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Worldwide //  North America //  United States //  California //  San Francisco
8 Restaurants

From Andrew Harper:

A small, European-flavored city ringed with pristine bay views, San Francisco remains a relentlessly charming place despite its popularity with the rest of the country (and indeed, the world). While downtown still has the moody atmosphere of Hitchcock films and Hammett novels, outlying neighborhoods like Hayes Valley and the Mission District buzz with eclectic, attitude-free boutiques. The birthplace of California cuisine is also home to one of the finest gastronomic strolls in the country — the Ferry Building. The Union Square shopping district contains the marquee property, Mandarin Oriental, whose suites offer “bridge-to-bridge” views. The more contemporary St. Regis, in the SOMA district across from the Museum of Modern Art, has been greeted as an instant landmark.

- Andrew Harper

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Chef Michael Tusk, who worked in the kitchens of Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkeley and Paul Bertolli at Oliveto in Oakland, nightly creates three menus: a five-course seasonal menu; a nine-course menu from the best of the market; and a nine-course garden menu made from the restaurant’s own garden. Selections change daily, but look for dishes such as fresh asparagus with pistachio, avocado and nasturtiums; Alaskan halibut with basil, zucchini and zucchini blossoms; and côte de boeuf with artichokes, chanterelles and wild ramps. Closed on Sundays.

470 Pacific Avenue San Francisco Five-course seasonal menu, $130; nine-course garden menu or nine-course quince market menu, $180

With big windows overlooking Market Street, exposed brick walls and a doubledeck warren of rooms, this is perhaps the most emblematic San Francisco restaurant. The crowd is a lively blend, and the best place to observe the scene is at the beautiful copper bar. Its creative force, beloved chef Judy Rodgers, died this past year, to the sorrow of many. But her Mediterranean-inspired menu lives on. Typically, this includes fish of the day done in a woodburning oven, and a superb Caesar salad. The roasted chicken for two with Tuscan bread salad is peerless. Then there’s the hamburger, made with fresh-ground meat and served on grilled rosemary focaccia. I’ve never eaten a better one. Closed Mondays.

1658 Market Street San Francisco $60

The name is pronounced “kwa,” and is an old French word meaning “tranquil.” Nightly, chef Daniel Patterson serves an eight-course tasting menu. Although the dishes are of Northern California, the meticulous presentation is almost Japanese, with each offered on a different style of plate as would happen in an elevated kaiseki meal. You could begin with the buckwheat ravioli with asparagus, parsley and Meyer lemon, and progress to dishes such as beef sirloin with farro, onions, wild mushrooms and nettle. The staff can recommend wine pairings for each dish. Although service is crisp, the meal can go on. This is not for everyone, but it is all delicious and will take you to the cutting edge of today’s cooking — without straying into the odd or gratuitously bizarre. Be forewarned that the restaurant is in a seedy neighborhood — making the calm, elegant interior that much more appealing. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

373 Broadway San Francisco Tasting menu, $195

This sleek restaurant is one of the city’s best, with chef/owner Charles Phan producing superb Vietnamese food using fresh Bay Area ingredients. Located at the northeast corner of the Ferry Building, it is invariably crowded and often noisy. However, a wall of windows looking out to the water makes this a bright spot during the day and provides a wonderful view of the glittering harbor at night. Begin with the signature spring rolls: pork, shrimp and mint wrapped in translucent rice paper. For a main course, try the marvelous caramelized wild Gulf shrimp with ginger and garlic in a slightly hot chili sauce.

1 Ferry Building #3 San Francisco $50

I have long admired the culinary vision of Nancy Oakes, who teamed up with noted designer Pat Kuleto to open Boulevard, just by the Ferry Building, in 1993. With its Belle Epoque flair and first-class staff, the restaurant has a lively hum. A starter of ahi tuna is served “poke” style (cubed marinated yellowtail, a Hawaiian favorite) with nori crisps, avocado and a cilantro-cashew pesto. The equally imaginative and beautifully prepared Berkshire pork prime rib chop comes with roasted plumcot with wild ginger and brown sugar, crisp and soft sweet potatoes, and a roasted pork jus.

1 Mission Street San Francisco $75

Chef Corey Lee, who worked for many years at The French Laundry, here oversees a menu that skillfully combines contemporary American, Continental and Japanese cuisines. The spare interior of white walls, gray banquettes and black tables reflects the minimalist style of the food. Look for varied dishes such as oysters with pork belly and kimchi; salt-and-pepper squid; a spring porridge with sea urchin and brown rice vinegar; whole baby sea bream with spring onions, lily bulbs and aged tangerine peel; and roasted quail with olives, dandelion greens, walnuts and hot mustard. The exceptional wine list has 23 by-the-glass selections, as well as eight sakes. The recommended wine pairings are spot-on. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

22 Hawthorne Street San Francisco Multicourse tasting menu, $195

Chef-proprietor Roland Passot sticks fairly closely to the French canon, with some interesting innovations, so look for starters such as goat cheese tatin with roasted eggplant, artichokes, tomato confit and portobello mushroom. Main courses might include slow-roasted wild king salmon with dill gnocchi, olive-lemon tapenade and braised fennel with orange-saffron sauce, or succulent rack of lamb with pommes boulangère, lamb pancetta and sweetbreads, green garlic purée and Meyer lemon jam. Closed Sundays.

2316 Polk Street San Francisco Three-course menu, $85; four courses, $95; five courses, $105

Chef Gary Danko’s taste for the theatrical manifests itself here in striking art and dramatic pin-spot lighting. The setting is a fine showcase for his contemporary California cooking. The menu changes regularly, but starters might include lobster salad with pistachio mousse, fava beans and a honey-vanilla vinaigrette; or glazed oysters with osetra caviar, zucchini pearls and lettuce cream. Main courses could be branzini with fennel purée, Niçoise olives and a saffron-orange emulsion; or a seared filet of beef with potato gratin, Swiss chard, caramelized onions and Stilton butter. The wine list features more than 1,200 selections.

800 North Point San Francisco Three-course menu, $75; four courses, $95; five courses, $110
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