The San Francisco Bay Area continues to house one of the world’s best collections of restaurants. The region is particularly strong on raw ingredients and culinary talent. I was lucky enough to make four trips to the area in 2014, spending quality time in San Francisco, Napa and Oakland. Here are my 12 favorite dishes from the Bay Area from the past year.
Numbered establishments on the map correspond to information below for easy reference. Selections appear in alphabetical order, instead of my order of preference.
1. Cockscomb Last Supper ($23)
Cockscomb is a highly personal restaurant from chef Chris Cosentino in SoMa, complete with a skateboard depicting his cartoon image, stuffed chickens leading to the second floor dining room and lounge, even custom wallpaper in the restroom with roosters, bunnies, owls, and skulls. A section of the menu titled Offal & Butchers Cuts includes daily “fall offs,” which your server will recite. Luckily, Cosentino’s Last Supper was available, featuring a single link of northern Italian style sanguinaccio, pocked with pork fat and well-spiced, served with four plump, low-brine Washington state oysters, a fried duck egg, parsley salad for brightness, and toasted Tartine country bread to soak up the stock at the bottom of the bowl. With this much flavor in a single dish, I can see why Cosentino would choose this combo for his last supper.
2. Farmstead Laddie’s “Eat Your Veggies” Board ($24)
This restaurant from Long Meadow Ranch Winery features the seasonal cooking of Executive Chef Stephen Barber, with gardens ringing the property and the bulk of remaining ingredients coming from 30 acres in Rutherford that promise “excellence through responsible farming.” The huge space touts an open kitchen, meat hook chandeliers, and wood-burning oven and grill that feed on white oak. Laddie’s “Eat Your Veggies” Board may be the best representation of what they’re shooting for at Farmstead, with a wood plank hosting several distinct vegetable preparations. During my visit, that meant roasted cauliflower with harissa, raisins and almonds; a slow-cooked, 62-degree farm egg with creamy Arbuckle grits, greens and house hot sauce; wood roasted carrots (and pickled carrots) with pistachios and avocado mousse; and fat spears of grilled asparagus with preserved lemon aioli.
3. Homestead Tagliatelle ($12)
In 2013, chefs Fred Sassen and Elizabeth Sassen, who both accomplished plenty in San Francisco kitchens, debuted their seasonal, personal restaurant on Oakland’s Piedmont Avenue. The space features an almond wood grill anchoring their open kitchen. Each week, the couple changes their menu to a different theme. Regardless, they “support local, sustainable, humane farming and husbandry.” When I dined at Homestead, they were focused on culinary influences. I’m not sure who they were honoring with this dish, but their house-made Tagliatelle tossed with fava beans, sharp shavings of Pecorino Romano and slightly bitter, slightly spicy arugula, was fantastic.
4. Hong Kong Lounge II Sauteed Water Spinach ($15)
This family-run departure from the original Hong Kong Lounge, spearheaded by Annie Ho, now serves perhaps the best dim sum in San Francisco, with a checklist menu ensuring dishes stay consistently fresh and hot. The Inner Richmond space features an orange exterior and a welcoming dining room with high ceiling and panoramic mural of old time China. They also serve one of the best vegetable dishes I’ve ever eaten at a Chinese restaurant: Sauteed Water Spinach. Stalks and leafy greens arrive in a sizzling pot, dressed in an intoxicating fermented bean sauce with chiles and garlic.