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New & Notable

Waxman’s brings sophistication and celebrity to Ghirardelli Square

Cafe Seating. photos: Waxman SF

When I came to San Francisco from the East Coast as a child to visit family, a trip to Ghirardelli Square was de rigueur; there were fun shops and restaurants and of course scrumptious ice cream sundaes at the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. When I moved here in the 1980s, it was still a destination, with Cecilia Chiang’s famous restaurant, The Mandarin, and crepes from the Magic Pan.

But as the years passed, some of the luster wore off the square, with new spots opening and closing quickly. Now thanks to Jamestown L.P., which bought the property in 2013, a wealth of new tenants is thriving at Ghirardelli Square, including Le Marais, Vom Fass, and Stumptown Coffee. But most exciting is Berkeley-born celebrity chef Jonathan Waxman, one of the originators of California cuisine at Berkeley’s Chez Panisse in the 1970s, has teamed up with restaurateur Howard Greenstone to open Waxman’s, the new anchor tenant in the 6,500-square-foot space in the Mustard Building.

THE ROOTS OF CALIFORNIA CUISINE

The restaurant opened in March and highlights the Bay Area’s seasonal ingredients in Waxman’s signature “Cal-Ital” style. Waxman is best known for his New York City restaurants, Barbuto and Jams, which he relaunched last year. Jams was often credited with bringing California cuisine to the East Coast.

With the help of Boor Bridges Architecture, Waxman transformed the former warehouse into a divided space: the 110-seat restaurant features walnut tables and an oversized cypress and redwood service table in the center, and there is also a 75-seat more casual cafe. Two walnut bars feature bentwood barstools, and the original 130-year-old Douglas Fir columns and brick walls from the 1890s were kept along with a lattice of pipes crisscrossing the high ceilings, lending both an industrial and spacious feel. Outdoor seating looks out on the square’s busy main plaza.

The menu offers dishes featuring local ingredients. Waxman says, “It is inspiring going to the local farmers’ markets here. The menu will reflect what Northern California’s farmers and purveyors have here in season that day.”

A CHANGEABLE FEAST

Because Waxman is intent on using readily available fresh ingredients, the menu changes daily. But the courses remain the same: Dall’oceano (from the sea), starter, salads, pastas, main courses, vegetable sides, and desserts. Baked oysters are a mainstay; the night I dined they were baked Hammersley oysters with fennel confit and brown butter ($15) — sweet and tender and plenty to share. Other seafood appetizers included steelhead and petrale crudo with avocado, citrus, and Fresno chili ($16); and seared calamari with curly greens and aioli ($14), a delicious calamari salad.

Starters included a pork meatball with goat cheese, marinara, and pesto ($13); duck liver mousse with little gem lettuce, chives, and buttered toast ($12); a sampling of prosciutto, salame Toscana, soppressata, mixed olives, breadsticks, and focaccia ($19); and a vivid green puree of English peas and avocado with tarragon served with toast ($11).

The three salads were diverse: shaved raw carrots with watermelon radish, lemon dressing, and grana cheese ($13); a kale salad with pecorino cheese, breadcrumbs, and anchovy dressing ($12); and fat, just-picked spears of asparagus roasted and served with dandelion and mustard blossom ($14).

Pastas included papardelle Bolognese ($19), gnocchi with asparagus, morels, and green garlic sauce ($23), and tagliatelle with Dungeness crab, jalapeno, and Meyer lemon ($26).

Main courses featured Waxman’s signature JW chicken with salsa verde ($24); grilled steelhead (our waiter urged us to have this delicious dish as steelhead season was almost over) with grilled trevisiano (radicchio) and romesco salsa ($26); grilled flatiron steak with wild arugula, spring onion, and salsa picante ($27); and roasted cauliflower steak with local polenta and mint pesto ($20).

Vegetable sides ($7) included rainbow Swiss chard, JW potatoes with rosemary and cheese, wood-roasted spring vegetables, and a market green salad ($8).

Desserts also change, but a sure bet is the rich and creamy bittersweet and milk chocolate budino (a mousse-like Italian pudding) with whipped cream and biscotti; warm strawberry crostata (tart) with brown-butter filling and crème fraîche; and a variety of seasonal house-made ice creams and sorbets.

OLD AND NEW WORLD WINES

James Beard Foundation Award-winning sommelier and author David Lynch has put together an eclectic wine list with a mix of new and Old World favorites with a focus on California and West Coast producers. There’s a diverse selection of sparking, white, red, and rose wines by the glass at thankfully reasonable prices ($10–$15), with the exception of a French champagne ($18). There are also local beers and handcrafted cocktails ($12) such as Waxman’s margarita with Cimarron blanco tequila, and the shipyard old fashioned with George Dickel rye, bourbon, sherry, and bitters.

In all, Waxman’s offers excellent, well-priced food in a lively setting, sure to be a hit with locals and tourists alike.

Waxman’s: 900 North Point Street #201, 415-636-9700, waxmanssfo.com; Sunday–Wednesday 5–10 p.m., Thursday–Saturday 5–11:00 p.m., bar opens at 4 p.m. daily.

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