The days are getting shorter, the rain is falling once a week and we still occasionally get a 70-degree day — welcome to the second half of fall in the Bay Area. It's that time of year where our seasonal produce finally mimics the rest of the country, with apples, persimmons and pumpkin filling the farmer's markets. True, we don't get the classic foliage or crisp fall air, but we can still warm up with a mulled spice cocktail, pumpkin bleu cheese in croquetas and a PSL that's not embarrassing to order. Indulge in the season by trying each of these autumn dishes and drinks on menus across San Francisco.
Although apples are grown only in pockets of Marin and Sonoma counties, the Bay Area appetite for the ingredient is high. Outer Richmond’s Marla Bakery makes great use of the mighty wood-fired bread oven with a delightful roasted pork belly that shares a plate with baked, apple jelly stuffed Wickson apples topped with Jack cheese. Save room for dessert at Prospect in the FiDi, where apple strudel joins buttered caramel ice cream and a Greek yogurt–thyme crémeux, sprinkled with a brown butter almond crumble and a drizzle of huckleberry sauce. It’s a stellar apple dessert that isn’t a variation of apple pie. Want to drink your apples? You’re in luck. Healdsburg’s Sonoma Cider just opened a taproom and restaurant (try the Dry Golden Delicious and ham and Gruyère crêpe). Three cheers to apple season.
Savor a perfect medium rare duck with a local Pinot Noir as you soak up a wholesome autumnal feeling at Healdsburg's Dry Creek Kitchen. The spice-crusted Liberty duck breast and duck confit ravioli both share the main course plate with Asian pears, a generally unheralded fall fruit. Chef Scott Romano hits two seasonal delights since game meats are also a classic fall staple. Who needs foliage when you have this dish?
317 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg; 707-431-0330
Chestnuts aren’t roasting on an open fire (yet), but they do appear in a regal 24-layer lasagna creation at SPQR, the innovative Italian gem in Lower Pacific Heights. Chef Matthew Accarrino wonderfully balances the comfort-elegant worlds with madeira-braised rabbit and chestnuts in the lasagna. If this doesn’t sound ideal on a brisk November evening when the sunset starts setting before dinner time, we don’t know what does.
1911 Fillmore St.; 415-771-7779
Mulled wine isn’t the only way to drink the classic allspice-cinnamon-clove flavors. Elixir in the Mission macerates Sacred Bond brandy with the spices for a day, then shakes up its Bonded and Mulled cocktail with the aforementioned brandy, orgeat, tawny port, lemon and egg white. Consider this the cold weather pisco sour sibling that would go well with turkey and stuffing. Bonus: It’s served in an Irish coffee glass, the great symbol of brisk San Francisco.
3200 16th St.; 415-552-1633
Parsnips’ nutty-bitter taste beautifully translates into ice cream in a simple but abnormal dessert at Mason Pacific on Nob Hill. The scoop of ice cream comes topped with pieces of honey-glazed parsnips and a pastry crust crumble made of honey and toasted almonds. Different? You bet. This is one of those savory desserts that works.
1358 Mason St.; 415-374-7185
San Francisco’s new brunch-of-the-moment (Saturdays only) is at the intimate, relaxed restaurant and brewery, Old Bus Tavern, right at the edge of the Mission and Bernal Heights. The menu nicely balances sweet and savory with a few fun catches involved with each dish. Take the stacked oatmeal pancakes, which arrive with a smear of praline, topped with oatmeal crumble for crunch, a side of maple syrup and most importantly, seasonal darling persimmons as a compote. What a way to start a fall weekend.
3193 Mission St.; 415-843-1938
Diners will see pomegranate seeds scattered atop salads all over the Bay Area, but The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards in Livermore is looking beyond pomegranate seeds with a fascinating dessert, pairing a pomegranate sauce with a purple sweet potato tart and ube ice cream. A bonus for those heading to wine country in fall: While the city doesn't get much tree foliage, grape vines definitely do. Your Instagram feed will get a lot of likes.
5050 Arroyo Rd., Livermore; 925-456-2450
Pumpkin isn’t a sideshow at Handline, the weeks-old Sebastopol fast casual–sustainable seafood concept. Here pumpkin cubes come coated in a robust, slightly spicy mole, and the pumpkin theme is repeated with a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds. It’s the perfect side for some fish tacos or a bowl of ceviche. You can try pumpkin in a curious pairing with bleu cheese in croquetas at Canela in the Castro. Pumpkin’s close sibling, butternut squash, is the dipping sauce as a thickened aïoli. Finally, how could we forget the pumpkin spice latte? Coffee Bar’s three locations use a real pumpkin purée, sweetened condensed milk, fresh grated spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, etc.) and vanilla with Mr. Espresso–roasted beans. This is a #PSL of which you can be proud.