In San Sebastian, Spain, many restaurants seat only a handful of patrons and serve only a few types of pintxos, those one- or two-bite snacks on a skewer. So the donastiarras, as residents of the city refer to themselves in Basque, frequently hit up multiple places in an evening. The salty skewers encourage everyone to drink more, while their heavy alcohol intake makes food consumption a smart idea. It’s an upward spiral of hedonism, really.
Tweaking this approach, Over Proof — the reservations-only bar-within-a-bar found upstairs at ABV, that acclaimed craft-cocktail spot on 16th Street in the Mission — has unveiled the latest in its rotating series of concepts. The gin- and sherry-centric Este Oeste, which opened last week and runs through Oct. 28, replaces the whisky-oriented Double Back that wound down in late July after serving Japanese “Scotch eggs” and other mashups one might find in a hypothetical American whiskey bar in Tokyo.
It worked, but Chef Collin Hilton and sous chef Nick Salazar’s latest isn’t a Matryoshka doll of such cerebral complexity. But Over Proof isn’t falling back on manchego cheese and pintxos gilda, those “lollipops” made with peppers and anchovies wrapped around olives. In the laid-back Basque style, Este Oeste — a play on words that simultaneously refers to “east west” and “this and that” — aims to gratify with five paired courses in a prix-fixe menu that includes a magnificent blistered pepper and melon gazpacho and whole prawns poached in brown butter. (Good thing the vibe is informal, because those are messy in a fun way.)
I especially enjoyed the “hand paella” made with mussels, clams, chorizo, and a decadent, olive-oil-forward chanterelle aioli — but I think it could go from excellent to outstanding if the outside of the rice were crisped, almost in the manner of Korean nurungji. There’s a plate of baby octopus with salt-crusted fingerling potatoes, something I have to confess I can’t even evaluate objectively anymore because I love octopus every time I eat it — but it was cooked properly, with that good chew that never feels like you’re jawing a wad of gum. It’s also got the mustard-mayo hybrid known as gribiche, and while I don’t care for mayonnaise, I still enjoyed this immensely.
Keep in mind, we’re still inside ABV, which clearly aspires to rule the Mission — so the drinks are the thing. (The bar’s chief rival is Trick Dog, which is known far and wide for top-to-bottom menu revamps every six months. You can sense how that schema might have spurred Over Proof to be what it is.) Of the cocktails, the best and most beautiful is the sharply named “Doña Demonic,” which is made with the fortified Spanish wine known as rancio. The word is in fact a cognate with “rancid,” and while it doesn’t smell like demons — or even dirty socks — it comes from the specific type of oxidation used to produce it. Mixed here with tonic and a curlicue of grapefruit peel, it’s at once simple and arresting. The Señor Txotx, named for the non-carbonated Basque cider, blends Este Oeste’s two primary spirits with it and adds honey for an autumnal treat.
To jump on this adventure, you must make a reservation. Over Proof is $75 per person, with seatings at 6:30 and 9 p.m. every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday for parties up to six. And once it concludes, just before Halloween, there’s but one final menu before the Over Proof concept itself is retired and the space becomes something else entirely. Your move, Trick Dog.
Over Proof, inside ABV, 3174 16th St., 415-400-4748 or overproofsf.com