Following some months of upheaval at fifteen-month-old Verbena on upper Polk, the owners who also own the successful Gather in Berkeley are going for a complete revamp in order to reintroduce themselves to the Russian Hill neighborhood. Via a press release that went out late last night we learn that the restaurant is closed tonight and tomorrow and will reopen Thursday, March 26, under the name Reverb Kitchen & Bar.
Owners Ari Derfel and Eric Fenster say they're looking to change things up after the original Verbena, which debuted in December 2013, "did not live up to our internal hopes and aspirations." They say the name, Reverb, is a play on both the original name and the "feedback" they've received from people in the neighborhood. The new menu, by recently hired chef Ryan Shelton, will focus on more familiar comfort food as well as vegetarian options, as Derfel tells SFist.
As for the January departure of longtime chef-partner Sean Baker from both Gather and Verbena, Derfel insists it was not dramatic, and simply came down to the parties wanting to pursue different paths. "There's still a lot of love and respect there," says Derfel. "And I can't wait to have dinner wherever Sean ends up next. This wasn't a classic 'shit that went down on fire' or anything like that."
He says that the original menu was, probably, a bit too upscale for the neighborhood. "It was too high-concept. It was not accessible enough," he says. "From the way the menu was written to the way the food was made. It was amazing in a different way than we were ultimately after."
For Reverb, they're doing a quick remodel that includes some lighting of the colors in the space, and the removal of some large dark paintings that were made from soil from a farm in the South Bay.
The new menu will feature a burger, ribs, and what Derfel promises is "a delicious and beautiful chicken and waffles," as well as house-made pastas, and "our usual balance of epic vegetarian food as well as carnivore food." For dessert, look for some new Italian doughnuts, and a "banana split redux."
And with the more approachable menu will come a more laid-back vibe. "The service and the vibe at Verbena felt more fine dining, and we want it to feel more Nopa," he says. And with that, uniforms are out the window, and more casual service will prevail.
Also look for the bar program to get a bit less esoteric, with a more familiar classic cocktail section, and then a seasonal cocktail section that will get a bit more creative.
"And most of all, we're having fun," Derfel says. "The staff is having fun, everyone's excited. It's going to be a great change."
Look for the website to change up in the next two days as well.
Reverb - 2323 Polk Street between Union and Green - Opening Thursday, March 26