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Where To Eat In San Francisco

Amber Gibson

Contributor

The Bay Area is hands down the top fine dining destination in the United States, but there are great eats to be found, no matter your budget.

Local seafood

Hog Island Oyster Co. harvests more than 3.5 million oysters and Manila clams each year and you can visit their Marshall location for farm tours and shuck-your-own picnics with views of Tomales Bay. Their location in San Francisco's historic Ferry Building has equally stunning views of the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island accompanied by a simple menu of raw and cooked seafood plus California beer and wine. It's a great choice for casual dining, especially after shopping the produce, cheeses, breads and artisans snacks at CUESA's Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturday, Tuesday or Thursday.

Waterbar has been a partner with Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program for over a decade, sourcing the majority of their seafood from local and regional fishermen and women, fishmongers, oyster farmers, uni divers and seaweed foragers. There are more than a dozen (mostly West Coast) oyster varieties on offer at any given night and a plethora of other iced shellfish and sustainable California caviar. Italics under menu items explain where fish and meat are coming from – closed-system raised sturgeon from near Sacramento is cold-smoked and served with ruby beet relish, while black cod served with coconut curry risotto was hook and line caught from Fort Bragg.

Sushi

Sushi Nagai is San Francisco's newest and most traditional sushi omakase experience. All 20 seats are at the sushi counter and diners can look forward to trying rare Japanese delicacies they may not have heard of before like shirako, creamy cod melt flavored with ponzu, and tairagai, pen shell scallop wrapped in nori. They even pickle their own young ginger and have an outsttanding sake and wine list too.

Omakase has been around for a few more years, garnering a Michelin star for its precise execution and consistent excellence in an intimate 18-seat space. Here, they have a flair for aburi sushi, finishing several pieces of fish and A5 wagyu with the kiss of a blow torch. Savory truffle-scented chawanmushi steamed egg custard is another highlight in between bites of nigiri.

Both restaurants specialize in Edomae-style sushi, taking great care to prepare their shari fresh each day with different types of rice and proprietary aged red vinegar blends. Nagai sources its fish exclusively from Tokyo's Toyosu Market, and while Omakase also flies in fish from Toyosu three times a week, they supplement their menu with seafood from Maine and California too. The castella cake-like tamago omelette to finish at both is sweet, fluffy perfection.

Contemporary American

Few restaurants reflect the Bay Area's terroir as elegantly as Sorrel. Asian and Italian influences are apparent in young executive chef Alexander Hong's food, but with a distinctly California brand of creativity. Start with oyster and sorrels, a playful, lighter (dare we say, better?) twist on chef Thomas Keller's decades-old classic. You can't go wrong with any of the housemade pastas or colorfully plated proteins but if you're paralyzed by delicious choices, simply opt for the seven-course tasting menu. The young team at Sorrel is cooking with pure passion, no ego, and the results are sublime.

Most hotel restaurants are merely amenities, but Gibson is a rare breed of hotel restaurant that far outshines the hotel it's located in. The menu isn't large but each of chef Louis Maldonado's dishes hits the mark, from garlic prawns to juicy pork ribeye. Cocktails here are among the best in the city and worth a special trip.

Tasting Menus

Campton Place is the only Indian restaurant in the United States with multiple Michelin stars and chef Srijith Gopinathan's tantalizing Cal-Indian cuisine undoubtedly deserves the honor. His modern interpretation of South Indian recipes incorporates the best Bay Area ingredients, like day boat scallops playfully served in a turmeric flavored dosa, a delicious juxtaposition of street food and fine dining. The signature six-course Spice Route tasting menu begins with a spice pot filled with yogurt foam, tamarind gel, puffed grains and dehydrated olives. Gopinathan's elegant twist on dahi poori is presented with panache, with “San Francisco fog” added tableside. Each course, down to the final mignardises, will surprise and delight.

For destination dining outside the city, head to wine country – more specifically The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena. There are several options here, from the more affordable fireside snacks or four-course bar menu, to the lavish full-blown tasting menu at the intimate four-seat kitchen counter. Chef Christopher Kostow has three Michelin stars for defining California cuisine with an elegance that cannot be matched. Extra courses abound, like ethereal beignets filled with creamy chestnut miso in winter. Check into a cozy treeline suite at Meadowood after supper and dream about the dishes you just savored.

Sweets

You can find single-origin chocolate bars by Dandelion Chocolate in specialty grocery shops around the country, but at their three San Francisco locations, you can order drinking chocolate and pastries too. Dandelion's new 16th Street factory offers guided tours and chocolate-making and tasting classes. After your tour, take a seat on the velvet banquettes at Bloom Chocolate Salon for afternoon tea service, hojicha hot chocolate or a flight of ice cream featuring cacao pulp, nibs and rich Tanzanian dark chocolate.

For ice cream, Humphry Slocombe is the best in town. Salted caramel cocoa nib and "Secret Breakfast" – bourbon ice cream folded with cornflake cookies – are bestsellers, but they're always coming up with innovative new flavors. This year, monthly collaborations with acclaimed chefs like Dominique Crenn, Reem Assil and Chris Cosentino will keep things fresh.

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