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High-concept happy hour

Maven brings ambitious bar food to a neighborhood that needs it.

Lower Haight
In recent years, the line between bar and restaurant has grown increasingly blurry, and on it stand outposts like this hybrid in the high-ceilinged space that once housed RNM. The menu focuses on food-and-booze pairings: It suggests, for instance, that you couple Thai chili–splashed calamari with a New Orleans lager, and shiso-seasoned scallop crudo with an elixir of aged gin, sake, and absinthe sorbet. It’s hard to find a theme to the cuisine, which jumps from Chinatown duck sliders, with watery shiitake mushrooms, bitter greens, and bacon, to seared arctic char, the perfectly cooked fish flanked by paprika-spiked mussels and doused tableside with smoke fumé. But it’s more complex than most cocktail-hour cooking—at times gratuitously so. (A deconstructed ricotta and wild mushroom tart, which comes scattered on the plate as if someone had picked at it, leaves you that much fonder of the muenster-topped burger, already the best item on the list.) Maven’s greatest strength is the refreshing change it offers in a neighborhood abundant with divey hangouts. 598 Haight St. (at Steiner St.), S.F., 415-829-7982 $$$ DW **