The California Michelin guide came out a few weeks ago. Did you know that out of the 90 listed establishments, 57 are in San Francisco, including all seven, 3-starred restaurants? San Francisco now has two more 3-starred restaurants than New York! I cannot attest to all of these glittering dining rooms, but I can attest to the 3 restaurants that I tried when I spent 48 hours in the city on my way back from French Polynesia last December. They are all very different from one another but they share many qualities, including great service and a certain pride in serving local ingredients and adhering to that farm-to-table ethic Alice Waters pioneered all those years ago.
I’ve been following Saison on Instagram for a long time. It’s one of my friend John’s favourite restaurants, which meant I had to add it to my list. I actually didn’t know I was dining at Saison since it was a birthday surprise but I was so glad to be there! We were seated side by side at a table in the Saison kitchen with a full view of the kitchen stage and the behind-the-scenes magic. The Saison kitchen is equipped with a wood burning pit that brings an extra layer of flavour to their exquisite cuisine. I have dined at many restaurants with 3 Michelin stars but this particular meal was one of the best I’ve every experienced. The multi-course meal is superb with a particular care invested in featuring local produce and letting each exceptional ingredient shine. The caviar and sea urchin dishes were particularly memorable but beyond the food, it is the whole experience that is unforgettable. The care and attention that are given to each and every customer. The waitstaff’s dedication and professionalism is outstanding without being stiff or overbearing.
Dinner at Saison is not for everyone as it features one of the most expensive menus in North America. There has been a lot of ink spilled on whether or not it’s worth spending so much money on dinner. I will not get into the whole debate here but I will say that it’s worth the splurge as it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a great place to celebrate a special occasion.
Saison /178 Townsend Street, San Francisco CA 94107 / +1 415 828 7990
I have been a long time admirer of chef Dominique Crenn. Whatever she does, she does with elegance and an unmatched fierceness that leaps at the reader through her social media accounts. I tried booking a table at San Francisco’s Atelier Crenn but they had just received her third Michelin star and it was quite impossible. So instead, I booked a table at the intimate Petit Crenn where the cuisine is simpler but no less delicious. The pristine, all-while dining room is cozy and features a bar and a few tables gathered around it. The service is impeccable and worthy of a Michelin-starred restaurant and the ambiance is friendly and casual. You will only find a 7-course tasting menu at Petit Crenn, inspired by Crenn’s native Bretagne while being driven by California’s bountiful seafood. The result is a symphony that includes seafood or fish in almost every dish. Handled with care and cooked to perfection, each dish brings out the best of every seasonal item used. The plating is exquisite as well. The menu changes often but if the Petit Crenn omelette with caviar happens to be on the menu when you’re there, please order it.
Petit Crenn / 609 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA / +1 415 864 1744
I purchased the Mourad: New Moroccan cooking book when it came out in 2011 and was fascinated by chef Mourad Lahlou’s story and his cooking style inspired by his native Morocco. Since then, he’s continued to make strides and I was glad to notice that he got a Michelin star a few years ago. Eight years is a long time to wait but I knew I wanted to experience his cuisine when I found out I was heading to San Francisco. The Mourad dining room boasts soaring ceilings and gorgeous light flooding in via the grandiose windows. The entire space is an intricate play on textures and patterns, from the mosaic-tiled floor to the columns encased in translucent plexiglass cages and the globe light fixtures adorned with dozens of fairy bulbs. A metal and glass cellar creates an arch that separates the dining room from the bar area. The cuisine is rooted in Moroccan and Middle-Eastern flavours, of course, but it goes beyond that and reaches a more refined status than its humble inspiration. Elevated to fine dining levels, it possesses familiar flavours yet the stunning plating is destabilizing, especially for someone who’s so accustomed to digging into a plate of charred eggplant dip with irreverence. The elegance of it all made me think twice about my posture and table manners but the flavours were so exquisite, from the homemade bread sprinkled with zaatar to the smooth spreads and perfectly spiced kefta meatballs, my favourites! It would be a sin to go to Mourad and not indulge in the hand rolled couscous. You can order a side couscous with brown butter or dig into a main meal. The day I was there, the couscous was served with parsnip, saffron, fresh cranberries, sunflower seeds and maitake mushrooms. The service and staff were lovely and took me on a quick tour of the premises before dessert. The honey and almond finale with beeswax and orange blossom was the splendid ending to an all around beautiful lunch.
Mourad / 140 New Montgomery Street, San Francisco, CA 94105 / +1 415 660 2500