Brian McMullen’s review of The Brothel was commissioned by Richard’s Famous Food Podcast, a brand-new food podcast hosted by Richard Parks, a contributor to the Tendency, Lucky Peach, and elsewhere. The first episode, which is all about bone broth, features a condensed audio version of this review, as well as recipes, original “brothcore” bone broth music, and reporting on the broth trend from New York and Los Angeles. Follow Richard’s Famous on Twitter and download the first episode via iTunes here.
You could learn a lot about what this ambitious new broth bar in the Mission District is up to by ordering its signature offering, The Monster. The Monster is your selection of any five broths, served in a five-chambered cup. The cup, developed for The Brothel by Heath Ceramics, comes with a reusable stainless steel, five-channel twisty straw called a bombilla.
The Brothel’s bombilla will remind you of its namesake — the short metal tube traditionally used to drink yerba mate in South America — with one key update. Each of The Brothel’s bombillas is outfitted with an on/off fader switch, controlled via proprietary smartphone app technology. The app allows the drinker to manually control the amount of broth flowing through the various channels, thereby customizing the flavor of every sip.
User-controlled broth-mingling. It’s a clearly disruptive idea. And it could only have come from one place: San Francisco.
Having had the opportunity to test out the technology myself, I can report that it makes the brothing experience at The Brothel sheer delight. Use touch-screen technology to open all five channels for crazy flavor flow, or close four channels to savor a single broth, or mix and match channels. It’s playing with your broth, Silicon Valley-style.
Eighteen different broths are available on tap at The Brothel at all times. The broths are stored in ten-gallon cisterns, and new flavors rotate in whenever a cistern kicks. As a result, the menu changes many times throughout the course of a day — or even a meal.
One of the most popular broths in regular rotation is the Chilly Brie, made with iced Brie from Cheeser Chavez, the artisanal cheesery up the street that’s giving Cowgirl Creamery a run for its money. The parm-snow topping for just a dollar extra — also from Cheeser Chavez — makes this tasty selection even zippier.
- Pear Stilton Beet (a refreshing riff on the seasonal salad that had been boring for years);
- 1,000 Flushes (a cold broth consisting of almond milk, seasonal fruit, mini-boba pearl, and a castor oil spritz);
- 16-Day Dry-Aged Duck (with so-called “vegetable bone broth,” hoisin, and Desert Farms camel milk);
- Fluid Pizza (a tomato soup base with calabrese sausage, whey, oregano, and a toasted roux supplied by Chad Robertson of Tartine);
- Crystal Dead Sea (an umami bomb of jerky powder, espresso-cocoa granita, and carbonated saltwater).
While I can’t guarantee you’ll enjoy any five flavors in concert, darned if I didn’t keep trying them all together, and in all possible combinations, out of sheer flavor and mouthfeel curiosity. The app even tallies points based on your broth consumption, and uses geotechnology to rank you against nearby broth-ers.
The Brothel, with its neo-reverent hot-liquid cuisine, has reminded us of something very elementary about broth: that it can be fun. Lord knows I’m not a musician, but the app interface almost made me feel like I was live-mixing a rap album, except all the dopest rhymes were flavor bombs in my mouth instead.
But The Brothel isn’t merely being tricky with its broth-mixing project. It’s also serving some of the best small-batch stock on the West Coast, bar-none. Some of the single-chamber offerings were the best I’ve had anywhere.
The best broth, for my money, is the Hatch Chile Shitface. It’s a chile muddle that is smoke-brewed and then stew-steeped in ham hock and then hit on top with a jigger of salivated Korbel brandy before serving. You read that right: salivated. For better or worse, the recipe includes flash-pasteurized saliva. This broth has a kind of deep roseate color that photographs well. Perhaps this is why Hatch Chile Shitface is The Brothel’s most-Instagrammed item.
Of course, you’ll really want to be broth-mixing at the Brothel. For extra fun, you can even hand off your phone to a friend, and have them do the mixing while you drink. Eating has never been more social.
You’ll pay more at The Brothel than at competing Bay Area broth bars like Tureen (SOMA’s entry into the emerging “liquid small plate” scene) and Cazuelita. Individual broths start at $8 and cost as much as $16 for an 8-ounce portion. The 40-ounce Monster will usually set you back about $50 to $60 — that includes a complimentary choice of bread by Josey Baker. The price tag is even higher here than at New York’s celebrated brotheries like Brodo and Brooklyn’s Tummytime. But the food quality, technological ingenuity, and the sheer fun and uniqueness of the experience are all of a higher order at The Brothel.
It is, so far, to my knowledge, the finest broth bar in the United States.