Carolyn Jung

Michael Mina Restaurant, San Francisco
Michael Mina Restaurant, San Francisco

When San Francisco top toque, Michael Mina, opened his flagship, eponymous restaurant in 2004 in the Westin St. Francis on Union Square, it was in a hushed, luxe space all done up in elegant white and pale blue, with crisp tablecloths, elaborate china and one-of-a-kind serving pieces.

Then, when Michael Mina Restaurant moved late last year to the California Street location once home to Aqua restaurant, where Mina first made a name for himself, along with it came a new incarnation of the restaurant. Out went the tablecloths; in went unadorned dark walnut tables. The gleaming china was replaced by rough-hewn, handmade Japanese plateware. And the tempo of the restaurant went up decidedly with the now-lively bar with pop music audible throughout the dining room.

Just don’t call the ambiance “casual,” jokes Ryan Cole, general manager of the restaurant. Chef Mina, he notes, prefers the term, “relaxed,” to reflect the less fussy attitude that today’s diners want in a fine-dining restaurant.

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Bacon Flight at Lafitte

Bacon Flight at Lafitte

Sure, you’ve indulged at restaurants in wine flights, beer flights, and even dessert flights. But when’s the last time you’ve succumbed to a porky-licious bacon flight?

You can at Lafitte at Pier 5, just blocks from the Hilton in San Francisco’s Financial District.

As part of its “Cocktail Hour” that began in December (and which actually stretches for three and a half hours, from 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.), the edgy, waterfront restaurant named for a pirate is offering specialty cocktails and beers, as well as charcuterie and an amazing bacon flight ($10).

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Hamachi Shooters at Alexander's Steakhouse in San Francisco

Hamachi Shooters at Alexander's Steakhouse in San Francisco

When Executive Chef Jeffrey Stout opened a branch of his Alexander’s Steakhouse in San Francisco’s South of Market district about two months ago, he didn’t think the crowds here would differ much from what he gets at his original location in Cupertino.

But how wrong he was.

While the Cupertino restaurant starts to shut down after 9 p.m. because folks in the South Bay are early eaters, the party is just getting started in San Francisco around 8 p.m. and is still going strong three hours later.

The three-story restaurant (formerly Bacar),  a short hop from the InterContinental San Francisco, epitomizes The City’s eclecticism with its exposed brick walls, dramatic wine displays, custom Japanese shoji screens and bustling exhibition kitchen with cooks dressed in trendy black chef’s coats.

Stout, who is half Japanese, and his business partner, JC Chen, continue their upscale, contemporary, Asian-inflected take on a steakhouse here. But unlike the Cupertino location, there is no jaw-dropping display of meat on display in an aging room right when you walk through the doors. Wasn’t room for it in the San Francisco locale, Stout says. Instead, all the meat is butchered at the Cupertino restaurant, then trucked to the San Francisco one twice a week. Read More »

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Chicken liver at Frances restaurant, San Francisco

Chicken liver at Frances restaurant, San Francisco

It may be only a year old, but Frances restaurant in San Francisco, has garnered just about every accolade around, including being a finalist for “Best New Restaurant” in the nation by the James Beard Foundation. It’s easy to see why.

Chef Melissa Perello’s compact restaurant on the edge of the Castro district, a short drive from the Holiday Inn Civic Center in San Francisco, is like your favorite pair of jeans. When you step into it, you feel comfortable and relaxed immediately. You want to return to it often because it’s reliable and just fits so well.

The snug, 45-seat restaurant is named for Perello’s beloved grandma. Perello’s mom sewed the pillows with the big buttons that grace the long, wood banquette that her father helped build.

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Medai snapper and Tasmanian sea trout at Bourbon Steak in San Francisco

Medai snapper and Tasmanian sea trout at Bourbon Steak in San Francisco

Dining at a Michael Mina restaurant is always an exercise in excess. In the best of ways, of course. After all, this is the chef who popularized the idea of trios, where it’s not simply enough to present just one rendition of a dish, but three different ones simultaneously on one plate. It takes skill, timing and sophistication to do that well.

And that’s just what’s on display at Mina’s new Bourbon Steak in the Westin St. Francis San Francisco in Union Square. Bourbon Steak takes the place of the former Michael Mina flagship restaurant there, which has moved to the old Aqua restaurant space on California Street.

The once chic white and eggshell blue 102-seat dining room has been transformed with a more masculine atmosphere with dark charcoal floor-to-ceiling columns and hues of deep cognac and sand. The logo of a steer can be found subtly echoed on the window treatments and water is brought to the tables in whimsical glass milk bottles.

This marks Mina’s fifth Bourbon Steak nationwide. And he has the formula down pat. Read More »

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The 24-layer crepe cake at Cafe de Amis

The 24-layer crepe cake at Cafe de Amis

Walking into the glam back dining room of the new Cafe Des Amis in San Francisco’s Cow Hollow neighborhood, I felt like I should have donned an elegant Hermes scarf for the occasion. If only I owned one.

The three-month-old restaurant, a short drive from the Fairmont Heritage Place San Francisco, was four years in the making. But it was worth the wait. The former Prego Italian restaurant has been transformed into the ultimate brasserie that encapsulates tres French chic with antique marble floors, a nickel bar, deep red walls, crimson leather banquettes, a classic limestone fireplace and an enormous bejeweled chandelier.

Attention to detail is evident, as when the table next to ours was reset and a busser actually brought out a cordless iron to smooth the creases in the white tablecloth.

On a recent Saturday night, when I was invited to dine as a guest of the restaurant, the 200-seat establishment that stays open daily till 1 a.m. was bustling with diners. And this was a slow night, according to our server.

The Bacchus Management Group — which also owns Spruce in San Francisco, the Village Pub in Woodside, Mayfield Bakery & Cafe in Palo Alto, and numerous Pizza Antica outposts — joined with Perry Butler of Perry’s restaurant in San Francisco, who acquired the old Prego spot, a half block from his famous bar, in 2005. They brought on board Chef Edward Carew, who has cooked at top New York spots such as Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park and Craft, as well as San Francisco’s Florio, where he was the executive chef. Read More »

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Duck confit taco at Papito in San Francisco

Duck confit taco at Papito in San Francisco

It isn’t exactly France meets Mexico at the new Papito in San Francisco. But you will find a thoroughly wonderful duck confit taco at this tiny restaurant in Portrero Hill, which was opened in August by the restaurateur behind the popular, Francophile Chez Papa and Chez Maman, both in San Francisco. Read More »

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Dungeness crab cake Benedict at Epic Roasthouse

Dungeness crab cake Benedict at Epic Roasthouse

Oh sure, folks go on and on about the burger at Epic Roasthouse in San Francisco, a half-pound behemoth ($20) made from the trimmings of all that primo Prime grade beef on the menu.

Burger at Epic Roasthouse in San Francisco

Burger at Epic Roasthouse in San Francisco

But one cannot live by burgers alone. Well, not all the time, anyway.

To that end, there’s also brunch. The restaurant, a short hop from the Harbor Court Hotel, San Francisco, offers brunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Take a seat inside or outside this restaurant, which is right on the Embarcadero and boasts picturesque views of the Bay.

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Smores at Masa's

Smores at Masa's

Hong Kong-born and San Francisco-raised, Maggie Leung is turning out irresistible modern interpretations of classic desserts at the elegant Masa’s restaurant in San Francisco, a short stroll from the Campton Place Taj Hotel, San Francisco.

Leung, who became executive pastry chef there this past summer, has given sophisticated spins to a chocolate walnut tart, made dainty and memorable with a fleur de sel flourish and a scoop of Earl Grey ice cream; strawberry pain perdu with a distinctive rose-geranium creme anglaise; and s’mores with housemade graham cracker ice cream, hot fudge, toasted marshmallows, candied hazelnuts and hazelnut powder between two chocolate cookies.

After studying molecular biology in college, she turned to the science of baking, enrolling at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. After earning a degree in pastry art, she went on to work at Masse’s Pastries in Berkeley, where she focused on elaborate French pastries and intricate wedding cake designs.

Afterward, she joined the staff of Americano in San Francisco, before becoming executive pastry chef at the Lark Creek Inn in Larkspur (now the Tavern at Lark Creek), where her lemon-blueberry cheesecake parfait was featured in a story in Food & Wine magazine.

– Carolyn Jung of FoodGal

Photo courtesy of Masa’s

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Hot dog and beer at One Market

Foot-long hot dog and beer at One Market

San Francisco’s One Market restaurant, located steps from the Hyatt Regency at the Embarcadero, is a fancy-shmancy place that has hosted celebs such as David and Victoria Beckham, and features high-brow fare (think: prix fixe dinners centered entirely around a particular artisan-raised animal).

But it also knows how to have fun.

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