The best of No Salad

You tried 100 things, ate in all 38 restaurants and checked in on every one of the top places Michael Bauer inked on the page. So here it is, the second installment of Best of No Salad (a.k.a. just another San Francisco restaurant list). Go ahead, share, tweet, like or bitch about it. And as always, feel free to ask me where to eat.

Best Bay Area fine dining

The French Laundry

Thomas Keller's epicurean temple still holds the highest rank in the Bay Area, ahem, in the country. It's well worth the months spent trying to get in.

Chef Daniel Patterson's 11-course sensorial extravaganza is, by elimination, the best tasting menu in San Francisco.

Keller's protégé, Corey Lee, has created an exciting restaurant offering Laundry-level food as a tasting menu or à la carte (if you don't feel like eating the whole enchilada).

Best Bay Area casual elegant dining

If Bouchon was any closer, I'd have a sandwich named after me. Keller's second restaurant offers the best French bistro fare in the Bay Area. Authentic, modern, delicious.

With a wine list that will make your head spin before you even start drinking and a Laundry-trained chef in the kitchen (Jason Berthold), RN74 is one of my favorite restaurants in SF.

Chef Joshua Skenes' intensity comes across in his thoughtful food. The price of the tasting menu has gone up since my first visit but it is still worth the try.

Best Bay Area casual dining

This Oakland restaurant is one of the most exciting new places I've been. Fine-dining cuisine in a casual, neighborhoody atmosphere. Sit at the chef's counter, let James Syhabout impress you.

While Central Richmond may not be the epicenter of fine cuisines (maybe a reason Aziza will soon move), chef Mourad Lahlou's Moroccan-inspired food is worth fighting for a parking spot.

Quince's little sister may be the best new restaurant in SF. With an outstanding Italian fare and a casual atmosphere, it's been called the Flour + Water of Jackson Square (yes, it's that hard to get in).

Best Bay Area Brunch

The North of Panhandle favorite started brunch service only a few months ago and already has the best morning fare in SF. By far. Why? Ask chef/owner Laurence Jossel who is always there (that's why).

Where else can you have a 3-course tasting menu on a Sunday, at 10am? Thomas Keller's American eatery changes its menu every day and manages to make it always delicious, no matter when you go.

Foreign Cinema
The dining room is always packed and same-week reservations are not easy to come by. Two good signs this is a place you need to try.

Best Bay Area small plates

In the last "Best of No Salad" list, no restaurant made to the top of this category. That was before Contigo opened its doors, of course. And now, this Spanish tapas place is where I find myself always coming back to. It's that good.

Plum is what Cotogna is to Quince. A casual sister to high-end COI that offers the same inventive cuisine in a neighborhood vibe.

Okay, this is not technically a small plates restaurant but the appetizer list at Kokkari is second to none. So good you may finish your meal before you even get to the entrées.

Best Bay Area restaurant Burger

Chef Laurence Jossel once told me Nopa's burger was better than Spruce's. He said it was on the house if I didn't agree. Suffice to say, I paid for my bill.

It's not just the burger but all the accouterments. The pickled onions, the top-quality cheeses and, of course, the duck fat fries. Like a high-end happy meal.

Hop off Caltrain and grab a burger before you head home. But not just any burger. How about one with caramelized onions, cheddar, bacon, horseradish aioli & French fries?

Best Bay Area restaurant desserts

No sweet tooth can resist the Churros with hot chocolate at Contigo. It's my favorite dessert in SF. No wonder I order it every time, even if I want to try something else. Then I get both.

If you believe chocolate to be better than sex, this is like an orgy on your plate. Order the Chocolate orbit cake, have seconds.

Pastry chef Melissa Chou has the difficult challenge of following Mourad Lahlou’s outstanding cuisine. And she does it brilliantly. Every time.

Best Bay Area bakery

Bouchon Bakery
How far would you go for a morning bun? I drove many times all the way to Yountville just to get a coffee and pastry in this tiny bakery. The line is always long but it's always worth the wait (and the trip).

Tartine Bakery
Speaking of long lines, come rain or come shine. Every morning locals queue for a freshly baked scone, morning bun and chocolate croissant. No better way to start your day.

Best Bay Area on the cheap

Limon Rotisserie
For under 10 bucks you get half roast chicken—likely the best you ever had, and two sides. Get the fried yucca, you’ll find there’s something better than French fries.

Roti Bistro
This West Portal spot serves what I think is the best Indian food in SF. At lunch service, a special menu offers a dozen dishes for about 10 bucks. It’s a steal.

Caffe Museo
The restaurant at SF MoMA serves good Californian/Mediterranean fare for a decent price. Fried gnocchi and Strawberry rhubarb pavlova (when in season) are a must.

Best Bay Area original design

This ambitious SoMa project gave SF something that was long overdue—a restaurant design that is as exciting as its food. On par with some of the coolest dining rooms in NY.

Bar Agricole
The sweeping space in this new SoMa hotspot is beautifully designed with wood panels and glass tube chandeliers. Definitely worth a visit.

Morimoto Napa
This namesake Iron Chef restaurant brings the posh vibe of an LA lounge to the heart of Napa Valley. And somehow it all makes sense.

Best Bay Area restaurant. Period.

The French Laundry
Drum roll. End drum roll. Some may find my choice not surprising, even obvious. I agree, allow me to explain. It takes a lot to make a restaurant great, but it takes a lifetime to make it perfect. Keller himself questions the concept of perfection but if you've been to The French Laundry, you know there's nothing more perfect than that. Some of the best chefs in the US passed through it; Grant Achatz, Corey Lee and Top Chef Richard Blais to name a few. People from all over the world come to it (or try to) every year. More than a restaurant, it's a destination. Or a school, depending on how you look at it. But must importantly, it's absolutely unforgettable. It's been over 2 years since I've been there and I can still remember every course, every taste. As if it was yesterday.

Plum, Oakland

When Daniel Patterson of COI announced details for his upcoming venture, much was written, blogged and tweeted about Plum’s chef that never was—Jeremy Fox. The produce maven of Ubuntu fame had signed up to head the kitchen at the much-anticipated restaurant with great fanfare. But days before opening its doors–anticipation at its peak, foodie newswires were flooded with comments on the sudden departure of the chef. To add to the drama, Fox quit in the eve of a Plum demo week at Il Cane Rosso—Patterson’s casual restaurant. The clock was ticking, the reservation books filling up; the question was, what now?

Unlike COI and Il Cane Rosso, Plum is located across the bridge. Patterson has publicly complained about the costs of running a neighborhood restaurant in San Francisco and considering that the chef lives in the East Bay (I’m not stalking him, that’s also public information), the location seems fitting.

Truth be told, Uptown Oakland can be slightly sketchy at night, but the upside pays off. Space is abundant and parking, a breeze.

Plum is by no means a large restaurant; the dining room fits only 48 people between large communal tables and a chef’s counter. And while the idea is that you sit together with other people—this is a neighborhood restaurant after all, you don’t feel crammed among strangers.

The décor is simple and warm. Dimly lit by hanging Edison bulbs, the room features reclaimed elm tables and benches set against dark walls with artwork by Catherine Wagner depicting Santa Rosa plums. It’s rustic meets urban, if there’s such thing.

Plum is somewhere between COI and Il Cane Rosso, bringing together the best of both worlds. From his fine dining restaurant, Patterson brought the precise techniques seen here from a perfectly poached egg to the complex aromas of a mushroom-infused dashi. From the Ferry Building rotisserie, Plum inherited the accessibility of simple, comfort food.

The result is a sophisticated yet approachable cuisine in a welcoming, casual atmosphere. And while the democratization of fine dining is an undeniable trend (Commis, Saison), Plum diners can experience it at a much lower cost.

The menu

Plum’s menu changes daily and is divided in six sections called Snacks ($4), To start ($9 to $12), Vegetables and grains ($12 to $13), Animal ($15 to $18), Cheese ($13) and Sweet ($6 to $9). Portions are on the small side giving you a chance to try a few different things—three or four dishes per person are recommended. A 16% service charge is automatically included in your bill to be shared among all staff; a common practice in fine dining restaurants like COI and The French Laundry.

The meal

Plum opened its doors with chef Lauren Kiino from Il Cane Rosso running the kitchen and Patterson signed up Charlie Parker to follow suit. The food is prepared with only organic vegetables and pastured meat, poultry and eggs from small farmers.

Heirloom Popcorn, escabeche powder. Lightly dusted with the Peruvian pepper, simple popcorn becomes an irresistible snack you can hardly stop eating.

Also from the Snacks list, Devilled eggs, caperberry-tarragon relish. Cooked perfectly the egg whites hold a yolk cream that is light and fluffy like a well-whipped hollandaise sauce.

From the To start list, Turnip and apple soup, miso, pepper cream. Lightly spicy, creamy and delicious.

From the Vegetables and grains list, Mushroom dashi, yuba, tofu, greens. A delightful soup that warms the body and soul. Raved by Michael Bauer (SF Chronicle) as “the foie gras of broth”, it has Patterson’s signature layering of flavors and aromas. Served with ribbons of tofu skin.

From the Animal list, Slow-cooked farm egg, savory fried farro, chicken, sprouts. A few years from now we’ll look back at the slow-poached egg as the poster child of the organic casual fine-dining revolution—much like tuna tartar towers marked the fancy plating in the nineties. Thanks to sous-vide circulators and talented chefs like David Kinch (Manresa), James Syhabout (Commis) and Patterson who have perfected this dish, the slow poached egg shall not become démodé—unlike the tuna tartar towers. It is and will be the basis for some of the most exciting and prolific concoctions today and in years to come. Here at Plum, the egg meets the chicken in all their deliciousness.

Roasted pork, warm salad of fall vegetables and greens, spicy squash puree, vadouvan vinaigrette. The fork-tender pork is very flavorful. The emulsified vadouvan vinaigrette brings a delicate acidity to the dish.

The Sweets are by themselves worth the trip across the bridge. Milk chocolate cream, tarragon, hazelnuts. Rich and sumptuous with a beautiful textural play, this is the kind of dessert I could eat three of. Okay, maybe four.

Goat cheesecake, poached quince, olive oil ice cream. Another great dessert with beautiful flavors thoughtfully balanced.

In short

Despite the initial rumor mill, Plum survived without a glitch and it has been collecting praises and plenty of stars from all over the Bay. I found it to be refreshingly original. It is surprising yet delightfully welcoming. As for Patterson, he’s not done expanding. Two other additions are in the works—a bar adjacent to Plum and a new restaurant in Jack London Square to be called Bracina. I’m already looking forward to it.

Plum is at 2214 Broadway
Online reservations

Restaurant People

A collection of No Salad’s best people photos over the years. Chefs, cooks, servers and patrons captured in their natural habitat. Enjoy.