If you haven’t been in to see for yourself, the idea of a wine bar in Pacific Heights could sound very much like a vicarage tea room in West Yorkshire — which is to say, stodgy and unexciting. But since Scopo Divino is at the northern end of the food- and drink-rich commercial section of Fillmore Street that runs down to Japantown, it might be better to connect it to that. (In fairness, the space formerly held another business of the same type, the well-regarded but bafflingly named Food Trattoria & Wine Bar.) Founder and “wine therapist” Tim Hayman wanted to keep things buzzy and approachable, and from the Merlot-colored cartophile walls — which depict vintage-looking maps of the world’s wine-producing regions — to the wine club, it succeeds. (Full disclosure: Hayman once worked at SF Weekly, but years ago, and not on the editorial side.)
Either way, this is not a place for oaky Chardonnays and fruitbombs plus the requisite cheese cubes. Perhaps as a tongue-in-cheek gesture toward some wine bars’ tendency to serve Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam with some prosciutto and a few cornichons and little else, at Scopo Divino you can go much bigger. If a selection of two or three meats or cheeses isn’t enough, get the “plateau” (two cheeses plus two meats) or the “tower” (four cheeses and three meats) instead. Notably, oysters are $2.25 every evening, and a dollar each during happy hour (Wednesdays through Sundays, 3-6 p.m.).
It’s worth going deeper, too. Scopo Divino serves a rotating daily bruschetta, and if you’re there on a day when it’s corn and romesco ($8), know that you will taste the separate components — corn, avocado, cucumber — and register the trick they pull off, of seeming light in spite of a daring quantity of garlic. The lobster cavatelli is well-intentioned, if a little mild, and a splayed-out cauliflower in a heavily reduced sauce of sherry and golden raisins ($9), like a citrus gravy, captures that ineffable cusp-of-autumn richness with a bit of summer. Mushroom-stuffed quail with toasted gnocchi and a porcini jus sounds much more conservative than the lobster cavatelli, but its top-to-bottom forest floor notes all but beg for Old World wine pairings. For dessert, at the risk of being ridiculously obscure, there is an opera cake that’s plated to look like the Trylon and Perisphere from the 1939 World’s Fair, plus a delicate rosemary panna cotta.
But of course, it’s the wine that will get people in the door.
“People don’t like the pompous nature wine can have,” Hayman says. “My deisre is to express to everyone in the city that wine can be done so well in certain regions. Varietals of a certain type coming from Italy are beter than ones that California does. We’ve become accustomed in California to wine being a certain style.”
He’s gradually building a library from the current 56 labels to a projected 180, with five bottles each. Consequently, there are several great reds by the glass at Scopo Divino, like a Chateaux de Lascaux Languedoc that’s herbal in the nose and embodies the idea of garrigue, the specific type of barnyard-y earthiness that’s endemic to the south of France. Hearty, not too fruity, and with a bit of chocolate and spice, an Altocedro Malbec from Argentina was a great rendition of what makes South American wines so worthy of a beefy dinner. But the most unusual glass sampled was a Dry Creek Cabernet Sauvignon from Pedroncelli, a fine example of how Cabs from Western Sonoma lighter, softer, and more Old World than their brawnier peers from Napa.
Should you find wine selections hopelessly baffling, or if you’re the person who likes a shrewdly anti-elitist — but still wine-geeky — sommelier-owner looking out for your best interests, Scopo Divino goes down another highly democratic avenue, offering a wine club that gives members discounted access to the vintages (and beers) that Hayman comes across, both for in-house drinking and to-go. Scopo divino means “divine purpose,” and after a few glasses here, we’re pretty sure there’s none higher, really.
Scopo Divino 2800 California St. 415-928-3728 or scopodivino.com