San Francisco is famously an engine of culinary innovation. Superb locally sourced and seasonal ingredients are a constant source of inspiration for the gastronomically adventurous chefs that call the city home.
With a nondescript, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it entrance, The Progress is an innovative contemporary restaurant set in a former theater dating from 1911. (It is also adjacent to its more relaxed one-star sibling, State Bird Provisions). The minimalist dining room has a soaring arched ceiling and an exposed lath wall accent and features handcrafted earthenware and custom-designed chairs and tables. The “create your own adventure” prix fixe menu comprises five one-bite amuse bouches followed by the diners’ choice of four entrée-size family-style courses from a list of about 13 options. Highlights of our small plates included a fava bean arancini with a light pesto drizzle, and a flaky buttermilk biscuit accompanied by apple-bourbon black butter. Out of the enticing array of dishes, the spicy wood-fired Spanish octopus on a bed of shaved fennel, shell bean hummus and toasted black rice was exceptional.
1525 Fillmore Street. Tel. (415) 673-1294
Intended to resemble an extravagant dinner party, Lazy Bear is a communal dining experience, with diners encouraged to mingle and socialize with other patrons and even to chat with the chefs in the open kitchen. Online ticketing for this extremely popular one-star restaurant requires full payment in advance for one of two nightly seatings at 6 or 8 p.m. Upon arrival for the second seating we were escorted to an atmospheric second-floor lounge with velvet couches and standing tables, where we were offered five appetizers accompanied by Champagne and craft cocktails. The soft-shell crab amuse bouche with green tomato and ramps was delicious, but the goat cheese tart with a two-inch-high layer of goat cheese on a thin, flaky crust and accompanied by three small diced beets and a few shavings of Meyer lemon was ill-conceived. After the last guests of the 6 p.m. seating had filed out, we were ushered downstairs to our assigned places at one of two long wooden tables and handed a Lazy Bear “Field Guide” booklet with spaces to write notes. Highlights of our multicourse feast included Dungeness crab with snap pea, avocado, charred cucumber and mint, and a halibut plate accompanied by crawfish and crisp summer squash. Two large desserts and three bite-size sweets concluded our meal. Guests can opt for a wine pairing to accompany their meal. Though the wines were of a very high caliber, there were too many whites for my taste and only one red served. The service was professional, but since all diners are served the same dish at the same time, it can feel a little rushed.
The Lazy Bear
3416 19th Street. Tel. (415) 874-9921
Recently awarded a Michelin star, Lord Stanley in the Russian Hill District offers sophisticated European-influenced cuisine in a light-flooded two-level space. The exceptional wine list presents biodynamic wines from around the world. Though there is an à la carte menu, I highly recommend the prix fixe tasting menu and additional wine pairings. Every dish was complex and inventive yet unfussy. The menu changes daily, and for our visit we were presented with a delicious starter of crisp cabbage with house buttermilk and uni bottarga, morels accompanied by English peas, shiitake mushrooms, almond and a light curry sauce, and a dish of wagyu beef with a potato cake and red wine jus. Our peach Melba-inspired dessert with verbena ice cream and milk crumb was outstanding.
2065 Polk Street. Tel. (415) 872-5512
Overseen by three-star chef Corey Lee, In Situ is the new culinary gem at the recently renovated San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). A sleek, light-filled space, it offers a warm and calming environment. The rotating à la carte menu exactly reproduces the signature dishes of over 80 iconic chefs from around the world — 15 at a time, according to the season — allowing visitors to experience the gastronomic achievements of luminaries such as Alice Waters, Thomas Keller and Michel Guérard. We sampled dishes including brown oyster stew (originally by Sean Brock of Husk in Charleston), guinea fowl larp Chiang Mai (David Thompson, Nahm, Bangkok), and spicy pork sausage rice cakes (David Chang, Momofuku Ssäm Bar, New York City).
151 Third Street. Tel. (415) 941-6050