West Coast Tavern | Turning Old to New in North Park

May 7, 2011

Once you enter West Coast Tavern at the historic Birch North Park Theater you may recognize that the vaulted ceilings, dark wood and dim lighting are handsome reminders of its origins in 1928. When he took over the space occupied by West Coast, proprietor David Cohen preserved the nature of the theater by showcasing much of the original architecture. West Coast Tavern is a trendy place to eat and drink that offers good-value and imaginative small plates, which allows patrons to experience many flavors without breaking the bank.

In the intimate bar area, long days are forgotten over laughter and drinks, and under a huge sign that reads "WEST COAST". Around the corner, immense round booths are the centerpiece of the main dining room, which overflows onto a patio facing University Avenue. A small table fire pit and heat lamps warm up the mood outdoors. Back inside, a second larger bar located where the ticket booth originally stood boasts a projection screen that fills the entire wall and pleases sports fans. Past the back bar, you can enter the theater itself, which offers a variety of entertainments; plays, film screenings, dance series, Indie rock shows and stand up comedy.

Sip one of the many craft cocktails ($8-12), or choose a whiskey or Bourbon from the high-line collection of some 40 distinctive brands. The Old Fashion pays homage to the age-old classic, with thoughtfully selected whiskey, bitters and a twist of orange rind. The Mommy Dearest, a refreshing and fanciful martini, bursts with the flavors of muddled strawberries, basil and, of course, vodka.

The menu at West Coast Tavern changes frequently and the kitchen is open daily until midnight. A refreshing new item on the lineup is a salad of a grilled, organic Romaine heart dressed with a citrusy, honey blossom vinaigrette, topped with delicate shavings of Manchego cheese and accented with grapefruit and cherry tomatoes. The subtly smoky flavors of the grilled lettuce give this dish a unique flavor nicely balanced by the sweetness of the other elements, and it's an interesting take on the classic wedge salad.

The charred green beans are an excellent accompaniment to any meal ($7.25). Coupling freshly cut beans with pungent wild mushrooms in roasted garlic vinaigrette culminates in a simple yet intensely flavorful dish.

The slider selection likely will spark your appetite with options like an Angus beef mini-sandwich layered with Manchego cheese, caramelized onion jam and garlic aioli ($8.50). Lamb sliders are decked with feta cheese, onion jam and rosemary aioli ($9).

A signature menu item, pan-seared Alaska king salmon, arrives on a bed of sautéed greens, with a currant-scallion risotto cake and cherry tomato confit on the side. While the fish was not my favorite, the cherry tomatoes packed a punch of concentrated sweetness that made for a taste sensation.

For dessert, West Coast offers classics with a twist, including apple cobbler, crème brulee, lava cake and even cotton candy. The pistachio custard bread pudding, served warm with Blue Bunny vanilla ice cream, hit close to home ($7). Richly nutty and topped with a pistachio-caramel cream sauce, the pudding offers perfect sweet and velvety effects emphasized by the crunchy glazy of caramelized sugar on top.
To make WCT stand out in the thriving, highly competitiveNorth Park restaurant scene, Cohen has places great emphasis on service, and employs a dedicated yet laid-back staff that usually contributes to a pleasurable dining experience.

Be sure to take advantage of West Coast Tavern's daily happy hours (that's right, seven days a week), as well as the weekend brunch. On Wednesdays, West Coast showcases $10 "flights" of Bourbons and whiskeys, helping you to properly cultivate your appreciation of the flavor profiles of these fine spirits. When you're looking for drinks and nightlife, come by on Friday and Saturdays, when the tavern becomes more reminiscent of a lounge.

2895 University Avenue, North Park
(between Kansas St & 29th St)
(619) 295-1688

Hours: (food served until midnight daily)

Monday - Friday  4:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.
Saturday - Sunday  10:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.

Weekend Hours:
Saturday Brunch  10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Saturday Dinner  4:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.
Sunday Brunch  10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Sunday Dinner  4:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.

Happy Hour:
Monday – Thursday 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Friday – Sunday 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

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