Charles Phan "is on a mission to elevate what you eat and where you eat it," at least that's what his website says. He's got 6 restaurants around town including his most famous and well trafficked one, Slanted Door. But obviously that is not enough as now he's jumping into the bar business with his latest venture Hard Water.
Located at Pier 3, its opening seemed to be timed to that America's Cup thing going out on the bay. Fortunately for me and my two friends who tagged along, the place was surprisingly not crowded on a recent Saturday afternoon so we decided to give it a try since our first choice had a ridiculous 45 minute wait. Here, we were able to just walk in and sit at the bar. Your only other choice is along the wall as it is a small place that seems big due to the high ceilings. Of course when you walk in the focal point of the whole place is the wall of whiskeys, and a few other alcohols that span the wall above the kitchen. They have a menu that is solely dedicated to the whiskey varieties on hand and even though it's an early lunch we decide to try one. Though me being a light weight we are going to split one 2 oz drink. After quizzing the bartender for something smoky and sweet we end up with.....
...which I'm going to go on record and say wasn't all that smoky and it definitely won't sweet. I'm no connoisseur of whiskey and I'm sure some folks would love this, but all I really felt was the burn as it went down my throat. Jack Daniels is better tasting to me than this, but hey, I gave it a shot, as it were. Since I can't really drink on an empty stomach we decided to order a few things from their limited Southern inspired lunch menu. First up was some sides to snack--collard greens and black-eyed peas.
The greens I liked. Slow cooked with chunks of bacon they were finished off with lots of vinegar and black pepper to help mask some of the bitterness, which is how I like them, though for my friends it was a bit too much vinegar. But what do they know. I do think they could have been cooked just a tad bit longer as parts of them were a bit chewier than they probably should have been, still, tasty. The black-eyed peas, however, were a total miss. Not because they were badly cooked, but because they added mint to them to "brighten up the flavor" as the bartender said. Problem is it wasn't just a hint of mint, I mean you can see the green specs in the picture. It tasted too much like chewing gum flavor for me to enjoy these. They could have easily brightened it up with a squeeze of lime or chopped cilantro--just not mint. For mains we opted for the fried chicken sandwich with mortadella and provolone and the gulf flounder sandwich with slaw and jalapeno aioli.
I'm gonna just look past the fact that both of these are $12 because we all know how I feel about and sandwich over $8 so here I'll just concentrate on taste. One big plus for both sandwiches that I give props for is the buns were toasted--WITH BUTTER--YES! They were warm, soft and crisp with that lovely butter flavor, it worked on both sandwiches. The chicken breast was nicely crisped up and looked like the ones you get at a Chik-Fil-A just bigger and juicier. The mortadella was actually fried up like bacon and there was plenty of gooey provolone melting over it all. Plus it had a nice slather of mayo and some pickled peppers to bring it all together. Crispy, crunchy, tasty. The flounder was pan fried tender and was a generous portion of soft flaky fish cooked just right. The slaw was a cabbage, red pepper and vinegar affair adding a nice crunchy texture. There was also a spicy jalapeno aioli which gave it a pleasant but not overwhelming spicy kick. Both of these sandwiches were big handfuls and we had to cut them in half to eat. And we all agreed that they both were delicious, which is why for now we will look past the price point.
Since this was probably going to be my only meal today I decided to try one of the desserts as the blackberry fried pies caught my eye.
Two deep fried turnovers with whole blackberries, a dusting of powdered sugar and a whiskey (of course) brown butter dipping sauce. First off I have to say we must have caught the kitchen off guard when we ordered dessert at lunch because it took about 20 minutes from the time we requested 2 orders of these till the time we actually got them. The pies were perfectly fried and crispy on the outside and the filling was full of plump blackberries, however, the filling in each of our pies was still cold when it should have been piping hot. I'm guessing they make up a batch of these early in the day and then flash fry re-heat them before serving, but seeing as how it took so long to get there was no reason for them to be cold. The dipping sauce was pretty much a whiskey caramel sauce--thick and sweet with a strong taste of whiskey, and in this sauce it works and complemented the blackberries well. Again, however, it was also cold, like just out of the fridge cold and I couldn't help thinking how much better this dessert would have been fully heated. I had to use a knife to dig out the sauce when I should have just been able to dip or pour it on the pie.
Oh well, I won't say dessert was a total loss, I still ate it all as I did with my sandwich and side of collard greens, though I let someone else finish off the whiskey. Overall this is pleasing space with some good food choices, though it is on the pricey side, so it's not like your neighborhood watering hole. It's more special occasion bar like a birthday or if you are one of the many tourists strolling along the Embarcadero who already know that prices in this town are going to be high. Either way, I'd say it's at least worth a one time visit to check out.