The Location: Location, Location, Location!
On the corner of The Embarcadero (Herb Caen Way) and the very beginning of Market Street in San Francisco, One Market Restaurant enjoys a position that may be the envy of most of the restaurants in the world. Look out the east windows and see streetcars gliding along the rails; look past them and see the Ferry Building, newly reopened with farmers' market and beyond it, the vista of the San Francisco Bay and Treasure Island. Trust me, it's gorgeous.
The Ambience: Hardwood, Windows, Upholstery
One Market Restaurant has windows on its eastern and northern sides, and the view of the city and the Bay are wonderful. Looking in from the sidewalk, this restaurant paints a portrait of the place you want to settle in for a great dinner. Polished hardwood. Place settings pristinely arranged. Subdued lighting and potted plants. Because it was a gusty, rainy winter day, tall green velour curtains were drawn dramatically over the entrance to the restaurant, so that we entered as though from the wings onto the center stage.
The Bar: Some of the Best Tentacles in Town
After attending a matinee performance of a play, we were a little early for dinner, so we opted to sit in the bar area of the restaurant for wine and an appetizer. My husband Bernie chose a Dry Creek Valley Dashe Cellars zinfandel, and I ordered a Mendocino Graziano Family "Monte Volpe" pinot grigio. The zin was rich and fragrant, but the pinot grigio disappointingly fruity and sweet. When we were able to flag the attention of the obviously destined-for-greatness-but-somehow-stuck-taking-boring-bar-tabs waitress, we requested fried calamari, which when the dish arrived, proved to be very tasty, although there were no options for the sauce that accompanied the calamari; indeed, nothing so mundane as tartar sauce was ever mentioned on any of the menus. Okay, aside from the lovely view, the bar was pretty much a waste. Every table wobbled annoyingly, an observation we shared with another bar patron who was trying to find a stable table. No wonder the seats right on the bar were all full, but don't you think that if you're paying $9.75 a glass they ought to be able to put a matchbook under one side of the table support so that your experience is less 'wooga-wooga-wooga'?
The Meal: Stuff You Won't Find in Denny's
The menu for One Market Restaurant is a study in the unusual. Crispy Suckling Pig with Spiced Plum Puree; Shaved Foie Gras Salad with Cherry-Port Syrup; Roasted Gypsy Peppers Stuffed with Chard and Smoked Sheep's Milk Cheese. There is Venison, and Lobster, Young Goat, and Wild Boar. American River Crayfish and Caviar Bisque. I opted for the Wisconsin Pheasant Breast, not having had pheasant since I was a child enjoying the gamebirds my father hunted.
The pheasant breast arrived already sliced and spread becomingly over a bed of bacon-braised endive, which was artfully arranged in a fan shape as well. Beneath one end of the pheasant nestled a small grilled yam cake. The presentation of the food was simply beautiful, providing a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds.
But how did it taste, the reader asks. WONDERFUL. The pheasant was juicy and tender enough to cut easily with a fork, and the maple-sherry jus with which it had been basted was subtle and complemented the delicate flavor of the bird. Many restaurants make the mistake of using a sauce or condiment that disguises the flavor of the main dish. That was not the case in One Market Restaurant. The maple-sherry jus seemed to "frame" the pheasant, outlining and elevating that exquisite signature taste I remember from childhood. (I must note here that the chef was a far better cook than my mother was, at least in preparing pheasant.) The endive was delicious; if Bernie had turned up his nose at his (which he didn't) I would have crudely eaten his share as well as my own. "This yam cake is great!" said Bernie, and so I offered him half of mine. Yam cakes are mashed, formed and fried, but alas for me, sweet. Bernie loved them.
Desserts are completely wasted on me. Some odd chemistry makes sweet things actually taste horrible to me (aside from some fresh fruits), so I rely on Bernie to determine whether or not a pastry or dessert is worthwhile. Stepping up to the plate (so to speak) with commendable courage, he examined the dessert menu for me and chose a "Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Maple Cream Cloud." On a delicate cake-like crust rode the pumpkin cheesecake, topped with whipped cream flavored with maple syrup. It must have been very good; Bernie's eyes rolled up in his head at the first bite and by the last he was offering to divorce me and marry the chef.
The Service: Who Are These Magicians?
The chefs who served up this exotic menu and marvelous food must be noted here: Richard Brandenburg, Chef de Cuisine, Adrian Hoffman, Chef Partner, and Bradley Ogden, Chef Co-Proprietor. Hats off and a deep bow to them. On a more personal note, our server was named Frank, and he was just top-notch. Knowledgeable about the menu and the vagaries thereof, he was also very personable and friendly. When he wasn't busy, he was standing at a vantage point in the restaurant where he could keep an eye on his customers and thus appear like magic to offer to refill a glass or whisk plates away. And he had a great smile.
The Price: Was It Worth It?
Expect, if you're ordering wine, dinner, and dessert, to pay about $50 per person. Is that exorbitant? Not really. Certainly you can find San Francisco restaurants with a comparably gorgeous view (it's San Francisco, most of the views are gorgeous) and with comparably sumptuous seating (you'll have to search a little, but they're there) -- but you'd be hard put to find the view, the setting, and the quality of the food anywhere else. The other places may be cheaper, but you're talking apples and oranges. One Market Restaurant is a destination in itself, not some place you just stop to eat because you're hungry. You walk in the door of this restaurant looking for a culinary adventure, and here you will find it.
The Repeatability: Will I Go Back There This Weekend?
No. But then I'm fairly practical and perhaps a bit plebian. Many of the dishes had sauces or sides that are sweet, which interest me not at all; I would rather have asparagus or a properly done broccoli than crushed chickpea, plum, and rutabaga stew, or cannelini bean puree.
The menu strikes me as exercise in "Are you elite enough to understand the nomenclature?" How many people understand the terms "confit," "farro," or "mini duckfat"? Don't get me wrong, the food was great. But I have to wonder what you're saying with a restaurant that basically says, "Beg me to tell you what you're ordering."
I can't say that this restaurant will fail, as it is working hard to become a destination for experiments in cuisine and a place where the people who want to be seen will be seen. Nor do I regret in the least the passing of a pleasant early evening here. But if I'm looking to fill a hungry void while my destination is the San Francisco Bay, I'll give One Market Restaurant a salute as I pass it by.
As an adventure in dining or an experiment in tastes, yes, yes. As a place to hang out in San Francisco and knock off a bottle of wine or play tourist, no, afraid not.
Check out the history and the menu at http://www.onemarket.com