Alan Richman Hearts S.F. Now, Calls New York Restaurants ‘Predictable’

By
Photo: Patrick McMullen

"New York hasn't had much of a century once you get past David Chang," writes Alan Richman in the July issue of GQ. "At each moment in history, there's a city or region that chefs have to visit to learn what's going on in American cooking... Right now it's San Francisco, where restaurants of ambition and imagination are opening." Them's fightin' words, Alan! Richman goes on to give a big round of applause to everything from Mission Chinese Food to Benu, having clearly spent a few weeks traversing the San Francisco Bay and trying out many of the restaurants that have opened here in the last two years. And he points the spotlight first at David Kinch of Manresa, calling him the "father of this emerging movement," and calling his food, "startling, local, Eurocentric, and revered."

It's a love fest all around from Richman, and we're pretty sure there are going to be a lot of high fives around town given how ridiculously complimentary the piece is. It's bound to be a boon for business for smaller spots like Sons & Daughters and Atelier Crenn, which haven't yet enjoyed this kind of national magazine love. Kinch himself told Grub Street last night, "It's basically a summation of everything I've been saying for the last five years about the Bay area. So I'm happy."

Below, a roundup of Richman's ever-superlative thoughts on the dozen or so restaurants he covers in the piece — he also recommends dishes at Plum in Oakland, and Plate Shop in Sausalito, despite noting that chef Kim Alter has departed, and not mentioning that the menu has totally changed. Also, we're a little sad he never made it to Saison, Bar Agricole, or Prospect, but what can you do.

Atelier Crenn
"Eating at Crenn is a delight, if a somewhat inexplicable one. I had a frozen pea soup, niblets of foie gras, and chicken liver crostini, all of them amuse-bouches, all touched by texture-changing chemistry.... So much drama, infinite passion, none of it impeding a good meal."
Recommended dish: Chestnut, Apple, Coffee (dessert by pastry chef Juan Contreras)

Benu
"The most innovative, cerebral, and ambitious of the new restaurants is Benu... [Chef Corey Lee's] tasting menu dishes are quite small, splendidly complex, and exquisitely crafted, yet they're inherently natural. It's as though the hands that fashioned them—many, I suspect — left no fingerprints."
Recommended dish: Eel, feuille de brick, crème fraiche, lime

Chez Panisse
"Suddenly, the fundamental tenets of Waters are under assault. She is perceived as puritanical and minimalist, while the young chefs see their food as sensual and themselves as maximalists... [I ordered] a salad of baby lettuces and goat cheese, possibly the most influential dish in the history of American restaurants... the cheese was creamy, warm, and soft and topped with toasted pain de mi crumbs. The mixed lettuces were photographable.... I give [Waters] credit for not only for discovering vegetables but also for helping liberate America from its dependence on the French-restaurant tradition."

Commis
"A year ago, when I ate at Commis, I almost swiped one of the rapier-like butter knives to protect myself while walking to my car... The restaurant was still severe and standoffish then. It still is, but Syhabout's food has changed. It's more refined, more mature, much lighter, and very artistic."
Recommended dish: Roast poussin in fresh chamomile butter

Commonwealth
"Jason Fox, the chef at Commonwealth, is wildly inventive, matching Dominique Crenn technique for technique and perhaps exceeding her in global reach... Fox almost certainly serves the most ambitious food in San Francisco at the most remarkable prices." [Editor's Note: But Benu's is the most ambitious food at remarkably high prices?]
Recommended dish: Foie gras bonbon

Flour + Water
"I'm not certain there is a better casual Italian restaurant in America than Flour + Water. At first glance the menu looks ordinary — appetizers, pastas, pizza, entrées. Yet thoughtfulness and masterful technique are abundant."
Recommended dish: Nettle cappellacci dei briganti

Mission Chinese Food
"The output of the kitchen is staggering... the corned beef in [Danny Bowien's] kung pao corned beef, made on premises, taste like New York smoked pastrami. Greaseless, fluffy salt-cod fried rice... and Westlake Rice Porridge, thick with chunks of fresh Dungeness crab and flavored with oxtail and cilantro, got me infatuated with two dishes that hadn't interested me before."
Recommended dishes: Warm egg custard; and smoked beef brisket

Sons & Daughters
"Sons & Daughters is a marvel... [Chefs Teague Moriarty and Matt McNamara's] plates have bushels of element, another reaction to the austerity of Alice Waters... I was particularly intrigued by the abalone, a product I've considered wildly overrated for forty-two years."

(The July issue of GQ is on newsstands now, but the online version of the piece is not yet available.)

I ♥ S.F. [GQ - not yet online]
10 Dishes Not to Be Missed [GQ - link live at 9 a.m. ET, June 22]