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Several Jugs of Wine and Thou 

Wednesday, Oct 20 1999
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It's simple: A bunch of grapes feels the pull of gravity and falls to the ground, breaking its skins in the process. It's sunny out, the weather's warm, and the yeast in the atmosphere mixes it up with the sugar in the grapes until the juices ferment into the alcoholic substance known as wine. Nothing to it.

Unless you want a wine that tastes halfway decent, even good, or -- go for it! -- memorable. Then you have to choose the right kind of grapes. There are several thousand varieties growing on various patches of the planet, but only a few dozen make really good wine. Grapes can be tricky -- some change flavor altogether during the fermentation process -- so be careful. Next you have to plant them, and not just anywhere but within certain latitudinal regions, temperate zones roughly 40 degrees north and south of the equator (give or take 10 degrees) -- Chile, Argentina, South Africa, southern Australia; central Japan, the shores of the Black Sea, the Mediterranean basin, France and Germany, the Pacific Coast of the United States.

Pray for rain, but not too much rain. At just the right moment, pick the grapes, crush them, and let them do the fermentation thing, but -- bearing in mind the kind of grapes you planted and the kind of wine you want to end up with -- stop the process at the proper instant. Now let the wine mature in casks made of wood specifically chosen for the sort of character you want to impart to your finished product. Bottle the wine and cork it so the aging process can continue until it's good or great enough to drink.

And be sure to design a really cool label for the bottles.

Sensitivity to the experience of creating good wine can result in a rich and reflective culinary adventure in which the deliberation of the winemaking process is reflected in a meal that glows with warmth, languor and an enhanced appreciation for equally good and complementary food. This sensitivity is the very centerpiece of Eos, where everything from the planting to the crushing to the bottling leads to an evening meal resplendent with tastes and textures deepened by confluence with a thoughtful selection of wines from around the world.

Eos is situated at an unprepossessing Cole Valley intersection a few blocks south of the Haight Street hubbub. You start off the evening in the establishment's wine bar, a hip little place with lacquered black tables, candlelight, cool jazz, plate glass windows and an 11-seat counter at which you can check out the dazzling selection of vintages arrayed against the back wall. One of the nice things about Eos is that you can sample a few dozen selections from the wine list -- an attractive thing of several pages, bound in sheet metal -- in the form of half-glass tastes. And that is what we did, giving four whites ($2.25-3 each) and three reds ($2.50-6 each) the once-over and feeling especially affectionate towards Boxier's pinot blanc ($3) and a St. Innocent pinot gris out of Oregon ($2.25). (Oregon is the source of many of the establishment's wines, lending credence to the belief that its cooler, wetter weather produces, at the least, superior pinots.) Feeling perverse, I also ordered a wonderfully crisp Belgian wheat beer from Bruges ($5).

You can eat dinner in the wine bar as well, but we headed next door to the dining room proper -- a larger, split-level though equally hip version of the bar -- and snagged a peaceful table upstairs. Like the wine bar's sommelier, our waitperson was very knowledgeable about the extensive wine list, and, more importantly, when she wasn't she told us so. The list is not only wide-ranging (there's not a lot of any one thing, but there are things from a lot of different regions), it features several little-known vineyards, an amazing selection of champagnes, and reasonable prices, most at about a 100 percent markup. We chose a 1998 Eisele (Napa Valley) sauvignon blanc ($35) and a 1997 Willa Kenzie (Oregon) pinot noir ($28) to accompany our meal.

The food at Eos just happens to provide some of the lightest, most inventive tastes available in the city. Proprietor-chef Eric Wong and sous chef Phil West have taken outstanding flavors from each side of the Pacific Rim and points between, commingled them with wit and exuberance, and created a menu brimming with lively accents. The Thai spiced grilled bread salad ($10) is a splendid meal-opener -- a big, bracing bowl of greenery sparkling with green papaya, blackberries, mango, and the aromatic herbs of Southeast Asia. The asparagus spring rolls ($12) are not only lighter and crisper than anything to be found in Chinatown, they're deliciously Eurocentric with their filling of manchego cheese and serrano ham and a lively basil aioli dipping sauce. The menu's top starter, though, is the tuna tataki tower ($12), a vertically savory parfait of rare, supple Fijian albacore, an array of mixed sprouts, a tongue-tingling white miso sauce and, as the final touch, black tobiko caviar.

The entrée of pan-seared drunken quail ($26) is plumper and meatier than the norm, redolent of rice wine and perfectly delicious, especially in conjunction with its side of dumplings stuffed with garlic chives and chevre: a multicultural triumph. The seared pork tenderloin ($18), smoky and moist, is also jazzed up with Asian accents: five peppers, coriander, fermented black beans and, framing the subject at right angles, spears of chow mein noodle cake.

The kitchen's aesthetic proclivities are most beautifully showcased in the lamb kabobs ($24), in which rapiers of tamarind-infused lamb cubes, grilled onions and whole sweet peppers are crossed with Fairbanksian élan over a fantastically crisp and imaginative spanikopita of spaghetti squash and a bed of soothing cilantro yogurt. But the tea-smoked salmon ($23) is the menu's best dish, a perfectly moist-crunchy filet barely dressed with a spicy soy vinaigrette and cushioned by a rich and memorable substitute for the ubiquitous mashed potato: mashed yucca and taro root.

Our desserts ($7 each, or three for $20) arrived on a big, beautifully arranged platter, all the better for communal munching. And such munching: a milk chocolate ganache biscuit bar with coconut sorbet and an addictive coconut-brittle wafer, a sort of over-the-top Twix bar; a napoleon of Scharffen Berger chocolate, fresh vanilla ice cream and blackberries marinated in sake; and, best of all, one of San Francisco's best and most unusual desserts, a frozen mousse of mascarpone cheese, ginger, and sugar pumpkin, bruléed on one side and served with equally bruléed fresh figs.

The wines are showcased every Wednesday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the form of Wine Flights, evenings devoted to particular regions or varietals with guest speakers and, of course, sipping galore. (The December 29 flight, a champagne extravaganza featuring Taittinger, Salon, and other breeds of bubbly, sounds particularly festive.) Each flight, which varies in price from $18-40, continues through the week sans speakers.

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Matthew Stafford

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