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Walnut Creek Magazine

Chef Ryan Scott Opens an Instant San Francisco Classic: Finn Town Tavern

Jan 13, 2017 01:44PM ● By Fran Miller

Top Chef alum Ryan Scott has ditched his other brick & mortar and mobile ventures to double down on his latest - Finn Town Tavern, in San Francisco’s Castro District. By the look of things, Scott is winning, and winning big. And though the celeb chef continues to be pulled in a multitude of directions (he’s a KGO radio show host, Emmy award winning TV host, frequent guest on The Today Show, and bestselling cookbook author) he’s all-in on this one.
Chef Ryan Scott

Taking inspiration from the Gold Rush era when the Castro was known as Finn Town, Scott’s Cheers-like tavern combines contemporary comfort fare with a vibrant cocktail scene – so vibrant that the smallish space contains two full bars – apropos for their two happy hours (5 – 7pm Mon – Fri, and 10 – midnight Sun – Thur). Tufted leather banquettes line one wall, casual counter stools near the kitchen line another, and a variety of seating options cater to groups large and small. A curated playlist (U2, Guster, Steve Miller, Journey etc.) appeals to all demographics.

The vibe is chill; the atmosphere transforms into whatever you wish to make of it. Those craving a classic martini/oyster/Sinatra-esque ambience will find a ‘night on the town’ allure. Order a burger and a beer, and the place turns into a casual watering hole favored by locals. “We wanted to create an upbeat neighborhood atmosphere that visually harkens back to the 1850s when the food was unpretentious and the drinks were strong and satisfying,” says Scott. “This place is a direct reflection of all of my former experiences; it’s exactly what I envisioned, and people seem comfortable here. That’s what I most wanted."

Start with a riff on a classic cocktail – enjoyed with light and crispy housemade ‘cheez-its’ that put the Nabisco version to shame. Drinks are named for famous and infamous San Franciscans: Call of the Wild (gin/vodka, French vermouth, lemon, cucumber, and absinthe) for author Jack London, Showgirl (vodka, aloe vera, strawberry soda, and rosemary) for Carol Channing, Milkman (vodka, lychee milk, lime and ginger) for Harvey Milk, for instance. Ask about the by-request-only “Down Low” list featuring naughtier names such as Fire in the Hole (housemade Fireball and hard apple cider) and Scissor Sisters (gin, vodka, strawberry-elderflower, coconut cream, and lemon). Brunch-goers can enjoy the Not So Green Day hangover cure.

Scott, working with chef de cuisine Jason Raffin, has created a menu with something to please everyone. From larger plates, to smaller tastes, sharing is encouraged as you’ll want to experience the incredible range of flavors. Starters range from beet blini with white sturgeon caviar and Aquavit-cured salmon, to St. George gin-cured oysters, to the incredibly delicious signature deviled eggs served with a mini bottle of housemade hot sauce. Hearty mains such as the Finn Burger with ‘Jason’s Secret Sauce’ on a house brioche bun, and lobster cioppino for two are joined by a host of veggie options such as a seasonal vegetable crudité with bagna càuda and white bean hummus, and grilled carrots with bûcheron and Californian chimichurri. Cult-worthy nightly specials include Thursday’s ‘Friendsgiving’ featuring herb roasted turkey, pan-seared confit stuffing, cranberry sauce and house popover, and Saturday’s cornflake crusted fried chicken sandwich.

Leave room for some of consulting pastry chef Cheryl Storms’ (of Pinkie’s Bakery) delectables, such as her homemade bacon twix bars (wow), or chocolate layer cake. All of the desserts, pastries, breads, rolls, and crackers at Finn Town are made in-house, and they are all amazing.

In addition to Raffin and Storms, Scott has pulled together an all-star cast, all but ensuring that Finn Town makes its indelible mark in restaurant-competitive SF: Castro resident Rick Hamer is his business partner; Michael Ploetz, who has worked with José Andrés’ Think Food Group, celebrity Chef Michael Voltaggio, and most recently headed up the F&B department at the iconic Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, is general manager, and Sean Niles runs the door and oversees monthly special events.

From staff, to ambience, to cocktails, to food, Scott's gamble is paying off - big time.

Finn Town Tavern, 2251 Market Street between Noe and Sanchez streets in San Francisco, just steps from the iconic street cars and MUNI (Castro and Church stations). 

Photography by Lara Hata