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Top 10 Restaurants of 2007

SF Station's Best of

Another tremendous year for San Francisco restaurants, 2007 saw a huge upsurge in artisanal pizza and boutique Italian (Nua, Chiaroscuro, Gialina, Ducca, Perbacco, Bar Bambino, E' Tutto Qua) as well as hot restaurant spinoffs (S.P.Q.R., Serpentine) and sustainable cuisine (Fish and Farm, Local Kitchen and Wine Merchant, Conduit, Weird Fish). Upscale Asian seems to be hitting a new stride (Namu, Unicorn, Metro Kathmandu, Sudachi, Umami, Sebo), and fancy burgers are more available than ever (NOPA, Spruce, Two, Horizon, and the disappointingly sterile Custom Burger/Lounge).

We're also seeing a welcome return to comfortable swank (Café Majestic, Silks, Seasons, Big 4), as well as an exciting resurgence in the historic Fillmore District, with Yoshi's, 1300 Fillmore and the new Sundance Kabuki theaters, which offers some surprisingly decent dining, cocktails, and reserved seating in the main auditorium's cushy bar balcony.

2008 brings a number of super-hot openings, including a new project by Gary Danko as well as a new wine bar venture by Michael Mina, Rajat Parr, and French Laundry sous chef Jason Berthold. Pat Kuleto and Mark Franz's much-anticipated Waterbar is now hiring staff, and Elizabeth Falkner will open Orson in the new Mint Plaza. Look for Cavallo Point, a new sister property to Big Sur's esteemed Post Ranch Inn; located beneath the Golden Gate Bridge at Fort Baker, this resort, spa and restaurant compound will specialize in "learning vacations" for the enlightened elite.

Here are our top ten newcomers of 2007, in no particular order. Honorable mentions go to Perbacco, Spork, Palmetto, Zoya, Silks, Tinderbox, and two not-so new comers, NOPA and Blue Plate, because I never fail to have an excellent meal at either. Happy New Year from everyone at the SF Station food department, and may every meal bring you pleasure and delight!

Until a couple years ago, getting your hands on a good Neapolitan-style pizza in the Bay Area required reservations at Zuni, A16, or Chez Panisse Café (or the patience to wait for a table at Pizzetta 211). That changed in the last 2 years, with the openings of Pizzeria Picco, Pizzeria Delfina, and more recently, Gialina. Each combines San Francisco's obsession with sourcing perfect ingredients and an artisan's attention to technique. The result: traditional thin-crust Neapolitan-style pies with a smattering of local ingredients, and the solidification of a new trend. Crafting an excellent Neapolitan pizza is complicated, requiring the skills of a trained pizzaiolo. Such skills are evident at Gialina -- these pizzas have character. (Dan Goldstein)

Spruce is the long-awaited, newest addition to the Bacchus Management Group of restaurants. And with this association, Spruce culls from Bacchus’ legion of fans --particularly those who enjoy the burgers at The Village Pub in Woodside. With Niman Ranch meat and a private farm where all their fruits and veggies are grown especially for their restaurants, Bacchus’ Spruce is an immediate hot ticket in its Presidio Heights neighborhood. Located in an old 30s auto barn that once housed Model T cars, the setting is soothing and lush, immediately encouraging all diners to indulge and live extravagantly. Spruce is a decadent adventure: luxurious and lush, with a few rough edges that will no doubt soon be smoothed out. (Chrissy Loader)

Metro Kathmandu
This pleasant little neighborhood restaurant replaced the French bistro Le Metro, bringing genuinely delicious Nepalese cuisine to the Divisadero corridor. Already catering to a loyal following of regulars from the lower Haight and Western Addition, Metro Kathmandu offers a menu of truly notable dishes at a reasonable price point, with gracious service in an unpretentious atmosphere. Don't miss the velvet-sauced Shrimp Masala or the addictive Crab Momos: delicate, flavorful steamed dumplings stuffed with crabmeat, curry spice, onion, garlic, and ginger. For diehard fans of the former Le Metro brunch, the restaurant reverts to a more traditional menu of eggs and French toast for Sunday brunch, served on the outdoor back patio. (Tracie Broom)

Seasons Steak and Seafood
Located on the fifth floor of the Four Seasons hotel, Seasons has been relaunched as an American steakhouse with a California perspective: gone are the heavy side dishes and the serious interiors. In its place: more refined entrées, lighter sides, and a contemporary décor of warm tans, rich woods and deep lapis. British-born executive chef Jeremy Emmerson clearly has a passion for the artisanal and heirloom. Seasons is certainly suitable for a special occasion, but it's also the kind of place which manages to be classy without feeling stuffy. Pianist Michael Udelson has even been known to playfully blend Porgy and Bess with lite jazz renditions of Metallica’s "Eye of the Beholder" (Tues through Sat 6-10pm; Fri and Sat till 11pm). So relax, enjoy the little surprises, and leave the tie at home. (Michelle Chan)

Café Majestic
Have you had dinner in a quiet restaurant lately? We haven’t either. But if you’re looking for somewhere to celebrate with a date or family and actually converse; you couldn’t pick a more tranquil spot than the recently renovated dining room at the Hotel Majestic on Cathedral Hill. Awash in cream tones and soft lighting, the booths and tables are set comfortably apart -- allowing diners to enjoy a leisurely meal in a peaceful environment. The staff is friendly and proud to be there, eager to share their favorite picks on chef Ian Begg's menu. Kudos to general manager and wine director Ryan Maxey for creating an overall effect that is soothing and elegant but never stuffy. (Amy Sherman)

Brenda's French Soul Food
Chef Brenda Buenviaje, a native of New Orleans and formerly of Sumi, Café Claude and Delessio’s Market and Bakery, has opened a small, friendly eatery with a menu that boasts crave-worthy items from Creole cooking’s famous lexicon. Brenda’s is truly serving up the sort of Louisiana cooking Bay Area residents have been waiting for. (The creamy grits and huge, buttery biscuits are a must.) Should there be any real complaint about Brenda’s, it may be that breakfast and lunch service simply aren’t enough! While Saturday brunch is served weekly, Brenda’s really needs to do a Sunday brunch, and start dinner service -- this way, there’s the potential for one of Brenda’s beignets with every meal. (Chrissy Loader)

Salt House
The guys behind Town Hall and Postrio have done it again. Located in a 30s printing house, the 75-seat Salt House is a tall, warm space with a lived-in feel, despite its recent opening in October 2006. Notorious for excellent service and haute foodie cuisine respectively, GM Doug Washington and chefs Steven and Mitchell Rosenthal have given the historic building at Mission and 2nd a facelift, providing San Francisco with another solid option for high-end casual dining. With formidable food, service and charm, Salt House is an ace addition to the city’s food scene. It’s casual enough to roll up for cocktails and starters at the bar, fun enough for a group of friends, and serious enough for a date or business meal. (Gloria Tai)

Weird Fish
Open since Fall 2006, Weird Fish has developed a loyal following in the Mission and beyond. Serving brunch as well as dinner, owners Timothy Holt and Peter Hood (affiliated with Boogaloos) have hit on a winning formula with this quirky neighborhood eatery. The menu stays firmly in the vegan-pescatarian range, and emphasizes local produce and responsibly-harvested seafood, and the moderate prices ($3-12 for starters and $6-12 for entrées) are a welcome attraction. With its blue-green walls trimmed in espresso wood, the décor at Weird Fish is Parisian flea market meets the seaside. Add lively chatter and hip music, and this place exudes a relaxed yet stylish vibe. (Michelle Chan)

After 22 Hawthorne Lane's namesake reign of over twelve years, this reinvented eatery has received a youthful makeover. Imagine linen trousers traded in for low-slung jeans -- tall, skinny banquettes in subdued hues, crisp, tasteful wood paneling, and just-licking-kitschy coconut husk lamps. The bar, as always, dominates the dining hall, but this time around the cocktails are as presence-ful as the wine list. The food, of course, is the house keystone, and though it's a bit Sybil in its approach, it is one of the great bargains in fine dining at the moment, featuring bistro classics -- salads, sandwiches, pizza, pasta, a fantastic burger, and mains -- with its shirt sleeves rolled up to the elbow. (Karen Solomon)

Starting with a food cart business in Golden Gate Park last year, Dennis Lee and his brothers Dan and David have already expanded their empire with Namu, a largely undiscovered, chef's-night-out secret spot. This Inner Richmond family-run restaurant offers a modern twist on classic Korean and Japanese dishes in a sleek, minimalist 40-seat dining room. The clean-lined design is the first clue that this restaurant, while using tried-and-true recipes (often from Mom), also accentuates a modern-day sensibility. They import Sumi charcoal from Japan -- which burns hot and almost smokeless for a quick sear -- to use for the grilled items, and chefs Manuel Ek (formerly of Ozumo) and Dennis Lee integrate mostly organic, local ingredients into the dishes. (Sarah Sung)