Casey Thompson may be a familiar face from her Top Chef appearance as a finalist during Season 3, but the Bay Area is anxiously awaiting her local debut, soon to come with Aveline and The European, a restaurant and cocktail bar both slated to open soon inside the Warwick Hotel in San Francisco. Thompson moved here from Dallas and spent three years helping wineries pair up with local farms. She also served as the US Ambassador for Terrazas de los Andes, a Moet-Hennessey brand.
Aveline's menu is billed as San Francisco-centric, and the bar space will feature craft-meets-classic drinks created by Master Barman Adam Wilson. Bay Area Bites caught up with Thompson recently. Her comments have been edited for length and clarity.
Bay Area Bites: Tell us about Aveline & The European, your first business foray on the Bay Area scene.
Thompson: Aveline is my baby. Not literally, but close. These are the dishes I have had dancing around in my thoughts for the past two years. The name, Aveline, is a combination of my two grandmothers that have each had a strong culinary influence on me. The menu is essentially Californian in style, but also a reflection of me, my career, and my path as a chef. It is all of my travels, my experiences, and my favorite things in the form of a restaurant.
The staff is a talented group of people that I have sought out or collaborated with before on past projects. They have all worked for talented chefs and trained hard to get where they are now. I couldn’t be happier and more excited that we get to experience this project together. It is as much theirs as it is mine. As for location, we are located at the Warwick San Francisco at 490 Geary Street, just outside of Union Square in the Tenderloin.
The European, which will be located across the lobby from the restaurant, is in many ways the brother concept to Aveline. Where Aveline is light and feminine, The European is dark, rich, sexy, and masculine. The European is the mastermind of industry veteran Adam Wilson. Although this project is very much a collaboration with Adam and myself (I will be providing a bar exclusive menu for the new space), the stars of the show are most definitely Adam’s beautiful, hand-tailored cocktails. Featuring a selection of aperitif, champagne, and lower-proof cocktails, Adam’s list is European in overall style, but also very evocative of West Coast cocktail trends -– really letting the freshness and vibrancy of the ingredients shine and guide the overall experience of each cocktail.
My personal favorites from Adam’s list are The European (Campari, grapefruit, lemon, seltzer and gum) and the Violet Fizz (gin, raspberry, cream, seltzer). Both, as with all of his cocktails, are stunningly gorgeous.
Bay Area Bites: What are your favorite dishes on the food menu?
Thompson: Chicken skins, charred onion, and eggplant with trout roe is just plain delicious. The skins are crisped slowly in the oven and brushed with honey.
Wagyu, fatback, and cheese toast is going to be a favorite. The toast is run through a pasta machine and fried quickly, which puffs it into a doughnut shape. After, the Wagyu and fatback is laid on top and then melted.
Vegetable garden with turtle beans, nori, chicory, and mustard cream is healthy and beautiful. Someone recently said they wanted to shrink themselves and walk amongst the landscape. It was such a genius thought. Now I want to walk in the garden as well.
Iberico Pork grilled over white Binchotan charcoal, seared medium rare, and served with pig ear, buttermilk curd, and ranch consommé is another one of my favorites from the menu.
Bay Area Bites: What is the toughest part about opening?
Thompson: Opening a restaurant isn’t the easiest thing to do, but it is a fun and exciting experience. In many ways it is similar to coordinating a wedding (for those that enjoy planning them), except no one is getting married.
Bay Area Bites: What do you think the restaurant scene is like in the Bay Area? And how do we compare with other cities?
Thompson: I love San Francisco. I have wanted to live and chef here for many years. My dream is finally coming true. It is one of, if not the best, food cities in our nation. I am so proud to be cooking in it.
Bay Area Bites: What’s your guilty food pleasure?
Thompson: Did someone tell you Cheetos is one of my favorite guilty pleasures? Did someone also mention I am making house-made Cheetos for the bar snack?
Bay Area Bites: What else is new?
Thompson: My focus is on this opening. I still continue to do other projects, as chefs do these days, and enjoy them all. I like to stay busy. I look forward to many other projects as the years go on – including writing a beautiful cookbook.