By Divina Infusino
This story originally appeared in the November/December 2016 issue of Elite Traveler.
The epicenter of the tech world, San Francisco, has evolved into a destination that seamlessly merges creativity, innovation and luxury. These qualities are prevalent in its 30 Michelin star restaurants (49 in the larger Bay Area), its burgeoning neighborhoods exploding with cutting-edge cuisine, an expanding art district, an influx of designer shops and one-of-a-kind accommodations. Surging towards the future without losing sight of San Francisco’s storied history, god-gifted geography, and progressive values has been a precarious balancing act. Yet the interplay of these power the city’s dynamism, creating the San Francisco of the moment.
HOTTEST TICKET IN TOWN
A three-Michelin-starred dining destination, Saison (saisonsf.com) carries the distinction of being California’s most expensive restaurant, with a $398 prix fixe, without wine pairings, tax or service. There is no menu. Dishes change daily and often a meal is completely customized to diners’ preferences. We spoke to chef Joshua Skenes for the lowdown on what makes Saison so special.
Q&A WITH JOSHUA SKENES
Q) What is distinctive about the cooking at Saison?
A) We cook everything around or in an open fire – even the desserts. There is a fire pit, contraptions, wood-burning devices – all to honor the fire.
Q) What does fire cooking do for a dish?
A) It gives depth. It brings the flavors of the products to the surface.
Q) What is the ambition that lies behind Saison?
A) My goal is to create dishes from the highest possible quality products and create around them. To get this level of quality, we have our own farms, animals and fishing fleet.
Q) Can you give us an example of something you cooked recently at home?
A) This morning, a friend woke me at 6am and we went hunting for wild quail. I made a meal from it.
SAN FRANCISCO’S BEST MASTER CHEFS
David Kinch gained a third Michelin star this year for Manresa, which opened 14 years ago and lies 50 miles south-east of San Francisco. “We try to stay true to who we are, which is based on where we are – between the Santa Cruz Mountains, the ocean and Silicon Valley,” says Kinch. “High-end dining used to be a rarity. Now, we live in a golden age of restaurants and wineries.We strive to challenge ourselves and our guests in that environment.”
320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, +1 408 354 4330,
Dominique Crenn’s two-Michelin-starred restaurant, Atelier Crenn, reflects her upbringing in Versailles, France. Her approach to dining is intense but whimsical. The $298 tasting menu is based on a poem that Crenn writes, guests never see an actual list of courses. The food is presented on scenes from nature, on Plexiglas squares or in large spoons bursting with a delicate balance of complex flavors.
3127 Fillmore Street, +1 415 440 0460,
Ravi Kapur opened Liholiho Yacht Club near the Tenderloin district over two years ago and elevated the cuisine of his native Hawaii. The restaurant serves a globe-trotting menu highlighting ingredients associated with the island state, such as Baked Hawaii with Caramelized Pineapple Ice Cream.
871 Sutter Street, +1 415 440 5446,
Aaron London’s Michelin-starred Al’s Place, honored by Bon Appétit as best new restaurant in America last year, specializes in “produce-forward cuisine.” The restaurant serves meat dishes as sides. “Produce changes constantly and it has not been explored like meat-driven cooking,” says London, previously at Napa Valley’s Michelin-starred vegetarian restaurant, Ubuntu. “I look at a carrot, peach, quince, tomato or a fava bean and ask ‘How can I approach it differently?’” London’s obsession with the best, freshest produce, and using as much of it as possible, shows in creations such as Brine-Fermented French Fries, or the Salad with Herbed Avocado, Pistachio Crumble and 20 varieties of lettuce that are delivered in the soil, stored under grow lights and picked fresh for service. London’s food is “ridiculously labor-intensive” – he pickles, oil infuses, smokes and dehydrates. Yet: “My guests don’t need to know that it took 20 people prepping just to get their food to them,” he says. “If they want to know, the staff are informed. Otherwise, they can just come and enjoy a great meal.”
1499 Valencia Street, Liz Subauste,
+1 415 416 6136,
For a city obsessed with fitness and healthy eating, San Franciscans can’t seem to get enough chocolate-swirled, cream-filled pastries.
Mr Holmes Bakehouse opens each day to a long line of slaves to the crave. Joining them could involve up to an hour wait before you pick up a swirling, cream-filled, sugar-dusted Cruffin. The Sushi Croissant, stuffed with smoked salmon, ginger, wasabi and nori accompanied by soy sauce, is also worth the wait.
1042 Larkin Street, mrholmesbakehouse.com
Tartine Bakery & Cafe is also fabled for the daily line that snakes around its corner in the Mission District. It recently opened the airy Tartine Manufactory, an artisan food mecca also anchored by its popular baked goods, which also provides a restaurant, ice-cream shop, bar and coffee shop.
Tartine Bakery & Cafe, 600 Guerrero Street,
tartinebakery.com; Tartine Manufactory,
595 Alabama Street, tartinemanufactory.com
Craftsman and Wolves transforms everyday baked goods and small cakes into art forms and presents them accordingly. Its flagship store is located in the Mission District, with two other city locations and a stand at Ferry Building Farmers Market on Saturdays.
746 Valencia Street, 1643 Pacific Avenue,
1598 Yosemite Avenue, craftsman-wolves.com
Arsicault Bakery was named best new bakery in America by Bon Appétit this summer, specifically for its flakey, golden croissants. Despite its location in the peripheral Inner Richmond district, the line of the hungry now starts when doors open at 7am and it is often sold out by 10am.
397 Arguello Boulevard, +1 415 750 9460