The Year in Food: Big-Ticket Dining Surges

Twelve months, ten storylines: It's SFoodie's annual look back at the year in food.

Back in January, people were talking about the San Francisco restaurant scene as if it were flagging fast. The fretting was fueled by two assumptions: first, that the recession was forcing chefs with high-end training into lower-priced restaurants specializing in populist fare ― namely, pizza, burgers, and sandwiches. Second, that San Francisco had become too expensive to open a restaurant in, one of the reasons why restaurateurs and chefs were flocking to Oakland.

There was evidence aplenty to support both assumptions. But then the city issued a strong rebuttal: Starting this spring and steamrolling into summer, dozens of expensive new places stormed into town. A few weeks ago, SF Chronicle critic Michael Bauer called 2010 “the best year ever for San Francisco dining.” All talk of Oakland's dining scene eclipsing San Francisco's vanished, oh, around April.

At the most expensive end of the spectrum, pop-up poster boy Joshua Skenes turned Saison into a full-service restaurant serving a $108 prix fixe, plus $78 for wine pairings. Almost at the same time, former French Laundry chef de cuisine Corey Lee launched a bid for four-stardom with Benu, whose showpiece is a $160 prix-fixe menu with $110 wine pairing.

Other new restaurants where it's easy to rack up $80 or more a person: Prospect, Cafe Des Amis, Sons and Daughters, Alexander's Steakhouse, Bourbon Steak, Michael Mina (yes, downscaled from the St. Francis version, but no cheap date). And SFoodie can name-drop a few more new places where splurging is possible, even probable: Bar Agricole, Frances (a 2009 latecomer), Commonwealth, Thermidor, Baker and Banker, Heirloom Cafe, Wayfare Tavern.

What in the hell happened?

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