Canteen Dennis Leary's new restaurant might be in a former coffee shop next to the boutique Commodore Hotel, but he's no short-order cook. Leary spent more than three years as the chef at the celebrated Rubicon; now he's downscaled and taken over this 375-square-foot, 20-seat space in the "TenderNob" neighborhood, sandwiched between elegant Nob Hill and the seedy Tenderloin. Leary says his ambition was to prepare "chichi food in a supercasual setting so I could talk to people." But behind the Kelly green counter, in his submarine galley of a kitchen, Leary is invariably too busy to chat, preparing vibrant dishes like cornichon-spiked steak tartare or poached tuna in tomato juice with tiny squid and spicy piquillo peppers. The menu is short and affordable (prices top out at $23), as is the wine list, which offers such choices as a fragrant 2003 Cloudline Willamette Valley Pinot Noir for $34 a bottle. When the waiter brings you a puffy vanilla soufflé, which you watched Leary prepare, it's easy to fantasize that you have a personal chef. Since there are only 19 other diners in the room, it's almost true. DETAILS 817 Sutter St.; 415-928-8870.
Zuppa SoMa, the city's dot-com ghost town, is being reinvigorated with help from Zuppa, the new spot from the owners of Globe. The food, inspired by southern Italy (like a rich country pork ragù on rigatoni), pairs well with the 80-plus bottles on the all-Italian wine list. The look is industrial-chic, with unfinished concrete walls and well-worn wood floors. DETAILS 564 Fourth St.; 415-777-5900.
Pizzeria Delfina After months of delays, Craig Stoll, an F&W Best New Chef 2001, is finally pulling pizzas out of the oven at Delfina's next-door annex. Stoll went to Naples to master thin, blistered crusts and toppings like broccoli rabe and ricotta or house-made mozzarella. DETAILS 3611 18th St.; 415-437-6800.