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Westfield San Francisco Centre Restaurant Collection

Stellar Mall Dining, Vegas Style

No matter how much I claim to be a Northern California girl, you just can’t take the Southern Cal mall rat out of me. So when I first stepped into the new Westfield Centre at 5th and Market in downtown San Francisco, my heart skipped a beat at the excellent selection of boutiques. But this gargantuan, 1.5 million square-foot mall not only tempted the shopaholic in me but also called to my literal hunger with its plethora of dining possibilities.

While the utopian-feel food court (which will be covered in a follow-up piece) is housed below ground, the tony Westfield Restaurant Collection resides mostly on the fourth floor. Some of the names will sound familiar, as they are offshoots of existing restaurants in the Bay Area. Straits and Cocola Bakery have sister establishments at Santana Row, San Jose’s posh outdoor shopping and dining destination.

Closer to home, Out the Door has been opened by the same owners of acclaimed Slanted Door. Zazil comes from the group that opened Colibri Mexican Bistro just a few blocks away, and Lark Creek Steak hails from the Lark Creek Restaurant Group, the group behind One Market, Lark Creek Inn in Larkspur and Walnut Creek, and Yankee Pier at Santana Row.

Each restaurant is enticing and exciting in concept, although it can be tough to shake the fact that one is, after all, dining in a mall. Though the glitzy, stylized Westfield Centre can emit a very Vegas vibe, one couldn’t ask for more in mall dining options. Shopping excursions just got more appetizing.

Lark Creek Steak
Classic American is the focus here, with a dependable variety of steaks, chops, and seafood with seasonal and locally farmed ingredients. Fried Ipswich Clams ($15) are one of the menu highlights. Presented in a wire basket, they are perfectly paired with a celery root remoulade and shaved horseradish. The filet mignon steak tartare ($18), also praiseworthy, is a generous mound of fresh ground filet accompanied with crispy hand-cut fries. The protein-heavy entrees range from New York Strip to Porterhouse and are accompanied by an equally bold California wine list.

The setting is also very California modern with a padded banquette in a soothing, olive shade bordering the length of the restaurant with a modestly exposed kitchen towards the back. Comfortable bar seating is set in the front nook, with a flat screen TV for the shopping-weary. Another draw is the three-course Prix Fixe lunch ($19) -- a good reason to get away from the office if you work nearby.

Straits
Resembling a nightclub more than a restaurant, Chris Yeo’s Straits has relocated from the more modest inner Richmond to this flashier address. The stylized decor includes Buddha statues and paintings guarding over the black and tangerine dining room. Low cushioned seats and tables encourage lounge eating and people watching.

The Pan-Asian theme of the menu remains, with influences from Singapore to Malaysia to India. Signature favorites have also been carried over to the menu, including the delicious sticky, honey-glazed Spare Ribs ($9) and the Poh Pia ($7), spring rolls stuffed with vegetables, prawns and Chinese sausage. Though dishes are good, flavors sometimes fight each other on the palate, vying for attention like the dining room atmosphere. Cocktails are fun and creative and are worth trying. The lemongrass mojito or pineapple infused Temasek Sunset (cocktails $10) will certainly bring you to lala land.

Zazil
Boasting over 300 kinds of tequilas, Zazil is a good spot for tequila connoisseurs and margarita lovers. We tried the Margarita 7 Leguas ($11) with tequila aged for six months in white oak barrels. Traces of agave and smoke came out on the very smooth finish, further proof that great tequila can truly refine and elevate this cocktail.

Though a $12 guacamole may not be worth its tableside presentation, it is nevertheless extremely fresh and better than any you’d find at a good Mexican restaurant. A few meat and vegetarian plates are offered, but the focus at Zazil is the ocean. The standout Ceviches Trilogy ($18) is a good mix of citrus-infused seafood. The trio showcases shrimp with pineapple, halibut spritzed with lime, and a shrimp-octopus medley. While you aren't really at a beachside seafood shack in Cancun, surely the atmosphere attempts transport you there, from lights encased by wire domes resembling rustic fishing baskets to beams smartly hidden with tall twigs camouflaging as trees, to azure sea blue floors.

Cocola
While this French patisserie offers an impressive array of sandwiches and salads ($6-10), pastries ($1.50-$4.90) steal the show. From millefeuilles to chocolate layer cakes to every imaginable flavor of mousse cake including green tea, any dessert desires can truly be satisfied at Cocola. Cakes and tarts can also be ordered for a special occasion.

There’s nothing like a respite from shopping with a café au lait and a divine dessert. Cravings for savories are answered with the likes of albacore tuna nicoise salad, or a meaty pepper trip-tip of beef sandwich. For a little bit of decadence, stop in at this faux-Parisian retreat, in all its decadence adorned with gilded mirrors and mosaic tiled tables.

‘wichcraft
Tom Collichio, perhaps most recognized for hosting TV reality show "Top Chef" than for his famed New York restaurants, has opened his first west coast ‘wichcraft offshoot here. Though the restaurant feel is more cafeteria-like in its boxy minimalism than modern, and it is oddly placed on the west side of Bloomingdale’s with no direct entrance from the mall, the sandwich fare is worth the twists and turns to get to this spot. Creative ingredient pairing is underscored with every sandwich. Black trumpet mushrooms and truffle fondue give pizzazz to a grilled fontina sandwich ($9). Also a delight is barbecued flank steak on pressed ciabatta ($9), with added zing from roasted shitakes and sweet grilled red onions. Cafeteria dining never tasted so good.

Out the Door
You can now get your Slanted Door fix at this smaller sister spin-off. Charles Phan’s more accessible Out the Door gives the option of dining in at the concourse level full-service dining room or taking out the fabulous French-Vietnamese fare. Many mainstays of the Slanted Door menu reside on Out the Door’s including delicious spring rolls ($7.50) encasing fresh shrimp and sliced pork, and the zesty green papaya salad ($7.50). The menu emphasizes good flavor that is casual and quick with salads, sandwiches, and rice and noodle plates. The shrimp and pork wonton soup ($8.50) is gratifying winter fare. Another favorite of ours is the flavorful Hoi An braised meatball sandwich ($8) with sliced jalapenos that give extra kick. A small selection of beers and wines are offered, but the variety of non-alcoholic drinks pair nicely with the dishes as well, such as Boba ($3), tapioca tea, and Vietnamese coffee ($2.50).

Lark Creek Steak
California
$$$
Reservations Essential? Yes for dinner

Phone: 415.593.4100
Hours: Lunch, Mon-Fri: 11:30am - 2:30pm; Sat-Sun: 11am – 2:30pm
Dinner, Sun-Thurs: 5pm – 9pm; Fri-Sat: 5pm – 10pm

Straits
Pan-Asian
$$
Reservations Essential? Yes for dinner

Phone: 415.668.1783
Hours: Lunch, Sun-Sat: 11am – 5pm
Dinner, Sun-Wed: 5pm – 12am; Thurs-Sat: 5pm – 2am

Zazil
Mexican
$$$
Reservations Essential? Yes for dinner

Phone: 415.495.6379
Hours: Lunch, Sun-Sat: 11:30am – 3pm
Dinner, Sun-Mon: 3pm – 9pm; Tues-Thurs: 3pm – 10pm; Fri-Sat 3pm-11pm

Cocola
French
$
Reservations Essential? No

Phone: 415.543.2207
Hours: Mon-Sat: 8:30am – 9pm; Sun: 10am-6pm

‘wichcraft
American
$
Reservations Essential? No

Phone: 866.942.4272


Out the Door
Vietnamese
$
Reservations Essential? No

Phone: 415.541.9913
Hours: Mon-Sat: 11am – 9pm; Sun: 11am – 8pm