance. Indeed, an initial attempt at eating a decent meal off of 20 Spot’s short, but well-crafted menu was an exercise in costly frustration.
A lightly dressed salad of crisp little gems, creamy avocado, cool cucumber, and aromatic dill is a fine starter. But $11 for a small bowl of lettuce and a quarter of an avocado that could be easily made at home is hardly a good value. Neither is the $5 price tag on the bread, even if it does come with house-made butter.
The more complex dishes aren’t necessarily an improvement. A $15 scallop crudo on top of thinly sliced fennel and orange exhibited a pleasing balance of texture, but the seafood was less than fresh. Oysters sounded good, but pricey at $3 a pop.
Far better are the larger dishes. Chef Caleb Jones’ potted rabbit has, deservedly, received many accolades. The tender, shredded meat is bound with just enough fat to smear it on top of a slice of bread without overwhelming the gentle gaminess of the rabbit itself. Each accoutrement—assorted pickles, house Old Bay mustard, and apricot ketchup—is sharp on its own, yet sings when paired with the meat. The rabbit is a fine snack, but hardly a dish upon which to build a meal.
Likewise, cheeses are elegantly plated, but it’s hard not to feel ripped off when presented with a paper-thin sliver of local fromage overwhelmed by mustards, pickles, nuts, and crackers. Throw in a few glasses of wine and the bill will easily creep up towards the three-digit mark.
We paid our bill and set off for dinner number two (at a nearby pupusaria), but I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d approached 20 Spot in the wrong manner.
As a bar, I had few complaints. The short, well-curated bottle list offers a fun mix of familiar and less-common grapes, with an abundance of German and Austrian options. Surprisingly, bottles are a better bargain here than drinking by the glass (many hard-to-find bottles cost $50 and under). The single-serving options ($9-15) are pricey and less interesting, but they do pair well with the food.
Service is warm and knowledgeable; we received good suggestions on both wine and cheese choices. Our server helped us steer clear of the pedestrian cheese options and towards Bellwether Farm’s raw sheep San Andreas, which had funky character.
In truth, 20 Spot offers a thoughtful list of bar snacks, not the blueprint for a full dinner. Stepping in for a glass of Gamay and a few cheeses doesn’t exactly make for an affordable bite, but you probably weren’t expecting to save money on a wine and cheese date, anyways.