Sometimes it’s fun to be in on a secret. This is no more apparent than when you whisper a couple of words into a waiter’s ear and a delicious off-the-menu item shortly appears at your table. The diners at the next table over eye the plate enviously and wonder, “How did I not see that on the menu?”
In the Bay Area, a handful of the region’s best restaurants and drinking establishments serve classified dishes that aren’t printed on the daily menu. However, these undercover courses are beloved by a cult following of chefs and insiders who live and die by all things culinary. Wondering where you can taste the trend? Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but we’re sharing the details below.
Twenty Five Lusk
This sophisticated two-story restaurant and lounge sits in San Francisco’s SoMa district. The building that houses the sleek eatery dates back to 1917; the original brick of the timber warehouse is exposed elegantly. Say two simple words — “secret caviar” — to your waiter and be prepared to indulge on the most sumptuous of snacks. When you ask for the secret stash, you’ll be treated to a luxurious tin of caviar, buckwheat blinis, a chilled shot of Russian Standard vodka and a champagne back. Who wouldn’t toast to that?
A trendy, bustling restaurant in Hayes Valley, Rich Table specializes in interesting earthy fare (think house-made bucatini carbonara with sea urchin and cured lamb and Douglas fur pierogies with capers and brown butter). It’s an unpretentious place that resonates with the new San Francisco scene; it’s the sort of restaurant where the city’s top chefs like to eat on their nights off. On one recent evening, Aziza’s Mourad Lahlou sat at the bar while enjoying Evan and Sarah Rich’s tasting menu.
The secret menu item here is a mind-blowing dessert called Chocolate/Mint. The dish is a thin chocolate sable cookie that will conjure childhood memories at the first bite. The refreshing treat is a playful take on the classic Girl Scout thin mint cookie with a thick, velvety mousse-like chocolate cream and a sweet, creamy tasting iced milk.
At this downtown Napa restaurant, there is a locals-only, top-secret menu. The roster changes daily and is only available from 5 to 6:30 p.m. by verbal request. The top of the thin paper menu reads, “It’s that time of year (April through October) when the tourists take over Napa. Don’t worry, we still have room for you at Torc. In fact, Torc is offering a secret, locals-only menu. The details are below, but don’t tell the tourists.”
One recent menu included fig salad with wild arugula pecorino and sherry gastrique; hand-cut pappardelle with porcini mushrooms, green onion and pork crackling; and ginger panna cotta with raspberries, almond and toasted vanilla. The steal of a stealth meal is definitely worth seeking out.
Even wineries are in on the fun. At Domaine Carneros, Napa Valley’s very own French chateau, there is a sparkling secret menu tasting experience. Reservations are required for any sort of tasting here, so when you call ahead, mention that you’re interested in trying the sparkling secret menu.
When you arrive, you’ll be escorted to a bistro table with three tall champagne flutes sitting atop it — this is where the happiness begins. The secret menu features the winery’s late disgorged sparklers; this means that the bubbly has been aged for a longer amount of time than most commercially available sparkling wines. The extra aging time gives the wine more depth and complexity. There is a toasty, nutty quality to the dry sparklers, which come paired with an individual charcuterie and cheese pairing.
This beloved bar in the Mission District comes from Bon Vivants, a group of mixologists that takes its drinks very seriously. The resulting cocktails are well-balanced, different, potent and always very drinkable. Every six months Trick Dog debuts a new menu. The current one is actually called Top Secret. The bar embraces the theme, too, with a menu that has the appearance of declassified documents from the fictional Bureau of Advanced Research and Conspiracy. All of the cocktails are named after mainstream theories like the Elvis Sighting (a mixture of Wild Turkey bourbon and bananas foster liqueur) and Bigfoot (a tequila, tamarind, ginger ale concoction).