There is no shortage of fine-dining establishments in San Francisco. Elegant eateries like Quince in Jackson Square, Spruce in Laurel Heights and Michael Mina’s Financial District outpost (all Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star venues, by the way) offer well-executed multi-course meals that are both thoughtful and delicious.
Recently, a fresh crop of chefs have opened exciting new restaurants where their talents shine through unique tasting menus. Book a table at one of these places on your next trip to the City by the Bay.
By day, this bright and airy space is a gourmet grocer where foodies can shop for fresh pasta and pastries along with wine, sandwiches, salads and housemade ingredients like seasoned salts. At night, the space transforms into an avant-garde dinner party where chef Ryan Shelton turns out a fantastical and fun nine-course menu.
Before sitting down to a communal table, you are greeted by sommelier Chelsea Sawyer with a glass of something refreshing and enticing. From there, the journey begins. The menu is built around a theme — currently, the culinary concepts center around the elements and celestial bodies that make up the universe — and each course embodies those subjects in some way or another.
As dishes are come smoking, bubbling or oozing on artistic platters, there’s a theatrical aspect to the meal. With plump octopus, crunchy vegetables, dry-aged strip loin and everything in between, you’ll leave thoroughly satisfied and wholly entertained.
Not even 30 years old, chef Alex Hong is an up-and-comer worth watching. Catch him in action at his restaurant on Sacramento Street, a welcoming space with interesting design details like a black marble bar, walnut slab tables and hand-blown glass fixtures.
While the venue is sleek, it’s the food that plays a starring role. Hong serves a seven-course California-inspired tasting menu with an Italian twist. From the warm sourdough focaccia that glistens with melted butter to the moist, tender duck, every dish is a revelation.
Having trained at Quince, Hong is a master of pillowy, light and flavorful handcrafted pasta. If you’re lucky, the menu will have two of his carb-loaded creations, like gnudi in whey with ramp pesto, or a sweetbread-stuffed tortellini.
Be warned: the meal is so impressive that before it’s over, you’ll be plotting your next visit.
Some restaurants are an extension of the chef, and when you walk into this Hayes Valley eatery, it feels as if you’ve stepped inside Kim Alter’s home. Although the décor is minimal, the dining room, with blue velvet chairs and ombré walls, is welcoming and cozy.
A champion of local farmers and whole-animal butchery, Alter constantly changes the 10-course menu and showcases her ability to leave no ingredient behind. One kitchen staple is her signature dish: a beautiful quail egg tucked into a nest of crispy leeks and topped with creamy hollandaise and a dollop of caviar. The artful (and delicious) plate serves as an exciting precursor of what’s to come: white asparagus with escargot, black trumpet mushrooms with black truffles, beef with turnips and so much more.
Alter’s also an excellent pastry chef and you’ll delight in her masterpieces — like hot Parker rolls and miniature rye sourdough boules — throughout the meal.
Fans of classic French fare will enjoy chef Nicolas Delaroque’s upscale brasserie in Jackson Square. The intimate eatery offers lunch and dinner and has a small bar and open kitchen that extends directly into the dining room.
Although you can order à la carte, to fully experience Delaroque’s prowess, try the chef’s six-course tasting menu. You’ll be treated to an assortment of seasonal dishes like sunchokes with chicories and a creamy anchovy-scented sauce, buttery celery root with truffles and crispy nettle chips, and succulent duck in a delicate flaky puff pastry shell.
What’s fantastic about Delaroque is that he does it all, making everything from traditional country-style pâté to chocolate, peanut and caramel ice cream popsicles.
In the mood for a deluxe seafood menu paired with fine French champagne? Head to this sleek, artistic Fillmore Street dining room, where you’ll savor nine decadent courses from chef Rodney Wages.
While the plates are haute cuisine and feature exquisite ingredients (oysters, caviar, roe, abalone, lamb, etc.), Wages doesn’t want you to take the evening too seriously. The food is presented whimsically — fried duck confit balls arrive on a small brass monkey sculpture — and there is a playfulness to most of the courses.
Although Avery has an extensive sake list, we highly recommend the champagne pairings. You’ll sample lesser-known sparklers and well-known producers. Plus, the acid from the bubbles cuts the richness of many of the dishes and helps clear the palate.
Although it’s in a touristy part of downtown, this jewel box of a restaurant is a stunning stop with art-deco-inspired interiors and a Michelangelo-style mural on the ceiling.
Cocktails are the thing at Gibson, so much so that the tasting menu revolves around them. Chef and bar manager Adam Chapman oversees the personalized dining experience — a quick interview with the toque determines the 14 tipple-and-food pairings you’ll enjoy throughout the night.
On any given evening, you could indulge in a white negroni with coriander and sweet white vermouth paired with chicken nuggets and caviar. Those bites could be followed by a matcha rice toddy made with Japanese whisky served alongside broccoli-cheddar soup.
Note that the cocktail-paired tasting menu is an experience best suited to adventurous eaters.