Culinary excellence is still available in San Francisco


Under the current shelter-in-place order, people in San Francisco still get to dine on some of the best food anywhere as the city’s restaurants retool their culinary excellence for takeout service. Here are just some of the many ways San Francisco is combining culinary resilience and innovation.

Photograph of the Week: Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

Gourmet takeaways

There are adored eateries in every neighborhood where locals usually flock for drinks, dinners, lunches and brunches.  Those same places are keeping their regular customers well fed with takeout and delivery menus during the crisis.

Being at the center of technology, San Francisco restaurants make full use of online/delivery services like UberEats, DoorDash, Caviar and Postmates.   Most restaurants have developed touchless curbside pickup and contactless delivery. (Please note that all services mentioned here are subject to change without notice as the situation evolves). 

DIY cooking classes and recipes

San Francisco chefs are famously collaborative.  For example, Carrie and Rupert Blease, the chef couple behind Lord Stanley, and their good friend and neighbor, Brandon Jew of Mister Jiu’s have created Lord Jiu’s, a five-course collaboration dinner kit.  Natural wines and a special cocktail called Clarity (tequila, hibiscus, amaro, curaçao and lapsang souchong) are also available to go.

Wise Sons Deli, like many other restaurants, has hastily refocused its business model to pick-up and delivery only. In an effort to conjure up sales and keep the doors open, they have created Stay at Home Starter Kits in addition to other pantry staples.  Choices include Carb Catharsis (six pack of assorted rugelach, one loaf of chocolate babka and a bag of bagel chips) and Jewish Penicillin (one quart of chicken broth, two matzo balls and one pan loaf of challah bread).

Prairie’s Chef/Owner Anthony Strong has shifted gears and opened a temporary General Store, offering prepped dishes and meal kits, house cocktails to go, tinned fish, cured meat, pasta and the gear to cook it, produce, dairy, fresh meats and fish, a wide variety of beverages and other pantry goods.  Acting on the current situation, Prairie also sells toilet paper, sanitizers and gloves.

The China Live @Home Web Series provides video classes on making popular dishes such as potstickers, fried rice and beef and broccoli.  It expands chef/owner George Chen’s mission “to demystify Chinese ingredients and recipes while educating guests on its rich history and influence.”

San Francisco-based ChefsFeed’s Virtual Cooking Classes give everyone a chance to connect with local chefs and bartenders, learn simple cooking tricks and tips, and most importantly, support the culinary community through this difficult time.  Classes demonstrate topics such as tapas, gumbo, scones and coladas.

Fog Harbor Fish House is making the recipe for its award-winning clam chowder available to the world at https://fogharbor.com/news-events/award-winning-clam-chowder-recipe/.

Atelier Crenn received three Michelin stars in 2018, making Dominique Crenn the first woman in America to achieve that honor.  Her restaurant’s tasting menus are definitely in the “special occasion” price range but, in this time of crisis, she is offering Crenn Kits for $35 and $55 per person.   Ordered in advance, the menus yield fresh comforting meals.

Avital Tours offers “Virtual Culinary Experiences” available, including Remote Culinary Team Building, 1-hour cooking and storytelling virtual seminars called Chefinars, and Virtual Mixologist, focused on balancing cocktail flavors and mixology skills, hosted by an expert bartender.

Cocktails to go

During shelter-in-place orders, California’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has relaxed regulations to allow bars and restaurants to sell cocktails to go.  According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “cocktails may now be sold to go as long as they’re with take-out or delivery food orders. They must have a lid or cap, and, the ABC clarifies, ‘no lids with sipping holes or openings for straws.’ If a delivery driver is transporting those, they have to be in the car’s trunk.”

Tony Gemignani, award-winning chef/restauranteur/entrepreneur of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, Tony’s Coal Fired Pizza, Haight Street Slice House, Capo’s and Giovanni Italian Specialties has introduced to-go cocktails alongside delivery/takeaway service.  Tony presents a cocktail competition with three different drinks each week.  Guests calling to order one cocktail for $12 or all three for $30 can cast a vote on their favorite libation over social media. A virtual tip jar has also been started for all participating bartenders/servers in and around the North Beach neighborhood.   Information on the available cocktails and competition are posted at @tonyspizza415 and @capossf.

Scoma’s at Fisherman’s Wharf also augments its sustainable seafood takeout/delivery menu with pre-mixed bottled cocktails, including the 1965 Manhattan, the Smoked Maple Old Fashioned and Scoma’s Negroni.

Café Zoetrope, owned by filmmaker and winemaker Francis Ford Coppola offers delicious Italian fare as well as a deep library of wines from which to choose. They also feature Great Women Spirits, “a collection of spirits as unique and remarkable as the women they honor.”

Palm House has created cocktail kits (sans the alcohol for two popular drinks – the Mango Margarita and the Pina Colada). General Manager Fatima Hite-Igras and Director of Operations Jeff Davis are hosting virtual happy hour how-tos via Instagram Live and Zoom on Fridays at 5:30 p.m. PST to shake up creations with viewers. Batched cocktail offerings include Mango Margaritas, Palmades, Caribbean Coffee Kit, Pina Colada Kit and Prickly Pear Mimosas. Palm House also offers a Bloody Mary and breakfast burrito brunch combination to kick off the weekend.

Creator, which uses automation to assemble custom gourmet burgers, has taken “touchless” a step further and is sharing their innovation with the world for free.  Their engineers have designed a transfer chamber, essentially a takeout window that eliminates sharing of airspace between staff and customers.  They are sharing open-source plans to make this transfer chamber and will keep it patent-free to encourage any retailers, especially restaurants, to copy it.


Comments (7)

  1. Ed says:

    Let’s be honest – San Francisco has got the dream location. Looking across the Pacific to Asia for hot and spicy inspiration backed by the USA’s culinary tradition. And San Francisco chefs are always going to be pushing barriers too.

  2. Karen Morris says:

    I don’t quite get the picture. Is it shellfish? It looks so pink that it could be a Barbie and Ken romantic date night dinner.

  3. Matt says:

    I like the idea of cocktails to go – as long as they stay cold. It’s a pricey business stocking up a cocktail cabinet and you end up hardly using some of the ingredients.

  4. Ann Mason says:

    Ah, I left my heart in San Francisco. It’s one of the places I visit most often. I love the weather, the quiet bustle (I’m comparing to New York and LA), the mix of people, and the fusion of cultures that’s really evident in their food. Ah, what I wouldn’t give for some hot clam chowder along on Pier 39 with the cold wind in my hair. Then off to some delicious coffee and pastry. What a great post to remind us that there are still some ways to enjoy all the things we love about San Francisco even in these tough and uncertain times.

  5. Regina Hernandez says:

    These stories are so inspiring yet bittersweet, while other restaurants and food stalls are closing down, some eateries take it to the next level by adapting to the crisis. It’s bittersweet because we know these businesses went through hard times just to get back up and get their restaurants running, and it’s a testament to the resilience of humans and their ability to cope. Even the pandemic can’t stop them from delivering and serving their loyal customers, giving the same quality of cuisine and doing it in a clever way by using online delivery services. Other countries are also doing these things, serving delicious food from great eateries then delivering it through online applications such as UberEats and the like. Online cooking classes are also a great move since cooking is a step-by-step process and you can practice the skills by just watching it on a screen. Hoping that we can go through this together and that this would end soon.

  6. Steve says:

    Yeah, I think innovation is the right word here. San Francisco is one of the greatest cities in the world for cuisine, in my opinion. Good to read about these places finding new ways to respond to a public health crisis. Food and restaurants are a huge part of the economy there, so I hope most of those businesses can stay intact when all of this is said and done.

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