San Francisco is stupid with great cocktail bars — though sadly we have fewer than when a pandemic decided to kill some off. But how many actually double as great date spots where you can sit down, hear each other, and get a complete meal?
Chef Seth Stowaway appears to have created a hit fine-dining restaurant with Osito, his ode to live-fire cooking and some of his own food obsessions — a recent menu focused on childhood memories finished with a Texas-inflected barbecue course. With its lively communal-table setup and nightly soundtrack of alt-rock and vintage pop, it's a unique fine-dining experience for SF — but with tasting menus that start at $215 per person, it's going to be a special-occasion spot for most.
Not so with next-door, attached bar/lounge Liliana, which enjoys the use of many of the same ingredients and farmers' market bounty being used on the Osito menu, but also a full list of thoughtful, delightfully balanced cocktails from Beverage Director Uzziel Pulido.
The cocktail menu features a few plays on classics, like a Gibson that's tarted up with some brine from ramp pickles, and a white Negroni with fennel-infused gin, blanc vermouth, and garnished with dill flower.
Pulido also decided to play with the classic Espresso Martini — a drink that's been having a comeback moment for a couple of years – adding cacao-infused sweet vermouth and cassis, and garnishing with dehydrated blueberry dust from the restaurant's larder.
There is also a rotating spot for a clarified milk punch on the menu — the current version features rum, a 'Chapparal' amaro from local brand Brucato, Cocchi Americano bianco, lime, honey, and herbs. And a mezcal flip called the Market Run, which currently features stone fruits, olive oil, and several types of basil.
The food, which comes out of the Osito kitchen, is a collaborative effort led by Sous Chef Cameron Sycks, and it is pretty next-level as cocktail-bar food goes.
The seasonally driven menu has, during late summer and early fall, featured dishes highlighting tomatoes and perfect summer melons. And there is a charcuterie board on the menu that makes use of whole animals that have come through the kitchen, currently featuring a delicious ciccioli and house-made coppa.
Another smaller but hearty dish is a buttermilk biscuit with fresh ham, summer peppers, house-made butter, and peach jam.
The mains are sizable — again, especially for what seems like a cocktail lounge — with a whole grilled Mt. Lassen trout, a grilled half-chicken, and a $75 grass-fed ribeye with salsa verde. And there's a barbecued romanesco dish for vegetarians as well, served with pickles and farro.
After a few cocktails and a few dishes, this may not be the cheapest of dates. But it is bound to impress — and being able to hear yourself talk and not having to elbow your way to a bar (like at nearby Trick Dog) are definitely pluses!
Liliana features a half dozen seats at its bar, as well as a handful of small tables, so reservations are recommended. But for the moment, walking in for a bar seat or a table remains a decent option most weeknights.
You could also just pop by for a dessert date with an Espresso Martini.
Liliana - 2875 18th Street near Florida Street - Open Tuesday to Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
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