First Look: The Perennial in San Francisco

Climate change is on the mind of this game-changing restaurant
January 26, 2016
by Trevor Felch

The gist: To some, a restaurant is just a restaurant. To others, like the folks behind The Perennial, a restaurant is only as successful as its ability to be environmentally sustainable and carbon neutral. The Mid-Market restaurant is devoted to what owners and husband-and-wife restaurateurs Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz (Mission Street Food, Mission Chinese Food, Commonwealth) call “the most pressing issue of our time" and to forging a path that fellow restaurants can follow to address climate change. 

Every element of the restaurant's operation is focused on sustainability, from the aquaponic greenhouse in Oakland to the reclaimed wood used in the decor to the rooftop garden at the restaurant. It shows up in the food too. For instance, the restaurant only buys meat from livestock ranches that participate in “carbon farming” where animals eating perennial native grasses. And while it's true that the restaurant places a signature emphasis on its environmental actions, its kitchen and bar also aim to be among San Francisco’s leaders for taste — just with as low a carbon footprint as possible.

Photo: Alanna Hale

The food: Chef Chris Kiyuna (Coi, Noma, Front Porch, Mission Chinese Food) has created an à la carte dinner menu with a climate-conscious, seasonal-driven California mindset. Prices range from $11 to $14 for smaller plates and $22–$28 for larger ones. Starters include a clam-based bagna cruda with potato confit and a cauliflower and puntarelle toast (above). Larger plates might include something like pastured beef with cured yolk, blistered broccoli leaves and anise panzanella. Pastry chef Nicola Carey runs the dessert side with a chocolate and pomelo version of the Mont Blanc and also a buckwheat financier with candy cap and parsnip ice cream. She also bakes the house bread made from kernza, a perennial wheatgrass. For quick grazers, a bar-bites menu is also available; it's an abbreviated list of the small plates served in the dining room.

Photo: Helynn Ospina

The drinks: Inventive drinks with a low carbon footprint? It’s possible. Cocktails from bar director Jennifer Colliau (founder of Small Hand Foods, The Interval) are divided into four sections, Highballs, Lowballs, Fun, and Complicated, each with four offerings. The latter category features drinks like the Antidote with Tapatio resposado tequila, hot beef broth, sesame and lime. From the Fun section comes an Ambrosia featuring Aviation gin, Meyer cream cordial, orange and an egg white. As noteworthy as the cocktails are, the bar program’s unique adaptations to adhere to the restaurant’s mindset are equally head-turning. There is no ice machine, spirits are from sustainability minded distilleries and there is even a water still to turn extra ingredients like citrus zest into essential oils and hydrosols to be used for future cocktails. Some cocktails will be poured on tap (to save water) and are joined by local beers, wine and Paramo Coffee. Speaking of coffee, during the day, Paramo Coffee will operate a small cafe in one corner of the restaurant.

Photo: Helynn Ospina

The space: The Perennial is divided into a 65-seat dining room and 40-seat bar, all designed by Paul Discoe, an architect who only works with reclaimed lumber. The bar is made of Douglas fir, the chairs from poplar and the tables from cypress and black acacia. A prominent rug in the center of the dining room comes from 100% recycled fibers, and utensil rests at tables are made of recycled glass from San Francisco’s Fireclay Tile. From the lighting to the menu paper to the exhaust hoods over the oven, every part of The Perennial design considers its carbon footprint. Glass tiles, wood and concrete play recurring roles throughout the room, allowing lots of natural sunlight in during the day and providing a spacious, airy feeling accented by the exposed air ducts and pipes. Plants on the walls function as a "living pantry." The bar also includes two small high-top communal tables and counter seating at the windows opposite the main bar.

The Perennial is open for dinner Monday to Saturday.

The details: 59 Ninth St.; 415-500-7788

california cuisine
sustainable meats