The restaurant scene has long been a part of San Francisco’s popularity. While some new restaurants have a flash-in-the pan moment of fame, others become buzzworthy and require reservations weeks, sometimes months in advance. And nearly 60 restaurants across the Bay Area were awarded one, two, or three coveted Michelin stars in the 2019 Michelin Guide. According to a quote by Gwendal Poullennec, international director of the Michelin Guides, inspectors have been impressed with the quality, creativity, and focus on ingredients among the area’s winners.
But these stars and accolades come at a price, literally. The city’s top five most expensive restaurants offer mostly tasting prix fixe or tasting multicourse meals averaging between $200–$300 per person, most not inclusive of wine, gratuity, and tax. If you add in a ridesharing service, that makes for a crazy pricey evening — close to $1,000 for two — which most of us can’t afford, even for a special occasion.
So what makes these upscale spots so special and who are their clientele?
GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER?
Certainly the up-and-coming tech execs, those who work here and in Silicon Valley and beyond, enjoy their fine dining. They often treat their families and out-of-town visitors, along with clients, to extravagant meals at the city’s highest-rated restaurants. So nothing pleases them more when they are wined and dined at the best. Beyond the world of technology, other residents and travelers with deep pockets also read reviews along with Zagat and the Michelin Guide, so they make it a point to reserve a table at the city’s most well-regarded restaurants.
As with fashion, home design, and music, there are also fine dining trends. And San Francisco’s most elite restaurants are at the forefront of the culinary world. Vegetable-centric, healthful menus; locally sourced food; ethnic, global, and unexpected flavors — the top culinary trends — are all represented at the city’s most exclusive spots.
SO MANY COURSES, SO MUCH TO SPEND
Coi in North Beach offers one tasting menu nightly, with wine pairings available, along with an extensive wine list. Chef Erik Anderson took over from Matthew Kirkley and is only the second chef to run the kitchen since chef/owner Daniel Patterson stepped down to focus on his growing restaurant group. A sample menu includes canapés, raw fish, foie gras tart, sun gold tomatoes, lobster, lamb, pigeon, and two desserts. The cost is $275 excluding ingredient surcharges per guest with a cancellation fee of $275 if not made within 48 hours. With wine pairing, the menu is $295; a “grand adventure wine pairing” is $600. Reservations are accepted up to two months in advance on Open Table
373 Broadway Street, 415-393-9000, coirestaurant.com
Three-Michelin-starred Saison located in the city’s South Beach district offers a changing multicourse menu that revolves around its open wood fire. Chef-owner Joshua Skenes creates dishes using ingredients from a small group of local “fishermen, hunters, gatherers, ranchers, and farmers.” The meal, served in Saison’s open kitchen or the restaurant’s I Salon, is $298 (plus gratuity) per person, and a deposit of $148 (applied to your bill) will secure your reservation. Reservations cannot be canceled or rescheduled, but may be transferred to other guests. For $148 (plus gratuity) per person with a deposit of $58, you can also enjoy a five-course meal at Saison’s bar. A sample menu includes reserve caviar, abalone, brassicas (vegetables with toasted grains), cod, wood pigeon, trout, a white sesame soufflé with black sesame gelato, and a sundae with popcorn ice cream, kumquat, and caramel.
178 Townsend Street, 415-828-7990, saisonsf.com
STARRING IN OUR ’HOOD
At Atelier Crenn in Cow Hollow, chef and proprietor, Dominique Crenn offers an elaborate multicourse dinner in a luxurious dining room that pays homage to her father, painter Allain Crenn. Instead of menus, guests are greeted with a poem written by Crenn herself, each line guiding them through the meal — a mention of the sea will likely result in a dish featuring shellfish or fish. The tasting course starts at $335 (inclusive of gratuity) per person, and a wine pairing is offered at $200. The kitchen is happy to accommodate dietary restrictions with three days’ notice.
The menu changes constantly here but focuses on seafood and vegetables, with a nod to Crenn’s mother’s garden in Brittany. Sample dishes include caviar topped by turbot gelée, poached sea bass with black truffles, a cheese course, and pastry chef and partner Juan Contreras’s treats like a faux coconut shell coated in dark chocolate and filled with pineapple and coconut cream. Reservations for this three-Michelin-starred restaurant can be made on its website.
3127 Fillmore Street, 415-440-0460, ateliercrenn.com
FRESH FROM THE FARM AND THE SEA
Located in the city’s historic Jackson Square, Michelin three-starred Quince offers nightly changing, seasonal tasting menus featuring the restaurant’s partnership with Fresh Run Farm near Bolinas. Celebrated chef and owner Michael Tusk, who was named “Best Chef: Pacific” by the James Beard Foundation in 2011, and his wife, Lindsay, also own Cotagna, another celebrated spot known for its unique, modern take on Italian food. Quince takes its cue from both French and Italian regional cuisine, highlighting produce from their farm that grows more than 40 varieties of heirloom fruit, vegetables, and flowers. Fresh Run Farms is operated by third-generation farmer Peter Martinelli, and was one of the first certified-organic farms on the West Coast.
A sample tasting menu at Quince includes a canapé, winter vegetables, Russian caviar with Dungeness crab or golden caviar panna cotta; black cod, Monterey bay squid, Maine lobster, guinea hen, and a passion fruit soufflé. This dining room menu is $275 per person. An abbreviated tasting menu is available in the restaurant’s salon with “cocktail seating” for $180 per person with a wine paring option of $150 per person. Prices do not include gratuity. Dietary restrictions must be requested upon making a reservation on Open Table or by calling the restaurant; however, not all can be accommodated. Cancellations must be made 48 hours prior to reservation to avoid a $275 (plus tax) per person cancellation charge.
Pacific Avenue, 415-775-8500, quincerestaurant.com
SOMA’s Hashiri embraces the spirit of its original location in Tokyo. The restaurant combines the omkase style of cooking along with Kyo-Kaiseke or Kyoto-style cuisine. Hashiri means the beginning of a season for ingredients, and executive chef Shinichi Aoki uses fresh seasonal ingredients for every dish, while executive sushi chef Tokunori Mekaru prepares the day’s catch, also purchased from the Tokyo’s renowned Tsukiji fish market. Hashiri is also known for its versatile wine and sake selections with a special emphasis on vintage burgundy wines.
Tasting menus are $175 for the “Omakase Edomae Sushi” menu of four kabachi (grilled items) and 12 nigiri servings. A more elaborate nine-course meal is $250 per person, and a special chef’s tasting menu is $500. Prices are exclusive of tax and gratuity. Vegan and vegetarian options are available.
4 Mint Plaza, 415-908-1919, hashirisf.com
Clearly dining at these restaurants is meant to be a luxurious, extravagant experience, and perhaps something to look forward to for an unforgettable evening on the town.