San Francisco


From the team behind Beretta, the Mission's cocktail high altar, comes Lolinda, a new Argentine-style asador that aims to combine grilled meats with great cocktails. The sizzling meats and house-made sausages chef Alejandro Morgan turns out from his wood-fired parilla need little more than the accompanying chimichurri sauce and one of Chris Lane's outstanding cocktails. His refreshing Oaxacan Cross (mezcal, ruby Port, lime, pineapple, ginger, maraschino, orange peel) is an exotic blend of ingredients that's as versatile as black shoes: It goes with everything. Even if you have no room for dessert, don't skip the Devil's Backbone, a whiskey-based cocktail that doubles as after-dinner drink and digestif, with two kinds of Italian bitter liqueurs.
—Lou Bustamante

Lolinda, 2518 Mission St.; 415-550-6970, (reviewed W&S, 06/13)


Saison co-owners Joshua Skenes (chef) and Mark Bright (wine director) have a lot more elbow room now that they've moved from Folsom Street into the former California Electric Light Company building near the ballpark. Built in 1888, the structure is a red brick survivor of the 1906 quake. During the move, Bright has nearly doubled the size of his Burgundy-centric wine list, and made a particular effort to pick up more whites from heavy hitters like Raveneau, Coche-Dury and Domaine Leflaive. White Burgundy shows particularly well against the subtle toasty scent that pervades the dining room from the kitchen's wood-burning hearth. Its glowing embers leave their mark on many of Skenes' dishes, from roasted brassicas to jewel-like pieces of fish. With the campfire aromas and the pristine seafood, the precipitously thin Zalto stemware and Michael Jackson on the sound system, Saison feels simultaneously casual and high-concept. One significant shift: The new space includes a lounge area for those who aren't in the market for the $298 tasting menus. Sit at the bar, and the kitchen will send out six or seven courses, rather than the full 20-plus, for around $90.
—Luke Skykora

Saison, 178 Townsend St. (at 3rd); 415-828-7990, (reviewed W&S, 06/13)

> AQ

Integrated into the exposed brick and high ceilings of a former factory, AQ brings some buzz to a section of the mid-Market neighborhood that’s still rough around the edges. The concept is seasonal to the extreme: The menu changes with the seasons, of course, but so does the décor. The winter solstice brought white tablecloths, white wainscoting and light fixtures that look like clustered snowballs, while chef Mark Liberman prepared satisfying, precise dishes such as seabass with a crackling skin served over a silky potato croquette and a neat, succulent square of boudin noir with chestnuts and quince. Instead of the expected trophy wines—you can count the red Burgundies and Napa cabernets on one hand—beverage director Kristen Capella worked with consultant Jesse Becker, MS, to focus on lively, artisanally produced wines from both classic and emerging regions. The choices range from the Mosel to California’s Anderson Valley, with two pages dedicated to the Loire, and a surprising amount of interesting options under $40. Soon, there will be a whiskey lounge on the restaurant’s lower level, too.

AQ, 1085 Mission St., San Francisco; 415-341-9000, (reviewed W&S, 04/12)

> Mosto

Photo by Liza Gershman

Inspired by Mexico City’s Tequila and mezcal bars, the traditional stop for a quick drink and a botana (small bite), restaurateur Joe Hargrave and his team have created Mosto. Named after the term for fermenting agave juice, the diminutive space is stocked with over 300 bottles of Tequila, mezcal and sotol, a rustic and slightly vegetal spirit distilled from the Desert Spoon evergreen. There’s a short list of cocktails, but the focus is on the spirits themselves, available by the glass or five-ounce carafe. All come with a traditional shot of house-made sangrita and an escabeche “pickle-back,” additions that whet the palate for the impressively good tacos al pastor or con nopales that come off the spit and griddle at the front of the bar.
—Lou Bustamante

Mosto, 741 Valencia St. (at 18th St.), San Francisco; 415-626-1344, (reviewed W&S, 02/12)

> Cotogna

Cotogna is chef/owner Michael Tusk's second restaurant, located next door to his first, the local icon Quince, on San Francisco's original Barbary Coast. The glowing fires from the brick pizza oven and the imported Italian rotisserie create a deliciously inviting dining room, both visually and aromatically. Add to that a $24 prix fixe, three-course menu and wine director David Lynch's all-Italian, all-$40-a-bottle wine list, and it is easy to understand Cotogna's popularity. Grab a seat at the copper-topped bar for Dungeness crab with avocado and radish and a glass of the 2009 Colle Massari Melacce Montecucco Vermentino, or start on a bottle of De Forville's 2008 Langhe Nebbiolo while watching your pork shank turn on the spit.
—Devon Magee

Cotogna, 490 Pacific Ave. (at Montgomery St.); 415-775-8508, (reviewed W&S, 10/11)

> Boxing Room

Photo by Liza Gershman

The vibe is relaxed, the food is fried (well, only half the menu), the oysters are fresh and the bar is hopping at this new arrival from the group behind Absinthe in Hayes Valley. The former Citizen Cake space, stripped down to wooden beams, has been reborn with a Cajun/Creole menu by Louisiana native Justin Simoneaux. An open kitchen turns out New Orleans favorites like fried chicken, crawfish étoufée and po'boys. At the zinc bar that meanders along the back of the room, folks happily slurp things marine. Families settle into roomy booths, groups share hush puppies and boudin balls at the larger tables where suits and messenger bags mingle until midnight. There's an impressive array of brews available on tap or in bottle, but don't overlook Ian Becker's compact, intelligent and reasonably priced wine list, which is also perfectly in tune with the food. He offers 14 wines on tap or by the glass, including Zocker Edna Valley Grü ner Veltliner and the biodynamic Qupé Sawyer-Lindquist Vineyard Syrah. For the record: Eric Texier's Brézème Roussanne and Marcel Lapierre Morgon work just fine with fried alligator.
—Barbara Haimes

Boxing Room, 399 Grove St. (at Gough); 415-430-6590, (reviewed W&S, 10/11)

> Locanda

Photo by Eric Wolfinger

Locanda, Italian for "guest house," describes Craig and Annie Stoll's comfortable Roman-inspired osteria in the heart of the Mission District. The Delfina owners set their newest dining room in front of an open kitchen with a wood-fired grill, anchored by a ten-seat communal table. Chef Anthony Strong's menu showcases a range of housemade pastas, including toothsome cuscini (little pillows) stuffed with gulf shrimp and topped with creamy burrata. The Quinto Quarto (fifth quarter) section features bold dishes like the trippa served with tomato, chickpeas, pecorino and mint, as well as oxtails alla vaccinara. Beverage director Chris Wright has filled the taps with domestic wines and the list with wines from regions conquered by the Roman empire (that includes Rioja, Champagne and Austria's Kamptal, in addition to all of Italy).
—Chelsea Englund

Locanda, 557 Valencia St. (btw. 16th and 17th Sts); 415-863-6800, (reviewed W&S, 10/11)

> Plum

At Plum, Daniel Patterson's Oakland outpost, servers and cooks may wear black and multiple dining parties may share the long wooden tables, but like its forbearer Coi, this jewel box-sized spot serves food that is both pure and ingredient-driven. The compact Modernist menu is divided into primordial themes such as "grains" and "animal"; that might mean pork on a bed of crisped spaetzle blended with bits of trotter, or pea panisses on yogurt and smoked farm egg with quinoa, zucchini and shishito. All are complemented by the list of slightly edgy, mostly Old World wines, available "by the flask" as well as by the glass and bottle—think Delarche Pernand-Vergelesses or the Kerner from Cantina Valle Isarco. When the construction project next door is completed, the restaurant will be adding a full bar to serve up their own take on distinctive artisan cocktails.
—Barbara Haimes

Plum, 2214 Broadway, Oakland, CA; 510-444-7586, (reviewed W&S, 10/11)

> Alexander's Steakhouse

Alexander's is one big wink to the steakhouse genre. Given the bull's silhouette on the signage, the brick-and-glass exterior suggests an evening spent with a baked potato and a massive porterhouse. But one look at the menu, where ingredients like sea beans and matsutake abound, and it becomes clear that tradition is about to be upended. As the bartender points out, Alexander's is a "Japanese restaurant that happens to serve steak." Chef Jeffrey Stout's prime rib is indeed a classic slab of tender beef, served in its own jus with horseradish on the side—but, in a nod to his Japanese heritage, he pairs it with a hamachi sushi "shot." There are short ribs, but here they come tempura-fried; in addition to creamed spinach, there are truffle-buttered edamame and miso eggplant. Likewise, Johnny Slamon's extensive, globe-spanning wine list offers familiar steakhouse staples (read: cabernet) peppered with intriguing options—say, a duo of Rioja blancos from López de Heredía or an array of German rieslings. Add in a notable sake list and a collection of artisan cocktails that make generous use of Japanese whiskeys, and it's clear this isn't your dad's steakhouse.
—Jesse Hirsch

Alexander's Steakhouse, 448 Brannan (at 3rd St.); 415-495-1111, (reviewed W&S, 10/11)

> Bluestem Brasserie

From its geometric wood floor to its gray banquettes, Bluestem exudes mid-20th century modern. The svelte advertising executives of AMC's Mad Men would probably feel quite at home here. Or would they? Because this steakhouse is no mere throwback, nor is it a stuffy boy's club. Instead of a traditional martini, that young woman in the lounge is sipping a Salt Lick, a potent concoction of Zubrowska vodka, Noilly Prat Dry and caper berry brine, garnished with a plump caper berry. The steak tartare, tangy with Worcestershire sauce, also flirts with nostalgia while adding some contemporary touches: a quail egg on top, a handful of mâ che, a drizzle of pistachio oil. While cocktails might better drive home the early-1960s fantasy, owner Adam Jed and bar manager Matt Cleave have compiled a trim wine list that yields California classics from the likes of Ridge, Mount Eden and Heitz, with a few choice imports slipped in (William Fèvre Chablis, Graillot Crozes-Hermitage Blanc) to appease more Eurocentric palates. There are also cool, fresh wines on tap. Together with the watermelon salad, the oysters, the sautéed branzino and the chickpea cake with eggplant caponata, this cosmopolitan steakhouse can satisfy even those who shy away from red meat.
—Luke Sykora

Bluestem, One Yerba Buena Lane; 415-547-1111, (reviewed W&S, 10/11)

> Leopold's

Confronted by five-litre beer boots and lederhosen-clad wait staff, the casual observer couldn't be faulted for assuming that Leopold's is a German-style brew haus built with a tourist crowd in mind. After all, Fisherman's Wharf isn't too far away. But when the pig trotter rounds arrive, served on a delicate bed of frisée with pickled shallots and a quail's egg, this Austrian-styled establishment betrays surprising nuance. Dishes like the pan-seared trout, wrapped in pancetta and filled with leeks and garlic purée, bring further sophistication to an antler-heavy dining room reminiscent of an alpine ski lodge. Pilsners and lagers abound, but Leopold's small wine list, leaning toward Austria and Northern Italy, is well-chosen. The list is embellished by quirky selections like the 2009 Crnko Maribor Jarenincan, a zippy, citrus-inflected blend of riesling, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc from Slovenia. That wine provides an admirable match for crispy speck and arugula flatbread. And if a glass or two of zweigelt leads to a boot of Bitburger and a round of drinking songs, who are we to judge?
—Jesse Hirsch

Leopold's, 2400 Polk (at Union); 415-474-2000, (reviewed W&S, 10/11)

> Piccino

Once an unassuming neighborhood café, Piccino has become a Dogpatch neighborhood destination since moving to a new (and larger) space in late May. On sunny weekend afternoons, light floods through its raft of west-facing windows. In the center of the minimalist dining room, a long communal table holds a wooden bowl cradling bright lemons. This approachable, no-frills vibe extends to the kitchen, where Rachel Sillcocks turns out simple, satisfying Italian-inspired dishes presented with a minimum of fussiness. While the pizzas don't quite share the dramatically bubbly, thoroughly charred crusts that seem to be de rigueur for the city's popular pizza spots these days, Piccino's crust is flavorful and chewy with a satisfying crunch; salads like the little gem and marinated cucumber salad enlivened with nutty fried capers and a juniper-infused dressing provide a lovely, understated starting point. Wayne Garci, husband of co-owner Sher Rogat, builds Piccino's wine list mostly from selections he sells next door at his DIG wine shop—which explains the focus on artisanal French and Italian wines. Head for the fleshy yet rainwater-clean pinot nero bianco from Vercesi del Castellazzo in Lombardy, or spring for a bottle of the vibrant and sunny COS Frappato. Since Dogpatch is a bit out of the way, you may as well make an afternoon of it. Grab a cup of coffee at Piccino's attached coffee stand, browse the shelves at DIG and, if kids are in the picture, walk two blocks east to Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous for ice cream cones.
—Luke Sykora

Piccino, 1001 Minnesota St. San Francisco, CA 94107; 415-824-4224, (reviewed W&S, 10/11)

> Nojo

"Nojo" is Japanese for "farm," a tip-off that Nojo is serious about the provenance of its ingredients. A list of "daily nojos" on the menu might boast Prather Ranch (beef tongue), TwoXSea (steelhead) and Mariquita Farm (squash blossoms) any one day. But this small Hayes Valley izakaya wears its dedication to quality lightly. Chef/owner Greg Dunmore divides the menu into two categories: "stick" and "not on a stick." A non-stick dish might include tender squid resting in a sake and butter broth with some seriously earthy new potatoes and vibrant chrysanthemum greens. The yakitori dishes include an exceptionally succulent chicken thigh and scallion skewer with a hint of sweet tare and a woodsy char. To match, head for the sake list, which ranges from the crisp yet open-knit Shichi Hon Yari ("Seven Spearsmen") to the more deeply savory Genji ("Shining Prince").
—Luke Sykora

Nojo, 231 Franklin St. (at Linden); 415-896-4587, (reviewed W&S, 10/11)

> Ippuku

Photo by Mitsue Nagase

Ippuku is a veritable temple to umami.
Dinner in the narrow, gently lit space begins with a wedge of raw cabbage and dipping sauce, a revelation in the potential of Brassicaceae. Then there are the salty skewers of bold chicken heart and toothsome gizzard as the woodsy smell of burning charcoal wafts through the dining room. Or the house-made pickles, which include a bonito-laced preparation of kelp so deep and savory that it is could be mistaken for preserved beef. This is tough food for wine, or even sake, so chef/owner Christian Geiderman has gathered some 30 shochus—over half of the bottlings available Stateside, he estimates. Dry and palate cleansing, the spirits cut through the fatty grilled meats like a knife, readying the palate for the next skewer—and you'll want many. There's even a shochu to match the pickles: Yufuin Black, barley-based and rendered slightly smoky by a stay in used whisky barrels.
—Luke Sykora

Ippuku, 2130 Center St., Berkeley, CA; 510-665-1969, (reviewed W&S, 10/11)