By James Stolich of the Nob Hill Gazette
Dining in hotel restaurants doesn’t necessarily have to be a formal or stuffy affair. Backed by talented chefs and designers, many San Francisco hotels have created inviting and innovative eateries. These spots are a great destination after a Union Square shopping spree, for meeting out-of-town friends, or simply for treating yourself to a special night out, “grand hotel” style. Now that it’s the holiday season, this is a great time to try one of these terrific hotel restaurants.
Recently opened in the W Hotel (181 Third Street), Trace replaces the former XYZ Restaurant, a popular SOMA institution for the past 12 years. Trace refers to the restaurant’s dedication to local ingredients that can be easily traced to their origins. Executive chef Paul Piscopo (the original chef from XYZ) calls this “socially responsible eating” and offers a varied menu utilizing the Bay Area’s best seasonal products. Small plates and starters, such as stone fruit and summer melon (gem lettuce, mizuna, lemon, with yogurt dressing), heirloom tomatoes (castelvetrano olive, basil, ricotta salata), and roasted California squab (confit leg, butter bean purée, artichoke) take this delicious philosophy to great heights and straight to your table. Larger plates follow suit, including a baked California sea bass (fresh shelling beans, cippolinis, broccoli spigarello, fennel sausage), and pan-roasted duck breast (savoy spinach, pine nuts, wine grapes, black barley, quinoa).
The restaurant’s interior, designed by Stanley Saitowitz, is modern, sparse, and a bit “space-agey”—think upscale Jetsons (the bar and lobby at the adjoining W Hotel will also undergo a similar remodel). The dining room sports “modish” white leather chairs placed around square white and stainless steel tables. Upstairs, a comfortable bar and lounge area lets guests relax with a cocktail or order from the dining room menu. Ever progressive, Trace uses local artisan plates and glassware, and it consults with celebrity organic food expert Helge Hellmen about area foraging. Open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Located inside the Palomar Hotel (12 Fourth Street), Fifth Floor has dazzled diners with its elegant and sophisticated cuisine for years. Earlier in 2011, chef David Bazirgan (Baraka, Chez Papa Resto) took over and introduced a New American menu, drawing from Mediterranean and global influences. Sourcing ingredients from local farmers markets and the hotel’s rooftop garden, David changes his menu daily with adventuresome and playful dishes. Highlights include hamachi crudo (avocado, plum, yuzu kosho, white shoyu, ponzu, lemon basil, shiso), razor clam ceviche (compressed honeydew, charred scallion, lime, cilantro, radish blossoms, bergamot oil), and Mendocino “uni flan” (Dungeness crab fondue, saffron, Sichuan pepper, aged kaffir lime). Fifth Floor is one of the few high-end restaurants actively catering to guests with food allergies. There are a variety of gluten free, vegetarian, and vegan options available upon request. The restaurant is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday. A vibrant and stylish happy hour runs from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. with a selection of tasty bar bites (try the French fries with pimenton dip and the Waygu beef tartare with mustard, capers, cornichon, quail egg, and toast).
Opened last year in the former Michael Mina space at the Westin St. Francis (335 Powell Street), Bourbon Steak (part of the Michael Mina Restaurant Group, with outposts in Las Vegas, Scottsdale, Washington, D.C., Detroit, and Miami) is a popular space that charms the crowds. The San Francisco location is presided over by chef Omri Aflalo (Gary Danko, Citronelle). The dining room—just off the lobby of the hotel—is beautifully decorated with a long marble bar in the front. If you are looking to celebrate a special occasion, having dinner in the main dining room is certainly a treat—but the real attraction is the bar. Arrive before 6 p.m., order a cocktail, and enjoy the Sunset Menu that includes three courses for $55. The steaks (slow-poached in butter prior to finishing them on a wood-burning grill makes them especially succulent) are as pricey and impressive as you might imagine. Locals and Michael Mina fans come here for the signature comfort classics: lobster corn dogs, tuna tartare, truffled mac and cheese, and the beloved beignet and root beer float desserts.
James Stolich has been featured in UrbanDaddy, AgencySpy, and Jenn Garbee’s intriguing book, Secret Suppers, about rogue chefs and their little known culinary lives.
This article originally appeared at www.nobhillgazette.com.