Guinea hen pâté, Moorish tea service, tea-smoked duck, eggs Benedict with black truffle hollandaise: the food scene surrounding the recently reopened San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is delivering delicacies that signal a major transformation.
The local dining scene is imitating the art, with a slew of sophisticated, modern concepts. If you’re visiting SoMa to check out the new SFMOMA or the other high-culture destinations, like the recently relocated Gagosian Gallery San Francisco or the upcoming John Berggruen Gallery and The Mexican Museum, fuel your cultural craving at any of these nearby restaurants and bars.
Lead photo by Iwan Baan
Sara Ventiera is a roaming eater and traveler who looks for amusing stories across the United States. She works from New York, Los Angeles and various places in between. Her work has appeared in the Village Voice, New York Daily News, BBC Travel, Zagat, FoodNetwork.com, and more.
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Pickled herring gets an upgrade at modern Scandinavian/French brasserie hybrid, Volta by Umberto Gibin and Staffan Terje, owners of Perbacco and Barbacco. The aforementioned fish is served five ways including traditional pickle, mustard-dill, curry-apple, herring-beet salad and matjes herring, soaked in a brine, served with gubbora, an egg and anchovy salad. The concept pairs Terje's Swedish upbringing with his French training. The classic salmon gravlax is elevated with a dill and white pepper-cure. Humble cassoulet is exalted with dry-aged duck breast, duck thigh, braised greens, imported beans and foie gras jus. The fare pairs with a selection of housemade aquavit and craft cocktails. The namesake drink combines the Scandinavian spirit with carrot juice, honey syrup and lemon, and the ambiance takes cues from Northern Europe, as well, with midcentury-inspired design. The cavernous window-wrapped space is filled with modern glass, metal, light wood and midcentury-like blue tile, with a buzzing bar, airy dining room and mezzanine.
Photo courtesy of Eric Wolfinger
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2. Vitrine Restaurant
The St. Regis San Francisco is not just the home of the city's power set—Al Gore and Google senior VP David Drummond have residences inside its Museum Tower—it's also the address for the Museum of the African Diaspora, directly across the street from SFMOMA. Before contemplating the work, head to the fourth floor for breakfast at Vitrine. The tony hotel restaurant is on the pricy side, but the food is worth it. Many of the ingredients are local and some of the herbs and vegetables are sourced on-site from the hotel's organic terrace garden. Fill up on black truffle frittata or poached eggs "a la Russe," cured Alaskan salmon, pillowy brioche, briny caviar and champagne-infused mousseline sauce. Or catch the curators, gallerists and famous athletes, sipping post-work martinis at the ground-floor bar.
Photo courtesy of Sara Ventiera
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3. Samovar Tea Lounge
Another stop on the SoMa cultural tour is Yerba Buena Gardens, home to multidisciplinary contemporary art space Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' galleries and theater. Luckily for hungry garden-goers, Samovar Tea Lounge has an outpost right on the property, overlooking the green space thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows that line the earth-hued tea room. Outdoor tables with views of the garden and nearby skyscrapers offer a peaceful place to sit when the weather is pleasant. The beverage list offers a wide selection for novices and tea connoisseurs with interesting mixes of black, green, oolong, herbal, and iced as well as fermented, aged pu-erh teas. For food, there's a short yet creative menu of lunch and brunch items with global influences. The tea and food pairings are rare treats such as the traditional three-tier English platter, Japanese (steamed brown rice, seaweed salad and seasonal veggies with Ryokucha green tea) and Russian Service with Tolstoy's Sip Black Tea, borscht and tea-smoked chicken salad.
Photo courtesy of Samovar Tea Lounge
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4. Dirty Habit
Set on the fifth-floor of Hotel Zelos, Dirty Habit is a happy hour favorite among locals for its comfortable yet stylish, film noir vibe. Mod upholstered seats and metal tables sit in front of tufted leather banquettes while futuristic lighting strips highlight the wood-topped, marble-based bar. Outside, a candlelit rooftop lounge is heated year-round, adorned with interesting sculptures, a modern firepit and killer views of the city. The menu incorporates a wide range of innovative New American bar bites and creative cocktails—the shareable punch bowls are a top-seller. Anticipate satirical names like Full of Bologna, a complex, herbal mix of Calvados, Amaro Montenegro, pear, watercress and mint oil with notes of spiced pear, rose petal, baked apples and licorice. Soak it up with fried lamb belly steamed buns topped with peanuts or foie gras torchon with pineapple soda cracker and rum.
Photo courtesy of Dirty Habit