There is never a shortage of new restaurant openings—and closures for that matter—in our vibrant and ever-changing city. Who would think that some of the most expensive and pristine sushi would be found inside an unremarkable storefront in SOMA, or that some of the best and most authentically prepared Italian food can be found inside a hotel that caters to tourists?
The Theater District has an exciting new Italian restaurant inside the Marker Hotel at 501 Geary Street. For nearly 18 years the iconic space was home to Grand Café and more recently the short-lived BDK/Hotel Monaco. The new concept comes from the restaurant-consulting firm the Puccini Group along with a freshly renovated interior with bright white walls, leather banquettes and an art installation from Amos Goldbaum featuring a series of large, landscape line drawings focused on the city skyline and the Tenderloin.
Photo by Patrick Chin
Executive chef Kevin Scott (Big 4, Scala's, Bar Jules) is serving some of the best Italian food in the city. His menu focuses on refined yet rustic dishes of small plates, pastas, pizzas and several family-style entrees. Start off with the butter beans with goat cheese, roasted tomatoes and breadcrumbs. The tomato base of this dish goes extremely well with the Venetian style meatballs so be sure to order the two together. The eggplant caponata is another flavorful small dish suitable for sharing and comes with perfectly grilled ciabatta. All of the pastas are made in-house and are cooked very al dente, something unheard of a few years ago in a restaurant that caters to tourists and locals alike. The parpadelle with a simple sauce of tomato, butter and Parmesan is ethereal and will make even a native Italian swoon with joy.
Photo by Patrick Chin
Another must-order dish for the table is the fritto misto with calamari, rock shrimp, fennel, lemon and Calabrian chili oil. As for entrees indulge in the iron skillet bone-in rib eye with crispy potatoes and King trumpets, all heavily inflected with the scent of rosemary. Be sure to try one or two specialty cocktails from beverage director Cynthia Tran. Tratto is open seven days a week for breakfast, dinner and weekend brunch.
Located in SOMA along the busy and non-descript Townsend street corridor across from the Zynga headquarters is a little known, hidden gem that has been serving some of the most pristine sushi in the city for the better part of a year. With just 14 seats around the yellow cedar bar Omakase makes for a very intimate experience. Owner Kash Feng (Live Sushi Bar, Live Sushi Bistro) brought on head chef Jackson Yu (Ukai in Japan, Live Sushi, Ebisu) and consulting chef Masaki Sasaki (previously of Maruya) to create a high-end Edomae-style sushi experience.
There is no set menu. Guests choose between two pricing options of $150 or $200 a person (not including sake pairing). The latter typically includes two appetizers, two pieces sashimi, one yakimono or grilled dish and twelve pieces of nigiri, all personally selected by the chef. Dishes change daily and fish is flown in three times a week from Japan’s Tsukiji Fish Market. Servers dressed in traditional kimonos carefully explain the menu and attentively pour sake into handmade Japanese pewter cups, designed to keep the liquid cool. On any given day guests will have the opportunity to taste rare and often hard-to-procure fish such as live conch with botan ebi or tiny Japanese spiny lobster served with abalone. A nigiri serving might include a piece of barracuda, expertly scored, seared with a blowtorch and served barely warm. Omakase—located at 665 Townsend Street—is open Monday through Saturday for dinner.
Photo by John Storey
James is a food writer and Bay Area chef who owns and runs a private dinner party and cooking class business specializing in regional Italian and Spanish cuisine. See CookWithJames.com