Seasonal Dishes From San Francisco

Many flock to Comstock Saloon for authentic period-inspired cocktails, but are lured back by the creative fare of chef Carlo Espinas.



With its early 20th century saloon aesthetic and tenure as one San Francisco’s oldest watering holes, it’s hard to believe that anything more than pretzels and beer nuts accompany the old-school cocktails served at Comstock Saloon. But at the back of this historic public house beats the heart of a culinary operation every bit as innovative as its attention-garnering mixology program.

Chef Carlo Espinas, a NoCal native with an ardor for his stomping grounds, welcomes the challenge of creating dishes that stay true to iconic pub fare, embracing seasonal ingredients from the Barbary Coast around the turn of the century. These offerings include beef tongue with horseradish cream and chicken-fried rabbit leg with rabbit rillette toast—proteins less popular than, say, chicken. Yet that’s what Espinas enjoys most, and in fact, his favorite entrée and the most popular menu item is his beef shank and bone marrow pot pie.

“Beef shank is less celebrated, but I love meats that require long braises,” says Espinas. “Our head bartender, Jonny Raglin, has an obsession with pot pie, so when I was thinking of doing one, I thought, why not use meat and the marrow when putting it together and add some warming spices like allspice, clove and cinnamon in the filling?”

Chicken-Fried Rabbit

For the brine:
6 quarts water
1 cup salt
½ cup sugar
Bundle of thyme
5 chile pods
1 tablespoon cloves
1 tablespoon all spice

Bring items to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes. Let cool. Ideally, this is made the night before.

For the seasoned flour:
4 cups flour
¼ cup corn starch
2 tablespoons ground fennel seed
1 tablespoon paprika
½ tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon salt

To make the rabbit:
Combine all of the ingredients. Use only the back legs and loin of the rabbit because the other pieces are a too tough. If you're are buying a whole rabbit, you can reserve the pieces for other uses. Debone the legs and loin and cut into nugget-sized morsels. Brine for at least 4 hours, though overnight if preferable.

Pre-heat frying oil to 350°F. Take the rabbit out of the brine, dredge the pieces in the seasoned flour and then fry until golden brown.

Beef Shank and Bone Marrow Pot Pie

For the braise:
2 tablespoons allspice, ground
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons clove, ground
2 teaspoons ginger
Salt to taste
¼ cup olive oil
3 pounds beef shank
2 cups red wine
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 onion, quartered
2 ribs celery, roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic
5 bay leaves
2 quarts beef stock

For the pies:
¼ pound unsalted butter
2 cups carrot, sliced
2 cups onion, sliced
2 cups celery, sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup parsley, chopped
1 batch savory pie dough or frozen pre-made pie dough, thawed unsalted butter for   greasing
6 ounces bone marrow 

To make the braise:
Three days before serving, mix the allspice, pepper, cinnamon, clove and ginger together. Season with salt and let sit.

Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over high heat. Season the shanks with the spice mixture and sear until golden brown on all sides. Deglaze with the wine and reduce by 50%. Add the carrot, onion, celery, garlic and bay leaves and cover with beef stock. If there is not enough stock to fill the pot 80% of the way, top off with water. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer (or place the pot in a 325°F oven). Cover and cook until the meat is tender, about 3 hours. Remove from the heat and let cool. Refrigerate overnight.

Remove from the refrigerator and skim off the fat that has solidified atop the mixture. If the braising liquid has gelatinized, warm the dish over medium-low heat until it liquefies. Remove the beef from the mixture, shred and reserve. Dispose of the bones and vegetables then strain the mixture into a bowl and reserve.

For the pies:
Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the carrots, onion and celery, season with salt and pepper and sauté until soft and tender, about 6 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in the shredded beef and flour until all of the ingredients are completely incorporated. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the flour takes on a blond color. Slowly stir in enough of the reserved braising liquid to cover the mixture. Cook, stirring, until all of the ingredients are completely incorporated and a homogenous mixture is achieved. Add the parsley, reason if necessary and transfer the mixture to an airtight container. Refrigerate overnight.

Roll out the pie dough to an even ¼-inch thickness. Use a 3-inch ring mold to cut out 12 dough rounds. Grease 6 deep 3-inch wide ramekins with butter. Lay dough round into the base of each ramekin. Ladle 6 ounces of filling into each ramekin and top with 1 ounce each of bone marrow. Place a dough round atop each pot pie, sealing them over the sides of the ramekin. Use the tip of a paring knife to cut slits in the top of each pie. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Arrange the ramekins on a sheet pan and place in the oven. Bake until the dough is golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

Beverage pairing suggestions:
“The two pairings that make the most sense to me are Anchor Steam because it has a historical relationship in that it was brewed in San Francisco at that time and goes great with the pie, and white Burgundy, which also goes very well,” says Espinas. “Right now, we’re serving a 2004 Vincent Girardin that has acidity perfect for cutting through rich flavors but enough backbone not to be overwhelmed.”

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