For those of us who live on the Peninsula and South Bay, we couldn’t be happier that it’s been a boom time of late for new restaurants opening in this region, including outposts by celebrated San Francisco chefs.
Among the latest is Chef David Nayfeld of San Francisco’s wildly popular Che Fico who opened a sister-restaurant, Che Fico Parco Menlo, in November in Menlo Park.
It debuted at Springline, the splashy new residential-restaurant mixed-use development off El Camino Real.
Last Thursday night, when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant, the place was buzzing. Nearly every table was filled in the well-appointed, covered and heated outdoor patio that sports tufted banquettes and cozy pillows.
Same with the main dining room, where it was standing-room-only at the bar as patrons waited for tables to open up. A retro soundtrack of Earth, Wind & Fire, Al Green, and the Clash played in the background.
This was the year I returned to mostly indoor dining. That in itself was a triumph after doing nothing but takeout through fraught 2020 and opting for outdoor dining primarily in skittish 2021 and 2022. How wonderful to lean ever closer to “normalcy” again.
This is my annual list of the most memorable bites or dishes I enjoyed in 2023. It pained me to leave off a few places that have since closed (San Francisco’s Afici that will forever spoil me for its clever use of Chinese scallion pancakes instead of the usual blini for caviar service) or tragically were destroyed in the devastating Maui wildfires (Pacifico On the Beach for its imaginative mahi mahi Wellington, and Papa’aina’s dazzling and so intentional tropical fruit plate).
It’s an important reminder to really savor and appreciate the restaurants, bakeries, and other establishments that enrich our lives so much. Without further adieu, here is my Top 10, in no particular order:
To say that the Bay Area’s Bacchus Management Group has been on a tear lately would be an understatement. In addition to opening three new establishments in San Francisco this year alone, plans call for for another new restaurant to debut at San Jose’s Santana Row in 2024 and one to open at the historic post office building in Burlingame in 2025.
That’s in addition to its already sizeable stable of Spruce in San Francisco, Michelin-starred the Village Pub in Woodside, Michelin-starred Selby’s in Redwood City, the Village Bakery in Woodside, and Pizza Antica locations in Santana Row and Lafayette.
Last week, I had a chance to check out its new Italian restaurant, La Connessa, when I was invited in as a guest. It’s on the street level of a new building on Potrero Hill. Just steps away are Bacchus’ two other new eateries: the burger place, Louie’s Original; and the sourdough donut shop, Magic Donuts & Coffee (more on that in a moment).
Dimly lighted with sleek, wedding band-like chandeliers and a soaring, illuminated bar, it has that sophisticated, moody aura, and boy, was it bustling on a Saturday night. There’s even a view into the kitchen behind big glass windows.
That’s just what I did a couple weeks ago, when I was invited in as a guest to this handsome, bright, and spacious restaurant on the ground floor of the Miro luxury apartment building.
The first Italian-American restaurant from Passot and Vine CEO Obadiah Ostergard, it features both indoor and outdoor dining, plus a small marketplace to buy pantry staples and prepared foods to-go.
If you’re lucky, you might just hit it on a night where there’s a trio of musicians playing in the bar-lounge, too.
Ostergard’s nephew, Chef Sam Gimlewicz, a Culinary Institute of America graduate who went on to work at the acclaimed Nina June restaurant in Maine, designed the menu that’s overseen by Chef de Cuisine Christian Luxton, formerly of Berkeley’s Hotel Shattuck Plaza.
The name of Healdsburg’s newest downtown restaurant loosely translates from Italian to “many friends.”
It’s emblematic of the convivial vibe to be found at Molti Amici, which took the place of locals’ favorite, Campo Fina, in late June.
It’s the brainchild of three alums of Michelin three-starred SingleThread Farms restaurant, just a block and a half away. Owner and sommelier Jonny Barr is that venerated restaurant’s former general manager. Husband-and-wife Chef Sean McGaughey and Melissa McGaughey, are SingleThread’s former chef de cuisine and hotel baker, respectively. The couple also own Healdsburg’s Quail & Condor bakery and Troubador cafe. At Molti Amici, Seth is the executive chef and Melissa is the pastry chef. They are assisted by Chef de Cuisine Matthew Cargo, former executive sous chef of Gjusta in Los Angeles, who honed his pasta and pizza skills through extensive travels throughout Italy.
Don’t expect fancy, white tablecloth, tweezer-food here, though. Instead, it’s all about handmade pizzas and pastas, made with a confident, deft hand that befits their impressive backgrounds. When I visited a couple weeks ago, as a guest of the restaurant, I enjoyed some of the best pastas and pizzas I’ve had in a while. And if you know my carb addiction, you know that’s saying something.