V-DAY What if this year Valentine’s paired romance with a visit to one of SF’s best new restaurants? Here are new additions to the local dining scene in 2010 that will please food lovers (and who isn’t, in this city?) while offering a range of price points in love-worthy settings.
FOR AMOROUS EXPERIMENTALISTS: COMMONWEALTH
Anthony Myint and chef Jason Fox are reinventing fine dining. Your edgy foodie date will be impressed. Myint was a mastermind behind Mission Street Food and Mission Chinese Food. Here at Commonwealth with Chef Fox, he delves into deliciously experimental creations with a fresh, unpretentious approach. And shockingly, no dish costs more than $16. Dine on goat cooked in hay while sipping a liquid nitrogen aperitif, finish with porcini thyme churros with huckleberry jam. You may be packed in tight in the spare, modern space, but you’ll both leave glowing from stimulating flavors and presentation.
2224 Mission, SF. (415) 355-1500, www.commonwealthsf.com
FOR OLD WORLD ROMANTICS: COMSTOCK SALOON
The Barbary Coast comes alive in this bar-restaurant gem that feels like a timeless classic … and isn’t too taxing on the wallet. From Victorian wallpaper to restored dark woods, the spirit and history of the space entice. Filling up on rich beef shank and bone marrow potpie or bites like whiskey-cured gravlax on rye toast is happy respite on chilly nights. Pair with a perfect Martinez cocktail or a barkeep’s whimsy (bartender’s creation based on your preferences), and see if your date doesn’t cozy up with you next to that wood-burning stove. Comstock exemplifies the best of what a modern-day saloon with Old World sensibilities can be.
155 Columbus, SF. (415) 617-0071, www.comstocksaloon.com
FOR LOVING LOCAVORES: GATHER
Gather is the best thing to come along in Berkeley in ages, and ideal for your local or locavore-y date. It reads typical Bay Area yet goes further: local, sustainable, organic everything, including spirits, wine, and beer. A rounded room with open kitchen is holistically casual and urban. All the raves you’ve heard about the vegan “charcuterie” are true. Marvel at the artistic, affordable array of five different vegetable presentations on a wood slab, like roasted baby beets with fennel, dill, blood orange, horseradish almond puree, and pistachio. Executive chef Sean Baker and team do meat right, too, whether sausage/pork belly/chile pizza or house-cured ham topped with crescenza cheese. Gather displays an ethos and presentation one can only dream of becoming a standard everywhere.
2200 Oxford, Berk. (510) 809-0400, www.gatherrestaurant.com
FOR BEEF-LOVING BEAUS: THE SYCAMORE
Skip the Valentine’s Day’s hoopla and take your sweetie out for a night that will make you feel like kids again — to the Sycamore, which offers a delicious “famous” roast beef sandwich. A glorified Arby’s staple on grocery store-reminiscent sesame buns with BBQ sauce and mayo, the sandwich salutes the native Bostonian owners’ roots. But the roast beef sandwich isn’t the only item that shines at this humble Mission eatery, which doubles as a cozy beer and wine bar. Pork belly-stuffed donut holes in Maker’s Mark bourbon glaze are pretty near orgasmic. A slab of pan-fried Provolone cheese is enlivened by chimichurri sauce and roasted garlic bulb. I applaud its all-day hours and prices under $9.
2140 Mission, SF. (415) 252 7704, www.thesycamoresf.com
FOR PURIST PARAMOURS: HEIRLOOM CAFÉ
The menu (less than 10 starters and entrees) is so simple I almost got bored reading it. But each dish served in this Victorian-yet-modern dining room was so well executed that my skepticism vanished. More than a little Chez Panisse in its ethos, Heirloom will delight that special someone with a purist take on food, with ultra fresh, pristine ingredients, impeccably prepared. Savor a mountain of heirloom tomatoes piled over toasted bread with pickled fennel, cucumbers, and feta, or a flaky bacon onion tart loaded with caramelized onions. Heirloom’s added strength is owner Matt Straus’ thoughtfully chosen wine lists covering wines from Lebanon to Spain.
2500 Folsom, SF. (415) 821-2500, www.heirloom-sf.com
FOR SENTIMENTAL GOURMANDS: SONS & DAUGHTERS
Like Commonwealth, Sons and Daughters is another opening where young, visionary chefs create fine molecular fare at reasonable prices ($48 for four-course prix fixe, à la carte from $9-$24). But this space particularly lends itself to romance: intimate, black and white, with shimmering chandeliers and youthful, European edge. Dishes are inventive and ambitious, like the highly acclaimed eucalyptus herb salad of delicate curds and whey over quinoa, or the seared foie gras accompanied by a glass of tart yogurt and Concord grape granita. It’s a place to hold hands and gaze into each other’s eyes while never neglecting your taste buds.
708 Bush St., SF. (415) 391-8311, www.sonsanddaughterssf.com
FOR NEW YORKER HEARTS: UNA PIZZA NAPOLETANA
Yes, this one’s casual, and you’ll have to wait outside in line. But if your sweetie has New York roots, she will thank you. Pizzaiolo Anthony Mangieri closed his beloved New York City institution, Una Pizza, and moved west. As in NYC, Una Pizza is a one-man show with Mangieri single-handedly crafting each pie (which partly explains the no take-out policy and long waits; popularity accounts for the rest). All this may make it hard to frequent Una Pizza, but if you make the commitment, you will be rewarded with doughy heaven. With only five vegetarian pies, I dream of the Filetti: cherry tomatoes soaking in buffalo mozzarella, accented by garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, basil, and sea salt. On the plus side: all that waiting in line for a hand-made pie will give you and your sweetie pie plenty of time to talk.
210 11th St., SF. (415) 861-3444, www.unapizza.com/sf
FOR AMORE ITALIANO: BARBACCO
True, Barbacco can get obnoxiously noisy and crowded. But it’s a good alternative to its parent restaurant, Perbacco, offering the same outstanding quality at a great value ($3-$14 per dish). For a bustling Italian enoteca-style date, this is the place. Heartwarming food and a thoughtful wine list make it an ideal urban trattoria and a comfortably affordable night out. Order a glass of Lambrusco, the fried brussels sprouts, and raisin and pine nut-accented pork meatballs in a tomato sugo, then marvel at the minimalist bill.
220 California, SF. (415) 955-1919, www.barbaccosf.com
FOR YOUR SWEETIE PIE: BAKER AND BANKER
With dark brown walls and booths, the space exudes a warm elegance. Husband and wife team Jeff Banker and Lori Baker get it right from start to finish with his dishes (vadouvan curry cauliflower soup, brioche-stuffed quail in a bourbon-maple glaze) and her memorable desserts (XXX triple dark chocolate layer cake, pumpkin cobbler with candied pumpkin seed ice cream). Extra points if you buy him a box of pastries to go for the next morning from Baker and Banker bakery next door.
1701 Octavia, SF. (415) 351-2500, www.bakerandbanker.com