Forget any notion of stuffy dining rooms, pretentious servers and worshipful silence that Michelin- starred restaurants may conjure in your mind. A recent trip to San Francisco showed beyond a doubt that dining in that city’s expanding constellation of contemporary, casual (unless you feel like dressing up), one star Michelin restaurants is more about revelry than reverence.
Think fun not fussy at San Francisco’s constellation of one-star Michelin restaurants.
Al’s Place, Lord Stanley, and Kin Khao were on our list this time, as well as a return to State Bird Provisions, which we discussed in detail in a previous post.
We were only able to get a 5:30 p.m. reservation on a Sunday night at the very popular Al’s Place www.alsplacesf.com. The sparely decorated room was packed when we arrived. There are only 46 seats at this Mission District eatery and they are in high demand—it’s no wonder with Chef/owner Aaron London at the helm. His creative cookery is the reason Bon Appetit magazine named Al’s Place best new restaurant of 2015. Just about everything coming out of the tiny kitchen was remarkable.
Chef Aaron London (AL’s Place) was kind enough to stop and smile for a quick pic. His fantastic fries are pictured to his left.
We were a party of four that night so had the chance to sample quite a bit of the menu, which is designed for sharing. One of our guests had food sensitivities but the kitchen was incredibly accommodating.
There’s a reason Al’s Place is packed. The food is stellar and the service exceptional.
Start with some Snackles—small dishes just right for munching while you enjoy an aperitif and decide what else you’d like to eat. We had chickpeas Catalan style and the highly touted brined French fries served with a smoked apple dipping sauce. The fries lived up to their reputation–crispy and differently delicious!
Catalan style chick peas with a tasty Romesco sauce was one of the snackles we chose.
Next up were the Cold/Cool choices. Some eyes rolled when I suggested a salad, but our server, Rebecca, assured us that this would be the most beautiful salad ever and she was right—cool, crisp greens, avocado, pistachio, all topped with lovely edible flowers.
A beautiful salad, indeed.
We also chose the green bean casserole. This is not the casserole of anybody of a certain age’s youth—the dish was composed of perfectly cooked green beans served cold with tiny tomatoes, micro greens, basil, and creamy burrata—yum!
Not your mother’s green bean casserole.
The black lime cod in stone fruit curry was the star of the Warm/Hot offerings, for us. The fish was perfectly prepared and the curry was complex with just the right amount of heat.
The cod in stone fruit curry was spectacular.
The yellow eye bean stew with torn bread was hearty and could have been a meal on its own. Some at our table found it a little salty though.
Yellow eye bean stew with torn bread was a substantial dish.
Our pick from the Sides was smoked brisket. We’re still not sure why this dish is considered a side. It was a large portion and our companions pronounced it thoroughly delicious. We got a second order.
The brisket could be the centerpiece of any Sunday supper.
On our visit, Limited Availability choices included trouty brioche, fish head under a brick, a dry aged rib eye and foie gras. Limited Availability means just that, so if you see something you like, order it. It may not be on the menu the next time around. We said, “yes” to the trouty brioche with its terrific textures, colors and tastes. It was a thick slice of brioche with roe and pickled green peach—superb.
Trouty Brioche featured creamy cheese nestled under a bed of crunchy roe on a tender slice of brioche.
Though we all were very satisfied with our dinner, we couldn’t resist dessert. The brownie with ice cream was perfect for sharing and a sweet ending to a sensational meal.
We always try to save room for dessert. A good idea at Al’s Place.
Dine al fresco at one of the street side tables.
Al’s Place also has a few outdoor tables on the side of the restaurant. Perhaps we’ll try one of those on our next visit– and there will definitely be a next visit!
If you go to Lord Stanley lordstanleysf.com, and you should, consider sharing all of the dishes you want to try, especially if there are only two of you. You’ll have the opportunity to try more of the delicious dishes on offer that way.
Lord Stanley has tables upstairs and down. The room is casual and lively.
We shared starters—salt cod beignets and onion petals in sherry vinegar and then had the heirloom tomatoes—all deliciously good and clever rifts on what only sound like simple dishes.
Onion petals in sherry vinegar topped with edible flowers was our first dish.
The salt cod beignets were tasty with a dollop of house- made tartar sauce.
A look inside the beignets.
Each dish had something special and unexpected—all in a very tasty and good way. The heirloom tomatoes were done with cardamom and gazpacho, for example.
Perfectly ripe heirloom tomatoes in a light, bright gazpacho.
We both had the incredible halibut for our entrees which was served with butter beans, roasted dashi, and samphire, whose crunchy texture reminded us of ice plant. It was all delicious, prepared perfectly, and easily big enough to share. We realized we could have had a meat dish as well, had we chosen just one order of halibut. The short rib at the next table looked amazing—and we were assured that it was. Next time!
The halibut was succulent and rich.
Lord Stanley has a well-priced and interesting wine list. Our server was very knowledgeable and made several excellent suggestions for wine pairings.
Lord Stanley’s interesting wine list has a number of organic/ biologic wines on offer.
This light Loire Valley red was organically cultivated and manually harvested. It was a fine complement to our meal.
Though we’d had plenty to eat, we splurged and had the dark chocolate pudding with black sesame and toasted rice for dessert. The “pudding” was a delightfully different assemblage of tastes and textures from the dark chocolate crumbles to the crispy toffee on top.
The dark chocolate pudding was a winner in both taste and texture.
Don’t be put off by Kin Khao’s www.kinkhao.com simple surroundings. Located in the Parc 55 Hotel in what looks a lot like a coffee shop—this place is really good. They have extraordinary Thai food, attentive, knowledgeable service and a solid wine list with interesting choices that complement the cuisine nicely.
Spare surroundings belie the rich, tantalizing Thai food on offer.
The brief wine list perfectly complements the complex flavors of the food.
Entrees are pretty large but the appetizers are so good, it’s hard not to start with one or two. The Som Tum Papaya Salad is complex, flavorful and super hot—maybe the spiciest item on the small menu, but one bite leads to another and after a few, you’ll enjoy the heat.
If you like it spicy, don’t miss this papaya salad.
The Pretty Hot Wings are just that, and pretty tasty, too. They hold their own against Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok wings in our estimation.
Tangy, spicy and just right, these wings hold their own against more well- known competitors.
The Pinto Market Lunch with green curry, rabbit meatballs, pork riblets, salad and rice was more than satisfying and a veritable smorgasbord of taste treats.
The Pinto Market Lunch is a hearty, satisfying meal full of flavor.
A light chicken broth and a additional house- made curry sauce come on the side.
We also had a very hearty and savory noodle dish called Kanom Jeen Nam Ngiew. Tender braised pork cheeks with rice noodles, Ngiew flowers, cherry tomatoes, pickled mustard greens in a hearty pork broth made a delicious dish. Curries are prepared in- house from scratch each day.
Kanom Jeen Nam Ngiew was a sensational dish with complex flavors.
For a smaller appetite or on a hot day, try the chicken fat rice with ginger poached chicken, served with a restorative cup of chicken broth—light and delicious.
The Pad Kee Mao with drunken egg noodles, ground pork, chilis basil and onions was outstanding. It’s also available as a vegetarian dish made with tofu.
Kin Khao has numerous vegetarian and gluten free items on their menu. Some items can easily be made vegetarian by substituting tofu.
Kin Khao’s dining room between meals.
We’ve enjoyed several meals at Kin Khao and have been delighted each time. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner.
State Bird Provisions
State Bird Provisions is still a tough table to get but well worth it.
Our unreserved and enthusiastic recommendation of State Bird Provision still stands. We had another terrific evening enjoying lots and lots of small, shared, interesting dishes at this popular Michelin one-star restaurant.
Perfect heirloom tomatoes with crunchy quinoa and tahini chili oil. Piquant and refreshing.
Sashimi grade fish and careful spicing makes SBP’s take on poke outstanding.
If you can score a table here do it, even if you have to get up at midnight, 60 days in advance to book, which is exactly what we do. If that doesn’t work out, take heart, they do take a limited number of walk-ins at 5:30 p.m., every night. For more on SBP, read my earlier post.
A whole grain pancake topped with fiscalini cheddar and heirloom tomato is a two bite treat.
State Bird’s extensive wine list has something for every palate. Try one of their wine flights.
The San Francisco Bay Area now has 49 Michelin star-rated restaurants from Los Gatos to the Napa Valley. What are you waiting for? Let’s go eat! Find new favorites? Please share them with us.