I haven’t sat in this particular Office Max swivel chair for a full year, so to write a genuinely comprehensive “Best of 2015” list feels somewhere between pointless and impossible. Much as I would love to check everything off three-to-six weeks after it opens, it’s just not possible given budget constraints — plus everyone at our scrappy li’l alt-weekly works punishing hours wearing multiple hats. There were many great restaurants, especially ones that opened before May or so, that I simply haven’t eaten at yet. (Liholiho Yacht Club and Octavia are my most glaring omissions; sorry, will fix.)
But I cover my beat pretty hard. So instead of yet another best-of retread that will probably overlap with all the other best-ofs, here is a different sort of list: The Six Best Meals of 2015 That I Didn’t Already Write About. There were many, and not just because SFoodie is about the scene generally and not a personal catalogue of everything I ingest. Sometimes, I’m reluctant to blab about something complimentary for fear of any appearance of a quid pro quo. Other times, I don’t feel like annoying the shit out of nearby patrons by photographing every last dish that comes out, or ignoring whichever friend I’m eating with by taking scrupulous notes on my phone throughout an entire of a meal. This is what fell through the cracks.
On my fourth day at this job, I was having a near-meltdown. Then I went with friends to Russian Hill tapas joint Zarzuela for the first and thus far only time of my life. It’s magnificent, the kind of place that reminds you where the small-plates phenomenon came from. Entrust yourself to the servers, for they will feed you well: patatas bravas, pulpo a la gallega, boquerones (anchovies) en vinagre. And where else are you going to find bites for only $4.75?
At the risk of throwing a pity-party or sounding like I toil in a mineshaft on a penal asteroid, there is no better example than Stones Throw of why chasing new places at the expense of established spots that deserve a little more love is flawed. This New American restaurant at Green and Hyde streets is pretty much fantastic from top to bottom, be it squid ink conchiglie pasta, sausage-stuffed grilled quail, or a crispy-skinned ocean trout. The service is great, the ambiance is warm, and the PB&J donuts approach the sublime. Stones Throw is the kind of place I would bring someone I hope to sleep with, but I could also bring my mom, who hates everything, knowing she’d do fine.
This is not a nine-seat sushi restaurant that simply marries the centuries-old traditions of robatayaki with a seasonal California sensibility. It’s a Vegas Strip-like celebration of excess, complete with giant barrel-trays of sashimi and uni with colored LEDS embedded in the ice. (It takes two servers to haul them.) Chef Roman Petry’s take on modern Japanese cuisine wows at all levels, from the grade A5 Wagyu beef to the sirloin with grilled bone marrow to the king crab. Roka Akor was, bar none, the most decadent meal I ate all year, so much so that it inspired me to volunteer at a food bank on Thanksgiving.
Although clouded with some bad juju over the unceremonious firing of its opening chef, Zack Freitas, there’s no denying that the Keystone was an improvement over its predecessor, Annabelle’s (although the same family owns it). The SoMa restaurant is better than most places within spitting distance of Union Square, and I will never forget the oyster that I had alongside the porcini negroni (Beefeater gin, porcini, Cappelletti aperitivo, sweet vermouth, and eucalyptus), easily one of my top three favorite cocktails of the year.
While visiting some friends in Napa, I put myself in their capable hands. It turned out they were better-connected in the wine world than I imagined, so we ate like kings all weekend. The Clif family (of Clif Bar fame) owns a winery plus a cycling-themed tasting room just outside downtown St. Helena that just so happens to have a bruschetta food truck stationed curbside six days a week. In a classic case of spoiling one’s appetite before dinner, we mangia’d a very large, late lunch of porchetta bruschetta and petite syrah. Utterly unpretentious and delicious.
I didn’t eat here (yet) so it’s not a meal per se, but Whitechapel is amazing. Velvet ropes in the Tenderloin make me dry-heave, sure, but this bar is art-directed within an inch of its life, and I wandered around it cooing, drink in hand. The trend of reclaimed subway tiles hit its apotheosis in this recreation of a long-vanished Tube stop seemingly sealed off by Transport for London the day Jack the Ripper murdered his last prostitute. Whitechapel is a gin-drinker’s paradise, and cocktails like the Lamplighter’s Story (Plymouth gin, hibiscus, grapefruit marmalade, Serrano chile, bitter orange soda, and lemon) prove it. Some sinister botanicals thrive in the dark.