Parea Wine Bar and Cafe

Gather round ....
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Photo by Rory McNamara

paulr@sfbg.com

Just when you thought that Valencia Street couldn't possibly support another restaurant, you blinked, or sneezed, or took a cell phone call from someone who'd dialed the wrong number, and kazaam! — you looked up to see another restaurant. Let's say you're standing at the corner of 19th Street, so it's probably Paréa Wine Bar and Café, which was opened a little over a year ago by Nicole and Telly Topakas in the space held most recently by Oxygen Bar and Sushi.

One plus for Paréa is that it's Greek, or semi-Greek, or nominally Greek — Greekish, at least — on a seething restaurant row that's otherwise devoid of Hellenistic flavors. The wine list includes a large number of bottlings from Greece, and many of them are available by the glass and half-glass. (Three cheers for the half-glass, by the way — or, as it's known at Paréa, the "taste" — for encouraging experiment without fomenting undue drunkenness.) I have a certain fondness for Greek whites, which manage to be both stony and floral — flowers cut from stone — much like Greece itself. But there are plenty of wines from elsewhere around the Mediterranean, the New World, and for that matter the whole world.

The food reflects a similar Grecocentric globalism. At the core of the menu are the mezes plates, arrays of traditional Greek delicacies. But one wall of the restaurant consists of a huge chalkboard that lists the day's specials, many of which nod to Greece only slightly or not at all. Whatever the ethnic or cultural slant of the food, it's likely to be made with organic ingredients obtained locally, and to go well with wine.

Paréa is the Greek term for a gathering of intimates: friends in the truest sense. The group that assembles in Plato's Symposium would probably qualify. Plato's paréa might well feel at home at Paréa, clustering around the restaurant's low tables, sitting on backless stools, making elegantly bawdy remarks about the rest of the clientele (youngish, good-looking, often ambiguous as to team played for) and the service staff (same).

The space isn't that different from its Oxygen Bar edition — the long bar still runs along one wall at the rear of the dining room — except that the colors have changed from an ethereal combination of blue and white to a sunset-on-Mykonos blend of red and yellow. Also, the strange plastic oxygen tubes that protruded from the walls, as if the restaurant catered to people suffering from emphysema, have vanished. The uncluttered walls now invite leaning, as you sip your wine, nibble your mezes, and exchange deep thoughts with the other members of your paréa.

The mezes platters available from the regular menu are fine, though not remarkable. The vegetarian version ($12) includes — besides triangles of toasted pita bread — hummus, yogurt, black and green marinated olives, carrot and celery sticks, and coils of roasted red bell pepper. The meat and cheese version ($13) consists of salami coins, tissues of prosciutto layered like oriental rugs on a dealer's floor, and slices of brie and ibérico cheeses. Olives, too.

The small, shareable plates available from the big board offer more alluring possibilities. We were particularly taken by a set of crispy lentil cakes ($5), which looked like molasses cookies and had some of the character of falafel while being distinct from it. The cumin yogurt dabbed on top helped soothe any dryness and seemed slightly Greek in the bargain.

Dryness was of course not an issue with the tomato bisque ($6), a bowl of cream-infused soup with a hint of smoke — for the tomatoes had been roasted — and just a bit chunky.

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