Sommelier and boutique wine producer Rajat Parr reveals his 10 top restaurants and wine spots in San Francisco - at the gateway to California wine country.
We’ve got lofty hills, bridges, ferries and even miles of sandy beaches where you can watch surfers everyday, but nothing beats just getting out and discovering the city on foot. Fuel yourself with singe-origin espressos from Blue Bottle, Ritual or Four Barrel and hit the pavement.
Every neighbourhood has its own personality and style and there are cultures within cultures. You can find yourself moving from an area dominated by Latino culture into one that’s saturated with hipster coffee and wine bars for the tech community. There is a thriving Asian scene with stunning food from China, Taiwan, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan and so on. Wine culture is so pervaisve here that many of those restaurants have no problem letting you bring your own bottle.
One of San Francisco’s greatest pleasures is its proximity to great wine-growing regions such as Napa, Sonoma and Santa Cruz. In just an hour or less, you can be froliking in vineyards and tasting from barrel. But just because we’re at the epicentre of California wine, it doesn’t mean only California juice is on offer. Indeed, San Francisco sommeliers are accused all the time of overlooking the local stuff and fetishising European wines – you can drink everything and anything here.
Here are the 10 best restaurant and wine bars in San Francisco:
A mainstay of the Mission District, co-chefs Nick Balla and Cortney Burns marry San Francisco’s obsession with local and DIY with Hungarian and Japanese techniques. They ferment, cure and age everything. Try sprouted lentil croquettes with kefir and coriander. www.bartartine.com
2. Zuni Café
Light-filled and bustling, looking beyond the epic roast chicken, the wine list is well-stocked by wine director Thierry Lovato, with the best of France, Italy and the US. Finish with a Calvados. www.zunicafe.com
3. Les Clos
I hired Mark Bright when he was just 21 to be my assistant sommelier at Restaurant Michael Mina in the Financial District. Now he’s fully grown and building his own empire. I like the way he has created Les Clos, a casual Parisian-style wine bar, open all day, with a focus on Burgundy and only the kindest of mark-ups. www.lesclossf.com
4. Arlequin Wines
Not the biggest wine shop, but the best curated. Here’s where you find the cutting-edge, boutique California wines, as well as many hipster wines from Europe. The real secret is the elegant courtyard out the back, where you can drink any bottle. www.arlequinwinemerchant.com
5. St Vincent
The brainchild of noted sommelier and wine author David Lynch, this restaurant is the venue for his excellent palate and vast knowledge, especially in Italian wine. The food is also not to be missed. www.stvincentsf.com
6. Plaza Farmers Market, Ferry Building
It’s Saturday mornings when the sprawling, teeming market really sets out its stall here. Farmers from all over northern California bring their most pristine produce, from fresh kumquats to local artichokes, fava beans and heirloom apricots. Don’t bother planning a menu before you go – you’ll find all the inspiration you need walking through the aisles. www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com
Created by Shelley Lindgren, Italian wine expert and creator of A16 restaurant, SPQR started as a Roman restaurant, but chef Matthew Accarrino has turned it into something else – modern, refined, but with truly soulful Italian-ish food. With Lindgren a southern Italy maestro, Nerello Mascalese is a good bet. www.spqrsf.com
I helped found this place, a tribute to my first and truest love in wine: Burgundy. The wine list is huge and covers more than Burgundy. There’s Riesling, Rhône and a massive Champagne list. Even some Californian! And our chef, the brilliant Adam Sobel, has a fresh take on French bistro food that I can’t get enough of. www.michaelmina.net
9. The Progress
This is the latest restaurant from Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski, two of the country’s most adventurous chefs. Their place next door, State Bird Provisions, still opens to a long line every day. The Progress is a little more civilised. Jason Alexander is wine director and he’s fashioned one of the city’s best lists. theprogress-sf.com
Every city needs a nopa. A bustling restaurant that stays open late and does everything well. The menu is always filled with things you feel like eating right now. The cocktail programme is one of the city’s best and the wine list is stocked with interesting finds. Book ahead. www.nopasf.com
Written by Rajat Parr