Years ago, when the housing market bottomed out and people like me could afford places with radiant floors, I lived in a newish building in SoMa that was down the block from a small-scale clothing manufacturer. The owners had a gigantic meanie of a dog named Montana, who would bark ferociously through the gate at me and my dog whenever we walked past. It always looked as though it would buckle, but we were never eaten. Another guy in my building who I guess had similar glasses to mine rescued bull terrier named Rosie, and one day Rosie and Montana got into a scuffle somehow. Naturally, Montana’s blowhard owner yelled at me soon after, thinking I was the source of his new vet bills. Such a charmless neighbor.
I eventually moved, and so apparently did the clothing manufacturer. The murals on their building’s longwall have changed several times over in the intervening years, and now that Western SoMa is both reviled for its filth and treasured for its grit, an “urban winery” and event space called Tank18 moved in early 2013. It appears to be a much more charming addition to the block — especially when I’m sitting at a table inside, underneath the wooden rafters, and looking at the loading bay that once held a flimsy gate that could barely contain an irascible dog and which is now considerably improved.
Over the summer, Tank18 grafted dinner service onto its pre-existing happy hour on Thursday through Sunday evenings — they’re open on Wednesdays now, too — with owners Patrick MacCartee and Cherlyn Chin enlisting Chef Brandon Cavazos to transform the kitchen from wedding venue to proper restaurant. Cavazos’ declared mission statement of “Japanese technique, Italian heart, and American pantry” feels slightly subordinate to Tank18’s motto of “big, loud, and full of alcohol,” but space has mood. If anything, the interior feels as if the original Sightglass Coffee started a dinner service that was independent of the roastery operations. It’s nice to luxuriate in all the space you could ever want. You may just have to cultivate an appetite for eating in a very large space with no one else around, if you happen to go on the later side — and spontaneous types should check ahead of time, because the space may very well be booked.
Cavazos’ palate is big and bold and runs toward the low end of the pH scale, which can be a strong positive when pairing with the wines that Tank18 produces. Many of them are Italian, but the bulk are from California, like an earthy-fruity Carignane from the Redwood Valley that’s only $10. Consider some whipped goat cheese ($12) with a tomato relish and preserved bergamot on extra-crusty toast, or a beautifully cooked skirt steak with farro, roasted carrots, and a peperonata that could almost pass for kimchi until you bite into it ($26).
Tank18 is threading the needle between summer and autumn, and while dishes like an Benedict-like asparagus with cured egg have slid into the rearview mirror, a plate of elote flecked with mahón curado cheese and chipotle aioli ($7) is zesty enough to hang around a little longer still. A full-spectrum summer bean preparation ($10), arranged atop yogurt and with plenty of lentils feels like a lively side dish that could be a standalone lunch.
Okra being decidedly love-it-or-hate-it, few people would expend much effort slicing the grilled spears lengthwise, but this snappy jardiniere ($8) exhibits a bit of that Japanese technique and with a salad that’s almost a pico de gallo. In spite of all the wine bottles on the walls, hot wings with a fermented Fresno chili sauce ($9) are never out of place anywhere where there’s a physical bar — and neither are shishito peppers with some chicken cracklins ($8). And a bratwurst over sauerkraut with some Early Girls right out of central tomato casting ($17) is probably the most assertive dish of all.
There were a couple ground-outs, like a delicata squash with the rind intact, an unpleasant taste and texture that even pomegranate and two kinds of apples couldn’t improve. Since the king-trumpet slaw is rather faint, an Impossible Burger with potato chips and pickles ($17) could have used a little more creative spark. You have to admire the chutzpah of the dessert section being labeled as “Something to Regret,” however, even if no one could possibly regret soft-serve ice cream and/or a big cookie.
A lot of these dishes are meant to be shared — that should go without saying at this point — and while you place drink orders through a server, food is selected from a card. Beyond mere flights of wine, some varietals are available in 25-ounce pours, which can also be purchased at half-price to take home. Tank18’s checks arrive in a dime-store pulp novel, too, for what it’s worth. It may be Soldiers’ Daughters Never Cry or Sleep With Strangers. Last we checked, Wine-Soaked Decadence in Western SoMa was checked out.
Tank18, 1345 Howard St., 415-799-7161 or tank18.com