Love seafood? Love understated, sexy spaces? Aphotic has both, and so it leads our picks of San Francisco’s best new restaurants. Michelin-starred chef Peter Hemsley fills his menu with seafood from across Northern California: Mount Lassen trout, Bodega Bay rockfish and abalone from Monterey.
Elsewhere, we have fresh takes on Cal-Indian and Cal-Italian, plus a new spin on a French pastry classic in both sweet and savory forms. And — if you feel like a trip to San Mateo — a fresh address from a family-owned steakhouse, spotlighting both Midwestern and local beef.
You’re here because: If chef Peter Hemsley’s Michelin-spangled résumé hasn’t reeled you in already, his approach to traceable, sustainable seafood surely will. The chef previously of Quince is committed to sourcing directly from fishermen and boutique artisans whenever possible at this new concept, with a particular interest in overlooked and underutilized cuts and species. He’s thus transformed the dining room of the former Palette to better reflect the restaurant’s new name, Aphotic, a reference to the sea’s darkest depths. The space, designed by David Middleton, now features black walls, dim lighting and custom walnut woodwork for an intimate interior in which to discover his imaginative offerings.
You’re dining on: A menu heavily influenced by Japanese flavors and local, seasonal produce. Ikejime rockfish crudo is seasoned with grapefruit, wasabi and house-fermented garum. Dry-aged bluefin tuna takes on an umami richness after hanging out for two months in the aging fridges, in clear view of diners. Even dessert is inspired by the sea, as with an oyster ice cream. Order à la carte or dive into the chef’s 10-course tasting menu, and be sure to explore Trevin Hutchins’s bar offerings, uniting house-distilled botanicals with foraged ingredients and coastal-crafted spirits from around the world. Plus a 7,000-bottle-strong wine list ensures you find the perfect pairing.
You’re here because: With its star-studded design, the new Porterhouse evokes the Golden Age of Hollywood and owner Hamdi “Bruno” Ugur’s first establishment, which was located in the historic San Mateo Theatre. After 16 years, Porterhouse has unsurprisingly got quality steaks and atmosphere on lock, but this new locale boasts a few additions, including an all-new happy hour menu and a new cocktail program from Bar Manager Donald Bodan Jr.
You’re dining on: A French-influenced steakhouse menu from chef Mynor Ajvix, featuring in-house dry-aged Midwest beef with a limited selection of dry-aged, grass-fed local steaks. From porterhouse to filet mignon to New York strip au poivre, the gang’s all here. Diners can also choose from wild-caught fish, vegetarian options like a grilled cauliflower steak or mushroom risotto, or bistro staples like steak tartare or French onion soup. Tableside experiences like flambéed bananas Foster make any dinner out feel like a special occasion.
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You’re here because: You’re a longtime fan of chef Sri Gopinathan and Ayesha Thapar’s Cal-Indian cuisine from their Ettan in Palo Alto. Copra pays homage to Gopinathan’s childhood homes of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, accented by some Sri Lankan influences.
You’re dining on: “Little” and “large” dishes perfect for sharing. The former may include eggplant moju with local sesame leaves and sweet herb yogurt, thattukada fried chicken from Trivandrum or a chutney palette to share. “Large” dishes might see braised lamb shank seasoned with Chettinad masala or black cod seasoned with a shallot crust before being wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in cast iron. Coconut, from which the restaurant derives its name, features heavily, as in a crab curry simmered in coriander, tamarind and roasted coconut, or cauliflower and green apple curry with tangy coconut gravy.
You’re here because: This much-anticipated opening is bringing a fresh take on regional Italian cuisine to a gorgeous dining room in the recently renovated lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco at Embarcadero. The revamp sees ornate metallic detailing, bronze fixtures and sumptuous leather and velvet seating.
You’re dining on: A menu of Italian specialties inspired by the flavors of both Tuscany and Calabria, which provide a showcase for the wealth of Northern California’s local produce and seafood. Think shareable starters like carne crudo with bone marrow and Calabrian oil, or tuna carpaccio with capers, fennel pollen and Calabrian chile. Handmade pastas may include squid ink linguine with umami-rich uni butter, clams and bottarga, or a rich rigatoni pomodoro with burrata and slow-roasted confit cherry tomatoes.
You’re here because: Kevin Bohlin and his team at Saint Frank have kept you supplied with craft coffee for years. Inspired by the Franciscan Brother Juniper, known for his generosity and desire to bring happiness to the lives of others, this spot is the perfect place to meet up with friends over a cup of coffee and a delicious morsel, whether savory or sweet.
You’re dining on: A pastry-driven café menu with a few unique twists. At lunchtime, consider the mushroom chou with roasted portobello mushrooms, red wine mushroom purée and fresh herb salad, or swoon over a cheesy chou with parmesan custard, anchovy and onion powder. Sweet puffs are just as creative: The Tiramichoux is filled with mascarpone and marsala espresso, while the namesake Juniper lemon chou pairs lemon curd, mint, meringue and juniper berries. In addition to the puffs, you can also enjoy a grown-up croissant-wich with Point Reyes Toma cheese and spinach, or a Cubano croissant with mojo pork. And non-chou desserts include a chocolate croissant, blueberry muffin with lemon curd, or peanut butter miso cookie.
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