Since its opening in 1985, Fog City Diner (1300 Battery Street) has been a San Francisco restaurant icon. But its food history goes back further. The site where the diner now stands was the spot where hungry sailors were fed before they shipped out. (It also served as a docking point for ships during the Gold Rush). Recently, Fog City Diner founders Bill Higgins and Bill Upson (of Real Restaurants) decided it was time for an update. They closed last March for renovations and brought in the very talented chef-owner Bruce Hill (Bix, Picco, Pizzeria Picco, and Zero Zero) to rework the concept.
Local architect Michael Guthrie has completely redesigned the 4,334-square-foot space. The revamped space is much more open, with a V-shaped onyx-hued bar that seats 30, and booths and tables surrounding the perimeter. While every table has a view of the Embarcadero or Battery Street, all eyes are on the open kitchen with its wood-burning oven and large and impressive wood grill. The best seats in the house are the four at the chef’s counter, alongside the wood-burning grills.
Hill and chef de cuisine Erik Lowe, along with pastry chef Aaron Toensing (both also Bix alumni), have created what Hill refers to as San Francisco cuisine. Many of the dishes are cooked on the wood-fired grill.
The menu is quite extensive, but some favorites are the kampachi crudo (pickled Asian pear, ginger, jalapeño cucumbers, lemon olive oil) and the wood oven clams (sake butter, braised turnips, maitake mushrooms, yuzu, and chili pepper). Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Sunday through Thursday from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m.
This writer discovered Akikos Restaurant near the Financial District (431 Bush Street at Kearny Street) while working downtown more than ten years ago. Not to be confused with the Akikos on Mason Street, this tiny Bush Street sushi restaurant is family-owned and has been in operation for the past 18 years. Recently the owners’ son Ray Lee took over and brought in chef Ricky Yap. In addition to refining the cuisine and sourcing rare and hard-to-procure sustainable seafood, Lee redesigned the interior. The lighting and décor feel rustic with soothing earth tones, and the floors are made of imported rosewood. All of the place settings and tableware come from Heath Ceramics in Sausalito.
Although you can order mainstream sushi and the typical assortment of rolls, the real action happens in the evening with Yap’s nightly changing “Nama” menu. If you are not sure what to order, opt for the omakase menu and place yourself in Yap’s very capable hands. Some of the more rare seafood that might make an appearance on any given evening includes the tokujyo uni (rare sea urchin from Kaigara Island), mejina opal eye (Japanese rudderfish), and ishigakidai (spotted parrot perch). Open Monday through Friday, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, dinner only, from 5:30 p.m. until 9 p.m.; Sunday closed.
The Pacific/Presidio Heights neighborhood near Sacramento Street and Presidio Boulevard has a welcome new restaurant on the block. Nico quietly opened in the old Pierre Deux French shop at 3228 Sacramento Street. Owners Nicolas and Andrea Delaroque have created a charming 44-seat bistro highlighted by a six-seat pewter bar, rustic wooden tables, and a mohair banquette. Nicolas was raised in Paris, where he trained as a chef, and has worked at Le Garage in Sausalito, Luce in San Francisco, and Manresa in Los Gatos.
The menu changes daily and begins with three “bites,” such as the goujonette, thin strips of fried fish (petrale sole, gribiche) or the beignet (goat cheese, squash). Starters include dishes such as beets (pomegranate, purple basil, sheep’s milk ricotta) and the salsify soup (brown butter, coffee). When it’s on the menu, order the pork belly for a main course (cabbage, lentil, apple). It’s beautifully arranged on the plate and is very satisfying at this time of year. General manager and wine director Malcolm Brownson (Saison, Coi, Mina Group) offers an optional wine pairing with all dishes, available in two pour sizes. Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner, from 5:30 p.m. to close.
James Stolich’s CookWithJames.com provides regional Italian and Spanish dishes for all occasions. He has been featured in UrbanDaddy.com, AgencySpy.com, and Jenn Garbee’s intriguing book, Secret Suppers, about rogue chefs and their little known culinary lives.