By James Stolich
Like a rock group, the trio behind Rambler, one of this fall’s biggest restaurant openings, have distinct roles and personalities: There’s Adam Snyder, the quiet and thoughtful one always watching the numbers; Hugo Gamboa, outgoing and garrulous who runs front and back of house; and Andy Wasserman, the official taster of all dishes who focuses on business development and strategic relationships. If you’re a scenester, or a Getty, you’ll know the three as Hat Trick Hospitality, nightlife impresarios-turned-restaurateurs.
Wasserman, a San Francisco native, was a finance guy—consulting for Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch—before making his name in the local nightclub scene as an events promoter. He and Gamboa, who opened a spate of clubs throughout Southern California, joined forces circa 2003 to launch Suite 181, the sort of pre-Recession, velvet-rope establishment that eschewed understated chic for pulsating beats. They sold 181 in 2007, and four years later, teamed with Snyder to unveil a series of neighborhood hangs: Mexican restaurant-bar Sabrosa in Cow Hollow, and American gastropubs The Brixton in Pacific Heights and Redford near Union Square. Last year, the millennial-skewing Viceroy Hotels approached the team about taking over the beloved and iconic Postrio space inside the new Hotel Zeppelin at 545 Post Street, perhaps Hat Trick’s greatest challenge yet.
Back in the day, Postrio—with Wolfgang Puck’s innovative cuisine on the menu—was a frequent destination for SF society and celebrity diners like Elizabeth Taylor, Bill Clinton and David Letterman, to name a few. It shuttered in 2009 after 20 years of business and was continued in name, if not culinary achievement, with the lesser Postrio Café & Bar, a shell of its former self.
How does one come up with a concept to bring back some of that old magic—and fill Puck’s shoes? Well, first and foremost, Wasserman and company held onto his original pizza oven. Then they went about making Rambler their own, choosing a name that conveys a retro charm befitting this City, and a seasoned chef, Salt House’s Robert Leva, to create Mediterranean-leaning dishes with brushstrokes of France, Spain and Italy. They divided Rambler into two unique spaces: The brasserie inside the entrance has a modern California aesthetic with warm tones, leather seating, textured walls and a large wraparound bar with views of that aforementioned pizza oven. The downstairs dining room has a luxurious vibe with soft gray flannel banquettes, midcentury chairs and a collection of vintage photography and lithographs, all curated by Wasserman, an avid art collector.
“Our goal was to create a restaurant with broad appeal, where everyone feels comfortable,” says interior designer Lori Yeomans, who also designed Tyler Florence’s Wayfare Tavern in the City and Sammy Hagar’s El Paseo in Mill Valley. “I pulled ideas and inspiration from my frequent travels, but ultimately Rambler’s style reflects its authentic California roots.”
And it helps to have Vanessa Getty on your side. Rambler’s build-out took the better part of a year and culminated with splashy events including a grand opening in October that was attended by a large number of socialites, Getty among them. She’s “a dear old friend of mine,” Wasserman says. “We have been friends since our early high school years —way before she even married Billy Getty, one of my brother’s best friends. Vanessa was instrumental in our opening—hosting two big parties—and wanting to be involved to ensure the opening would get the attention she believes it deserves.”
Other VIPs turning out for the festivities included Susan Swig, Kathryn Lasater, Katie and Alexis Traina, photographer Douglas Friedman and Kaitlyn Krieger (wife of Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger).
So far, diners-about-town are raving about the heritage pork chop and belly, but props should go to the fantastic merguez sausage served over chickpeas with grilled flatbread. Leva also does an impeccable foie gras torchon with dates, persimmons and grilled levain. Meanwhile, bar manager Simone Mims has created six craft cocktails, including the gin-based “Mele” with pressed Granny Smith, fennel and ginger foam, and the “Phoenician Cobbler,” with red wine, cocchi rosso, orange and the North African spice blend Ras el Hanout. (If you want to keep it old school, there’s the Zeppelin Martini with Monkey 47 gin and cucumber bitters.)
“We serve a lot of locals and travelers, as well as older Postrio regulars from the Olympic and Bohemian clubs who used to come in and do deals over drinks,” says Snyder. “Rambler is just a month old, but we already have a set of regular guests, which is a good sign.”