Trendsetting Dining in San FranciscoDate: 01/01/10 | Source: Specialty Food Magazine | Author: by Tanya Henry
Categories: Industry Operations; Foodservice | Tags: Restaurant Guide
New restaurants, established favorites and a hot high-end street food movement deliver great culinary options.
There’s never a dull moment in San Francisco’s exuberant dining world. We’ve seen a number of the city’s über chefs open restaurants—Michael Mina brought us RN74, Hubert Keller opened his third Burger Bar and Charlie Phan showed us he can do more than Vietnamese with his distinctive take on Chinese at SoMa’s Heaven’s Dog. Ever the trendsetter, this great food-centric city has also witnessed “street food” reach meteoric proportions. Grilled sweetbreads, buckwheat crepes and falafels are sold out of trucks, carts and stands on San Francisco’s streets. With these options and more, visitors can fill all their time with culinary excursions.
Please note: Price ranges are based on main courses: $10 and under: Inexpensive; $10-$18: Moderate; $19-$25: Expensive; More than $25: Very expensive.
New and Notable
Hubert Keller’s original Vegas Burger Bar has come to the sixth floor of Macy’s in Union Square. The 2,400-seat restaurant boasts a milkshake bar, seating with personal televisions and countless ways to build your own burger. Kobe beef, buffalo and even lobster share the menu with extensive beer, wine and cocktail offerings. Sweet burgers round out the dessert menu and include chocolate and banana split versions. Reviews have been mixed, but everyone agrees the views are spectacular. 251 Geary St. (at O’Farrell St.); 415.296.4272. Expensive.
Flour + Water
This Mission neighborhood restaurant hasn’t stopped buzzing since it opened in May 2009. Casually dressed wait staff serve up exceptionally well-made Neapolitan-style pizzas and inventive housemade pastas. As the name suggests—this restaurant takes flour and water seriously and its daily changing menu features such delectable choices as paparadelle with braised pork shoulder and broccoli rabe and a verzada pizza with braised savoy cabbage, proscuitto and pecorino cheese. 2401 Harrison St. (at 20th St.); 415.826.7000. Moderate.
Vietnamese chef Charlie Phan (of Slanted Door fame) brings upscale Chinese food to his new, sleek and contemporary SoMa restaurant. Inventive cocktails and dishes prepared with organic and sustainably produced meats and vegetables include spicy chicken, braised pork belly in clam shell buns, and noodle and dumpling offerings. This sophisticated Chinese food experience is a far cry from a tiny hole-in-the-wall in Chinatown. 1148 Mission St. (near Seventh St., inside SoMa Grand); 415.863.6008. Expensive.
One of the most anticipated re-openings of the year, this longtime favorite closed its Octavia Street doors and moved into the more accessible (and larger) Jackson Square digs that were previously home to Myth. Chef Michael Tusk and his wife Lindsay offer both an a la carte menu and five- and eight-course tasting menus. House-made pastas and slow-cooked meat dishes remain highlights, while Pastry Chef William Werner adds a sweet finish with his warm butterscotch fondant with brown butter ice cream and meringues. 470 Pacific Ave. (at Montgomery St.); 415.775.8500. Very expensive.
RN74 takes its name from a highway that runs through Burgundy, France—so it’s no surprise that wine takes center stage in Michael Mina’s stunning 125-plus-seat restaurant. Housed in the Millennium tower building and boasting a train station theme, this dramatic restaurant has a wine list of as many as 2,500 bottles to choose from and a 16-seat communal table that can be hydraulically elevated for stand-up wine tastings. But food holds its own here—some bistro-style favorites include a sumptuous cassoulet and pâté de champagne. Visitors be aware: With its train station-like elements, RN74 can be quite loud. 301 Mission St. (at Beale St.); 415.543.7474. Very expensive.
San Francisco Favorites
Known for his innovative creations and intellectual approach to food, Chef-Owner Daniel Patterson has earned four stars from San Francisco food critic Michael Bauer and a coveted two stars from the esteemed Michelin Guide. His prix-fixe menu changes daily, but recent offerings included shiny beets in a citrus-scented gel and smoked and seared bone marrow served with white and red pomegranate. A quince parfait with cocoa nibs and violet ice cream rounded out a recent menu—all with a price tag of $120. The menu options are prix-fixe only, and the environs are understated—even demure. 373 Broadway (at Montgomery St.); 415.393.9000. Very expensive.
It’s the straightforward, simply prepared Italian food that continues to draw crowds to this Mission neighborhood restaurant. Fresh, seasonal ingredients take center stage in Craig Stoll’s dishes like ravioli filled with spinach and locally made ricotta and the grilled calamari served over frisee and warm white beans. If it’s pizza you are in the mood for, try Stoll’s exceptional thin-crusted pies with seasonal toppings sourced right in the neighborhood. Prices are reasonable for this quality fare. 3621 18th St. (at Guerrero St.); 415.552.4055. Moderate.
Fleur de Lys
Frequently referred to as the most romantic in the city, this Nob Hill restaurant is a study in opulence. From the billowing tented fabrics in the dining room, to masterfully prepared foie gras and vegetarian delicacies, celebrity chef (watch him on Top Chef Masters) Hubert Keller continues to wow and enchant his diners. 777 Sutter St. (at Jones St.); 415.673.7779. Very expensive.
After one year out of the top spot, the Zagat Guide has once again named Gary Danko the most popular restaurant in the Bay area. The French-California inspired food includes such dishes as glazed oysters with caviar, wild mushroom stuffed quail and a lobster salad served with persimmons and a chestnut mousse. Armani-clad wait staff are well versed at explaining the prix-fixe menu options that allow for mixing and matching. 800 North Point St. (at Hyde St.); 415.749.2060. Very expensive.
The perfect antidote to chilly San Francisco evenings is downtown Perbacco’s gutsy Piemonte- and Ligurian-style fare. An extensive menu boasts plenty of house-cured meats, inventive salads and hearty pastas, risottos and main courses. Every item bursts with flavor and the plush environs add a celebratory element. With so much to choose from it can be overwhelming, but a professional wait staff is eager to help—especially with cheese and wine pairing recommendations. 230 California St. (at Battery); 415.955.0663. Expensive.
This world-class Vietnamese restaurant fits perfectly in its chic digs in the ferry building. Floor-to-ceiling windows boast breathtaking views of the bay, and Charlie Phan’s food remains as good as ever. Favorites include shaking beef, chicken clay pot and the grapefruit and jicama salad. Phan’s cooking is in high demand—if you can’t get a table, try his second Out the Door restaurant on Bush Street at Fillmore Street, which offers familiar favorites and breakfast too. 1 Ferry Building (Embarcadero at Market St.); 415.861.8032. Very Expensive.
This glitzy restaurant is the brainchild of chef-brothers Steven and Mitchell Rosenthal of Postrio (they also own nearby Salt House and Anchor and Hope) and über host Doug Washington. A refurbished historic building provides the backdrop for the brothers’ regional American dishes like a peanut and tasso-crusted pork chop with buttermilk, smashed potatoes and a New Orleans-style gumbo. Be sure to save room for the exquisite desserts. This SoMa favorite can get noisy. 342 Howard St. (at Fremont St.); 415.908.3900. Expensive.
This perennial favorite turns 30 this year. Chef-Owner Judy Rodgers continues to serve her famous roasted chicken, burgers and Caesar salads. Young hipsters to San Francisco society rub elbows over fresh oysters and cocktails at this quintessential city spot. 1658 Market St. (at Gough St.); 415.552.2522. Expensive.
The best way to enjoy Chef Mourad Lahlou’s delicious food is to order the generously portioned five-course tasting menu that includes various Mediterranean spreads, grilled pita bread, roasted bell peppers, honeyed beets, eggplant and more. Don’t miss the herb-infused cocktails— ideal for sipping at this sexy Richmond District favorite. 5800 Geary Blvd. (at 22nd Ave.); 415.752.2222. Moderate.
Dosa is one of the most hip and accessible Indian food restaurants in the city. This one specializes in South Indian cuisine that includes crepe-like dosas and intriguing curries. The menu is almost entirely vegetarian, but there are a few meat dishes offered, like a lamb curry. Desserts include the rasmalai, a soothing dish of sweet cheese patties in cream and cardamom. 995 Valencia St. (near 21st St.); 415.642.3672. Moderate.
Prepare to be seduced by the flavors, smells and wines of Tuscany at this charming Noe Valley restaurant. The menu features fresh, locally produced ingredients at remarkably good prices. Look for housemade pasta with pork ragout, braised meats and a divine panna cotta. The restaurant also has its own filtration system, and when diners are seated, they’re offered sparkling or still water at no charge. 1550 Church St. (at Duncan St.); 415.641.4500. Moderate.
Fabulous food, unpretentious wait staff and a long communal table that stretches the length of the restaurant are all good reasons to seek out this neighborhood hot spot. Nopa (which stands for North of the Panhandle) attracts a mixed crowd and has become a hangout for chefs and folks in the restaurant industry. Some of the simple, rustic favorites include rotisserie chicken, grilled pork chops, Mediterranean fish stew, hamburger and fries. Don’t miss the warm doughnut holes. Noise levels can be high. 560 Divisadero St. (at Hayes St.); 415.864.8643. Moderate.
Pesce—Polk Street/Russian Hill
Ruggero Gadaldi’s cicchetti bar features Venetian-style “tapas’’ and 25 wines by the glass. With its polished mahogany walls and an all-zinc bar, the space has a modern, sleek feel that provides a perfect backdrop for the mostly seafood dishes. You can find braised octopus salad, house-smoked salmon and a squid ink risotto at this popular after-work meeting spot. Prices are quite reasonable at this Russian Hill favorite. 2227 Polk St. (between Green and Vallejo Sts.); 415.928.8025. Moderate.
Tanya Henry is the restaurant reviewer for the Marin Independent Journal.
San Francisco Street Food
Here is a look at some of the city’s high-end food vendor carts.
Creperie St. Germain
Sweet and savory Parisian-style buckwheat crepes are served out of this popular downtown cart. Savory options have included a hearty ratatouille, a Mediterranean with feta and grilled veggies, and various chicken and turkey options. Save room for such Euro dessert combinations as nutella and banana, or a simple raspberry jam version. The friendly servers accept only cash. 546 Howard St. (at First St.); 415.706.9733. Inexpensive.
El Toyanese Taco Trucks
Among the first to start the street food trend, the El Toyanese trucks park along Harrison Street. Taco options include grilled chicken, carnitas, carne asada and tongue. Burritos and tortas are also options, but the inexpensive tacos are your best bet and include corn tortillas with a generous scoop of meat topped with onions and cilantro. Cash only. Harrison and 14th St. (also: Harrison and 22nd St., Shotwell and 16th St., Harrison and 19th St.); 415.550.9192. Inexpensive.
Liba Falafel Truck
This whimsically painted green truck with floral designs offers up falafel sandwiches, sweet potato fries and unusual toppings. Along with crispy falafel and hummus, look for red beets with lemon and thyme and spiced carrot ribbons. Various locations; 415.806.LIBA; libasf.com. Inexpensive.
Sexy Soup Cart
Organic carrot, ginger and coconut, purple potato and leek and roasted curried cauliflower are just a few of the soups Kristin the Soup Lady serves out of her industrial chic metal cart. Her tasty $4 servings follow the seasons and typically feature what is fresh from the farmers’ markets. Look for her in the Mission or track her down online. twitter.com/SexySoupCart. Inexpensive.
Spencer on the Go
Dubbing itself a “mobile bistro,” this distinctive taco truck turned French take-away is, shall we say, tres original. Pastry-wrapped snail “puffs”, grilled sweetbreads and frog legs with curry are all offered at under $10 a plate from this SoMa truck. Customers are encouraged to enjoy their meal across the street at Terroir Natural Wine Merchant and Bar. 300 Seventh St. (at Folsom St.) No phone. Follow Spencer on the Go at twitter.com/chezspencergo. Inexpensive.
Last July, newlyweds Joe Hargrave (Laiola owner) and Sara Deseran launched their no-frills taco stand Tacolicious at the Thursday Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market. Look for Chipotle chicken, Coca-Cola-braised beef or shot-n-a-beer carnitas (in fresh La Palma corn tortillas with house-made salsas). Horchata and fresh-made aquas frescas are also on the menu. Offerings change seasonally. Thursdays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., at Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market, Embarcadero (at Market St.); 415.346.5641. Inexpensive.