Review: Taking a spin through Wolfie’s Carousel Bar’s food and drink menu
North Little Italy’s newest destination has a revolving merry-go-round bar and French-inspired menu and cocktails
Since it opened in mid-August in North Little Italy, Wolfie’s Carousel Bar has become San Diego’s hottest ticket to ride.
The imaginatively designed 256-seat bar and bistro has a petite 15-item food menu, 11 retro-inspired custom cocktails and a full bar. But the crowds snapping up all the prime reservations online and queuing up outside the small Nolita venue aren’t as interested in the food and drink as they are Wolfie’s vintage vibe.
The central feature of the 2,500-square-foot venue is its namesake carousel bar, a slow-revolving 24-seat O-shaped counter that spins around a bar topped with an 1800s-style wooden carousel canopy decorated with more than 400 golden-hued lights. There are also three circular dining booths topped with carousel horses slowly bobbing up and down overhead. With its pumping club-style music and see-and-be-seen clientele, Wolfie’s has become an Instagrammer’s must-see destination.
But the food and beverage program developed by executive chef Peter Ziegler and beverage director Michael Clifford shouldn’t be overlooked in the rush to ride the carousel, which completes a circuit every 14 minutes. Clifford’s cocktails are nostalgic throwbacks to 19th-century Paris, when aromatic liqueurs and spirits like Chartreuse, crème de violette and absinthe were de rigueur. Ziegler’s food menu could best be described as French-"ish,” meaning the dishes incorporate French ingredients, techniques and names, but they’re recognizably American in flavor and concept, like the $2`1 Wagyu burger “Royale.”
Wolfie’s is a collaboration between veteran bar owners Gillian and Mauricio Couturier and business partners Abe and Ricky Aguilar. The Couturiers specialize in immersive experience bars like the Noble Experiment speakeasy in East Village and the Bang Bang Asian fusion restaurant/bar in the Gaslamp Quarter. They conceived the idea for Wolfie’s five years ago during a trip to New Orleans and designer Abe Aguilar helped bring their dream to life. The bar design was based on the 19th-century carousels created by German designer Charles “Wolfie” Looff. The walls and underside of the bar canopy are decorated with weathered-looking reproductions of 1800s-era European paintings.
Most of the menu is gourmet finger food designed to nibble with a cocktail, like a baguette loaf with butter ($8), marinated olives plate ($9) or herb-topped pommes frite (French fries) with house aioli and Dijon mustard dipping sauces ($9). The “fromage du jour” cheese plate ($28) comes with a generous assortment of fruits, nuts, honeycomb and warm toast points, but its cheeses include French brie, Spanish manchego and Californian Humboldt Fog.
The Jambon Beurre is a simple but tasty sandwich of Jambon de Paris (French ham) and butter on baguette ($18) and there’s a mildly flavored French onion soup with crouton crust ($14). Other options include New Orleans-style baked oysters Rockefeller ($18), Wagyu tartare with quail yolk ($21) and bibb, endive and beet with warm goat cheese salads ($11 to $17). The signature steak frites plate ($36) is a well-prepared 14-ounce New York strip steak with a seasoned crust. It’s served medium rare with a side of house Béarnaise sauce and shoestring fries. High-rollers can splurge on caviar and blinis starting at $85, and bottles of French Champagne ranging from $50 to $205 a bottle.
Because of the high sugar content in the French and Italian liqueurs, some of the $14 to $18 cocktails like the violet-hued Fleur de France and the Hemingway Daiquiri are on the perfumy side, but Clifford balances that sweetness with acidic ingredients like grapefruit and raspberries. The bar’s signature drink is the Wolfie’s Connection, a complex layered cocktail of cognac, amaretto and raspberry that’s nutty and sweet with tangy notes.
Wolfie’s is a fun place to visit, but plan ahead. Crowds were so overwhelming in the bar’s early weeks that last month Wolfie’s instituted a new reservation-only policy for all seats at the bar and tables. The “standing room only” areas have been eliminated. A good time to try for a reservation is when the doors open at 4 p.m. or after 8 p.m. on Sundays or midweek. Carousel bar seating is limited to 90 minutes. Parking in the neighborhood is tough, but $10 valet service is available a block away at Juniper & Ivy.
Wolfie’s Carousel Bar
Hours: 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 4 p.m. to midnight Sundays and Tuesdays through Thursdays.
Where: 2401 Kettner Blvd. (entrance on West Kalmia Street)
Phone: (619) 255-7533
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