San Francisco is famous for casual restaurants. The new trend: supercasual. Elite chef Daniel Patterson has opened a sandwich spot, and another ambitious chef, Thomas McNaughton, is working at a pizza place. But elegant dining is doing surprisingly well in an unlikely location: Oakland.
San Francisco Restaurants
In San Francisco, pizza is a hotly debated topic. One thing locals agree on is that the thin-crust, Neapolitan-style pies at Flour + Water are some of the best in the city. Jon Darsky makes just four pies with simple toppings, from a classic Margherita to tomatoes with garlicky mussels and oregano. Thomas McNaughton, a former Quince sous-chef, prepares the exceptional pastas, like sweet pea tortelli with mint, Meyer lemon and pork cracklings, and maltagliati (roughly cut noodles) with brown-butter-braised giblet ragù. The brief wine list includes 2007 Matane Primitivo from Puglia; alternatively, there’s a modest $10 corkage fee.
If there’s an epicenter of cool new restaurants in the Bay Area, it’s Oakland. And if there’s an epicenter of cool new restaurants in Oakland, it’s Commis. In the sleek, modern space, chef James Syhabout offers a three-course menu that reflects his time as chef de cuisine at Manresa in Los Gatos, California, and his stages at Spain’s El Bulli and the Fat Duck in England. Among Syhabout’s most inspired dishes: baby carrots with brown-rice vinegar, clover honey and seaweed from Mendocino, and lightly smoked sardines with green tomatoes and bronze fennel.
On Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, Joshua Skenes turns a Mission District space into one of San Francisco’s more elegant restaurants. Meals start in the courtyard with sparkling wine. Then guests walk through the kitchen to the dining room, where waiters in untucked shirts serve a four-course menu at bare wooden tables. Sommelier Mark Bright pairs each course with a different wine—for instance, matching chile-spiced red sea bream carpaccio with Can Feixes Blanc from Penedès, Spain.
Chef Brett Emerson chronicled the birth of this new Spanish restaurant on his blog, In Praise of Sardines, but since he opened the place last spring, he’s been too busy to spend time online. Instead, Emerson spends his days shopping at local markets and his nights overseeing the busy kitchen. The menu, largely a list of pica pica (nibbles), offers jamón Ibérico aged for 36 months and a few larger plates, like slow-roasted heritage Navajo Churro lamb. Emerson’s herbs come from the kitchen garden right on Contigo’s small covered patio.
The latest farmers’ market to join the city’s ever-growing list is on Thursdays at the Ferry Building. There are farmers, of course, but it’s the prepared-food vendors who make this lunch spot so good. Choices include Korean short rib–and–rice tacos with kimchi salsa from the popular Namu restaurant; Ryan Farr’s handmade hot dogs with his legendary chicharrones; and RoliRoti’s roast-beef panini on beef-stock-soaked buns with salsa verde. The mind-blowing choices are all less than $10.
Michael Tusk and David Lynch. Photo © Robert Durrel.
The most eagerly awaited restaurant of the season actually opened in 2003. But Michael and Lindsay Tusk soon outgrew their jewel-box dining room in Pacific Heights, so when the former Myth space went on the market, the couple grabbed it. After almost a year of renovation, Quince has reopened with the same air of sophistication but more room. Michael’s French- and Italian-inspired California recipes—in particular his exquisite pastas, like tortelloni with Castelmagno cheese, walnuts and honey—remain much the same. The couple has brought in an all-star crew, including wine superstar David Lynch, who made his name at Manhattan’s Babbo.
© Michael Silva
Why has Daniel Patterson, chef-owner of the acclaimed Coi and an F&W Best New Chef 1997, opened a sandwich shop? “I wanted to reimagine a fast, casual restaurant,” he says. “We buy the best ingredients and staff the kitchen with fine-dining-trained cooks.” With Lauren Kiino and Doug Borkowski, both Delfina alums, Patterson serves a southern-Italian-inspired menu featuring sandwiches like porchetta with plum mostarda and mustard greens, and what may be the world’s best egg salad, made with eggs from cult favorite Soul Food Farm and served warm with bagna cauda butter.
Outside The Bay Area
© Lance Iversen/San Francisco Chronicle
Osteria Stellina Chef Christian Caiazzo takes advantage of the region’s terrific producers (like rancher Bill Niman) to create outstanding dishes like braised goat shoulder served on rosemary-infused polenta. His crisp-crusted pizzas are topped with oysters from the nearby bay.
Manzanita Traci Des Jardins, an F&W Best New Chef 1995, is almost as avid a skier as she is a cook. Her upcoming restaurant in the brand-new Ritz-Carlton Highlands will feature amazing dishes for people coming off the slopes, like Dungeness-crab sliders and roast quail with pancetta-spiked bread salad.