Appetite: Intriguing June openings

Pub date June 25, 2010
SectionFood & Drink

It’s been an exhausting, thrilling whirl of new openings in SF this month. And it’s not quite over yet… as usual, I hit most new SF openings right away, then continue to revisit as they settle in (if they are worth revisiting, which is often the case). Here’s a quick, initial take on openings of the past week or two, with more to come next week (for more details, check out my upcoming July 1st issue of The Perfect Spot):

SAISON — Walk through the side gate of Stable Cafe, with unique 1800’s carriage house setting, and enter Saison’s newly remodeled garden, evocative of an Italian or Mediterranean villa patio: white lights strung across the courtyard, lemon tree emitting a soft citrus scent, rocking chair and vintage ashtray stand inviting you to linger with a glass of wine, and wood-burning hearth (which will also be a bread baking oven with mention of whole animal cooking to come)? Entirely transporting.

Chef and owner Joshua Skenes has taken his acclaimed weekly “pop-up” and launched a full, Tuesday through Saturday restaurant, opened June 22.  Cooking on the only Molteni stove in the Bay Area, the 30-seat interior is minimalist, but warm and glowing, with open flow between dining room and kitchen. Prices are hefty for this unusual dining experience, from a one nightly seating, $98 per person/8-course tasting menu, to a four-seat chef’s counter at $200 per person, or a two-seat chef’s table with 20 customized courses at $200 to $500 per person (!) They were very smart to add the casual, enchanting patio to the mix with a la carte options for those not partaking in multi-courses. Something for everyone.


Saison’s garden entrance

At a pre-opening dinner, I sampled possible menu offerings, while Sommelier Mark Bright kept us satiated with wine pairings like affordable 2005 Chateau de Montpezat Coteaux du Languedoc and 2004 Neal Ellis Shiraz. Dishes were delicate, tiny, artistic, and, of course, farm fresh, from hand-picked, local ingredients. Highlights include crispy sweetbreads roasted with caramelized honey and intriguing slant of berbere spicing, as well as a perfect rendition of one of my favorites: rhubarb as a sorbet on milk granite with tart strips of rhubarb decorating the sorbet.
2124 Folsom, SF.


PROSPECT — Nancy Oakes, Kathy King and Pamela Mazzola of Boulevard opened the long-anticipated Prospect restaurant with a stellar crew: Ravi Kapur as chef, Brooke Arthur (long a favorite for her cocktail menu at Range), and Amy Currens as Wine Director (formerly of Luce). You couldn’t ask for a better line-up, with all the elegance of Boulevard but more of an experimental, hip approach.

The space is huge, almost corporate-looking, but warmed by brown tones and centered bar. Granted, I haven’t dined fully here yet but at the pre-opening party, I sampled a wide range of the food (at least ten dishes), pretty much all of it stellar, as well as three fine cocktails. The kitchen is impressive, allowing a finely tuned team to crank out Dayboat scallops ($16) with summer truffles and shaved squash, better-than-Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches, and whole wheat crepes ($19) stuffed with ricotta, nettles and roasted mushrooms. I love black cod ($14) in red curry with snap peas, shiitakes, and lightly-fried shiso shrimp fritters. Desserts were equally intriguing from a blissfully dark, creamy chocolate mousse/cake topped with berries, to the truly unique presentation and taste of cherries atop a thyme pavlova ($8) with vanilla, black pepper and frozen yogurt.

Cocktails ($10-11) were all high quality from a tart, bracing Mr. White (Pueblo Viejo blanco tequila, St. Germain elderflower, strawberry mint shrub, lime) to a balanced Prospector (Wild Turkey Rye 101, Zirbenz Stone Pine Liqueur, Drambuie, pineapple gum, lemon). I suspect Prospect is going to become a key SF dining and drinking destination.
300 Spear, SF.
(415) 247-7770

HOOKER’S SWEET TREATS — The name continually prompts the obvious jokes, but all that aside, Hooker’s Sea Salt Dark Chocolate-covered Caramels are as addictive and bitchin’ as everyone says.

Hooker’s caramel and a capuccino

Visiting opening day, I found it’s not merely a storefront for the caramels (expensive at $2 each, $7 for 3, or $20 for 10), but also for wonderful coffee and capuccinos from Sightglass, serving the first of their own roasted beans here (returning the favor since Sightglass first sold Hooker’s caramels). They bake bread pudding daily (always wins points with me), a nod to the owner’s Louisiana roots (another point!) The space is cozy, with one communal table that gazes lazily out a window framed by a leafy tree, and turn-of-the-century country kitchen decor of dark blue and wood. Along with microscopic Farm:Table, there’s two linger-worthy, coffee mecca cafes in this neck of the ‘Loin.

442 Hyde, SF.