Occupation: Restaurant Captain
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Wexler’s
Reviewed Wexler’s: Wednesday, May 2, 2012
We have dined at Wexler’s about 30 times and tried many of their dishes. Here is the deal: Imagine you walk in to a huge old classic bar filled with hundreds of bottles of spirits. Take every bottle away that is artificially colored, and or flavored and you have Wexler’s entire stock remaining. The thought put into Wexler’s products that they sell not only focus on American made products, but also they simply do not carry mass-produced spirits that are in many ways tricking the public. Matt Wexler has put together an amazing drink program that includes individually tailored drinks for people with fresh fruit, herbs, oils, and a few other tricks he has up his sleeve. The marriage of food, wine, and spirits at Wexler’s does not happen without much thought and careful attention to detail.
From the moment you walk in the restaurant, your eyes are taken to the award-winning sculpture on the ceiling that evokes black smoke coming from the kitchen and pushing all the way to the front door. Aside from the two very simple light fixtures in the space, they have kept it very clean and modern in décor, which lets you focus on the task at hand. That task is BBQ, and it’s just the right place to do it. Super knowledgeable staff help you decide on what’s best, and offer many suggestions on how to enhance your BBQ experience. Wexler’s claims to be UPSCALE BBQ, and indeed that is fitting, but in many dishes I see the elements of BBQ and all that it comes with distilled to very clean and focused flavors. BBQ au jus with seafood offer really light, but smoky surprises on the menu.
The absolute best thing on the menu is the scotch eggs. Now traditionally, these are eggs coated with a thick layer of sausage and bread then fried to crispy-runny-yolk-perfection. At Wexler’s they use the burnt tips of the BBQ short ribs instead to achieve this very unique starter that you will find no where else in San Francisco. The Japanese cucumber salad is the other shining star of first courses. The texture of a really good slaw with the freshness of the cucumber is just sublime. Every bit of this salad is balanced perfectly, and well received when eating Wexler’s unique smoked treats. This last dinner we had three entrees for just the two of us. We had the vegetarian smoked King Trumpet mushrooms plate, which had focused smoke with every bite in a way that was not obtrusive. The manicured nature of the dishes and surprising combinations of flavors and vegetable-switching trickery always leaves you guessing and wanting more. The short ribs are the shining star of the entree section, served off the bone and gently placed on mashed potatoes with a kohlrabi-turnip kraut that will knock your socks off.
This restaurant is about locally made, small batch, locally sourced, sustainably grown, and responsibly produced products. This is what the restaurant business is all about these days; getting rid of the garbage and artificial colorings and flavors. Wexler’s has the highest of standards in this department and are not ashamed to say it. It is the best experience going to a place like Wexler’s and maybe even learning something new about what’s going on in the gastronomic world today.
We had only cocktails on this last visit, and there is officially nothing wrong with eating BBQ while sipping a High West Double Rye Whiskey. There are plenty of non-alcoholic options here as well, including custom made spritzers using fresh seasonal ingredients. My dining partner is averse to super sweet desserts, which can be challenging, but not at Wexler’s. The notion of distilling or focusing flavors continues with dessert. The Humphrey Slocombe custom made root beer ice cream is paired with a clear vanilla soda which gives us the world’s first white root beer float, which is brilliant on all counts and not too sweet. The mocha fudge pie also has the intensity of flavor without the overt sweetness your eyes tell you it’s going to have. These are the two desserts we have almost every time we walk through the door. The wine list has many great options to work your way around BBQ flavors. There are American made wines with a diversity and price point that just falls in line with the cuisine itself. I love Wexler’s and cannot wait to return.
Occupation: Graduate Student & Entrepreneur
Location: Los Altos Hills
Favorite Restaurant: Café Borrone
Reviewed Wexler’s: Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Ambitious, refined barbeque? Barbeque that is not served on paper plates with picnic benches for seating? Wexler’s is everything that barbeque usually is not: a chic, minimalist mid-range to upscale bistro in the heart of the city’s financial district. It’s one of the few places where the restaurant is actually not named for the chef. Matt Wexler is the bartender, where cocktails can be hit or miss. The Gin Rocket with muddled arugula I originally sampled lacked any arugula flavor and seemed like a long shot of gin. Wexler offered another drink and he crafted one of the finest Manhattans around, given a barbeque edge from the house-smoked sweet vermouth.
Everything at Wexler’s isn’t necessarily barbeque as in on the grill or slathered in sauce. Rather, everything comes with something from the house smoker. The signature appetizer of scotch eggs is a perfect example of Chef Charlie Kleinmann’s contemporary touch, mixing outside concepts with the backyard pit theme. Lightly breaded, liquid-center farm eggs have some barbeque pork burnt ends stuffed between the batter and the egg, completed with a house-made hot sauce and a sweet tea gastrique. Everything clicks, except the eggs could use more of the meat to enhance the smokiness. I loved the smoked calamari, tossed in a smoky romesco sauce, fresh roasted asparagus, and toasted brioche. You don’t find this at the corner barbeque joint.
Entrees and desserts fell a bit from the starters. Smoked short ribs top mashed potatoes with peas and carrots is fine and lighter than you’d think, yet nothing stands out. The meat was a tad dry and not the least bit buttery smooth in texture like braised short ribs. The smoked salmon was rare enough to be tartare, a bold decision from the kitchen that really paid off. Unfortunately, it was muted by a hefty spring onion tzatziki sauce that drowned out the lovely salmon, pickled beets, and slightly undercooked snap peas.
We made the wrong choice for dessert, getting the waitress’ favorite bourbon banana cream pie that was essentially a cloud of whipped cream devouring an excellent crust. The slice cried out for more of the caramel. We had to wait a half hour after our reservation time for our table and missed on the dessert recommendation, but other than that service was very affable and had excellent pacing. Wexler’s is a unique and very exciting piece of San Francisco’s dining scene that surely will start a high-end barbeque trend soon. Just if you come, make sure you like your food smoky.
Occupation: Hypnotherapist & Reiki Practitioner
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Big 4 Restaurant
Reviewed Wexler’s: Saturday, May 5, 2012
This was a happily surprising experience. The service was excellent — attentive without being intrusive — and the server was knowledgeable about everything: the history of the restaurant, full knowledge about the preparation of all entrees, as well as descriptions of the wines we might like. The 11-table restaurant was sparsely appointed, but nevertheless, it offered a nice ambience.
We had an early reservation and were the second guests to arrive, so initially we were concerned about the noise factor if people arrived. We were skeptical. Within an hour of our reservation, others began to arrive and the place filled up well. The noise factor I would classify as medium, i.e., we could hear our own conversation (also the conversations of those on either side of us, if we wanted to).
The food was excellent: perfectly prepared, but it could have been much warmer when we got it. The courses were consistently superior to so many other establishments. While the portions were on the small size, we left the restaurant feeling fully satisfied with the entire experience. Definitely, we will return.
Ambience, service, quality of food and its preparation, cost: A lovely value! All skepticism disappeared as quietly as it arrived.