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The Moss Room

Restaurant Under the Rainforest

Loretta Keller of SoMa's Coco500 is the guiding force behind The Moss Room, the restaurant in the new California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. Her brightly flavorful California-Mediterranean food is, of course, local, organic, and sustainable, which resonates in this museum dedicated to understanding and preserving the world's ecosystems.

The Moss Room opens for dinner at 5:30pm, half an hour after the museum closes. Before our first visit, we fantasized that dining in the closed museum would give us a children's-book perspective on the museum's life after dark. Unfortunately, we will never know what the animals do when no one's watching, as the restaurant is underground -- far beneath the porthole-studded living roof -- connected to the museum above by a wall of misty moss and plants. That wall, which gives the restaurant its name, is magnificent and softens the handsome modern decor. Nonetheless, the restaurant is not as integrated into the museum as we had hoped.

Chef Justin Simoneaux, who came over from Coco500, cooks with a sophistication and confidence rare for such a new restaurant. The flavors are rustic, but not timid. We hesitated to order the grilled fuyu persimmon salad with endive, radicchio, pomegranate, and dates ($12), fearing that it would be a fruit bomb, but were thrilled that we did. Its nicely modulated flavors had an unexpected note of movie-popcorn butter. The mackerel ($23) made no attempt to hide its enormously oily and fishy character, and thus was loved by some, shunned by others.

Although we only had the opportunity to go for dinner, we imagine that the restaurant is best experienced at lunch, when its hushed, hidden location provides sanctuary from the popular museum overhead. At night, this "hushed and hidden" quality morphs to "isolated and hard to find." (Hint: Enter through the door to the cafeteria on the northwest corner of the building.)

For those who can still afford such things, a private dining room, walled off from the main seating area by glass, allows diners to feel a part of the restaurant while enjoying private conversation and personal attention.

Unlike most museum restaurants, the Moss Room provides a dining experience reflective -- and worthy -- of the institution that houses it.

California Mediterranean
Golden Gate Park
Reservations Essential? Yes