Bay Area diners discuss restaurant years like Napa Valley wine vintages. If 2016 and 2017 were generally considered outstanding years for newcomers, then get ready: 2018 is poised to eclipse them. Big names like Saison and Trick Dog will unveil distinct second acts. Coveted rooftop bar spaces will open in Napa and SoMa. The food hall trend will hit SFO (and could make you miss your flight) at Manufactory Food Hall. Now that we've already forgotten our New Year's diet resolutions, here's a look at 2018's tempting headliners.
The Che Fico team. Photo courtesy of Che Fico
ETA: Late winter
The rapidly growing Divisadero dining scene gets another key addition from two chefs who previously worked at New York’s renowned Eleven Madison Park. Che Fico will be a hip Italian taverna by chef David Nayfeld (a Bay Area native) and James Beard–winning pastry chef Angela Pinkerton (most recently at Craftsman and Wolves), along with partner Matt Brewer, who comes to the project from Chicago. The rustic, casual Cal-Ital fare from Nayfeld will include Neapolitan pizza cooked in an oven imported directly from Naples, plus pastas and salumi made in-house. A part of the menu will also be focused on “Cucina Ebraica,” the Jewish cuisine of Italy based in Rome. The restaurant and its bar will take over the second floor of a former auto body shop. Pinkerton will also run a pie-themed counter-service shop, Theorita, on the ground floor.
Daniel Patterson’s Alta Group teams up with chef/co-owner Nigel Jones of Kingston 11 in Oakland to transform the original Alta CA location, across from the Twitter Building, into a contemporary Jamaican concept. Along with Jones’ Jamaican-via-seasonal-Californian cooking (like jerk chicken and salt fish fritters with chimichurri), Kaya will have a fun rum-focused beverage program. Alta CA itself will move three blocks down Market Street to be the ground-floor, all-day restaurant of the soon-to-open Grant Hotel. There will also be a rooftop bar with stunning city views.
Uni toast at Saison. Photo by Trevor Felch
The Embarcadero’s former Chaya space will become a raw bar and grill-centric restaurant in 2018, courtesy of Saison’s chef Joshua Skenes and wine director Mark Bright. While the emphasis on live-fire cooking is similar to what can be found in the $398 tasting menu at Saison, Angler’s à la carte dishes (like elk T-bone roasted over embers with coffee beans and chile peppers) will be simpler and much more affordable. The 100-seat venue is split between the main dining area, a bar/salon and an entry room with a fireplace, all redone in a maritime vibe with exposed brick and mermaid tiles. As for that live-fire focus, Angler’s kitchen will be a dream for grill masters with a 32-foot hearth split into eight cooking style and heat zones. And yes, a draft menu does include Mendocino sea urchin on grilled bread, a dish no doubt inspired by Saison's beloved uni toast (pictured). A Los Angeles branch of Angler will also open in fall 2018.
Sorrel's Colby Heiman and Alexander Hong. Photo by Adrienne Hobbs
Following in the footsteps of Liholiho Yacht Club, Lazy Bear and the many other San Francisco pop-up turned brick-and-mortar success stories, Sorrel is the next to make the jump to permanent status. The pop-up was created in 2014 by chef Alexander Hong (Quince, Jean Georges), serving seasonal Cal-Ital dishes highlighted by homemade pastas like sunchoke caramelle with black garlic and pomegranate in four-course tasting menus. Now the full-time restaurant will be in Laurel Heights’ former Nico space offering both a tasting menu and à la carte small plates and larger items. The 50-seat dining room (and eight-seat front bar) will keep the upscale feel of Nico’s atmosphere, adding some contemporary elements and local art.
Courtesy of Birdsong
ETA: Late winter
As regional American cuisines go, the Pacific Northwest is often overshadowed by the South and New England. But this year, the region gets its chance to shine (or rain?) in SoMa’s old AQ space as the solo debut for chef-owner Chris Bleidorn, an alum of tasting menu legends Saison, Atelier Crenn and Alinea. Bleidorn will focus on “ancient” cooking methods like open-fire cooking, whole animal butchery and dry-aging meat in a downstairs locker — and plans to even make his own cheese for the restaurant. The Pacific Northwest influence comes from the many regional ingredients he’ll incorporate like berries, elk and the countless types of seasonal mushrooms. Diners will choose between à la carte dishes focused on large family-style dishes (think whole roasted duck and whole fish platters) or a 12-course tasting menu. The open kitchen design of AQ will remain, but now there is a 12-seat chef’s counter and a chic wood-heavy look with Douglas fir floors and handsome banquette seating.
Morgan Schick and Josh Harris of Bon Voyage! Photo courtesy of Bon Voyage!
ETA: Late winter
Get ready for more clever and unusual cocktails in 2018 because the ever-creative BVHospitality team is opening a second bar. Bon Voyage matches one of SF’s hippest locations with a bar team whose blockbuster debut (Trick Dog) remains the city’s most important cocktail destination. Bon Voyage will, appropriately, shake and stir drinks inspired by exotic spots in Asia, Africa and California, and the menu will rotate regularly, unlike Trick Dog’s twice-yearly menu. With drinks like a riff on a Singapore sling or a carbonated Bamboo cocktail with champagne yeast, guests can enjoy a food selection of elevated bar bites with the same theme as the drinks. Acclaimed local designer Wylie Price (Ramen Shop, The Progress) is responsible for the new look of the two-level Mission venue on Valencia that was the original Slanted Door and most recently Urchin Bistrot. Look for an eclectic, retro decor that will mix a fun animal theme with various geographic locations and time periods like "Palm Springs in the '70s."
Any time an alum of The French Laundry opens a restaurant, it's enormous news. Make it a pair of TFL protégés and it's an instant marquee fine-dining destination. This aptly named Palo Alto fine-dining restaurant will be located on the ground floor of a new mixed-use building on California Avenue, Palo Alto’s “second downtown,” an area known more for fast-casual lunches than three-hour dinners. Master sommelier Dennis Kelly teamed with chef Anthony Secviar for the project, which will have a lounge serving lunch and more casual evening bites, plus a prix fixe–only dinner, all served in a combined 80-seat space. Secviar's cooking will certainly pay homage to his training at both French Laundry and elBulli, where he was a protégé of Ferran Adria.
Louis Maldonado and Mourad Lahlou of amara. Photo courtesy of amara
ETA: Late winter
Curious diners around the Bay Area finally have the answer to what Mourad Lahlou plans to do with the former Aziza, the Outer Richmond Moroccan restaurant that launched his career (and is sorely missed). The space will become amara, a unique Mexican-Moorish concept. Lahlou’s longtime chef de cuisine at Aziza, Louis Maldonado, will run the kitchen and offer a contemporary take on both chefs’ family backgrounds. Like at Aziza and Lahlou's glamorous namesake restaurant in the FiDi, the cocktails will be bold and reflect the cuisine.
Cotogna's farm egg raviolo. Photo by Eric Wolfinger
Michael and Lindsay Tusk (Quince, Cotogna) are leaving Italy and heading to France for their third concept. Taking over the well-traveled former Chiaroscuro, Tartare and Elisabeth Daniel space (remember some of those retro 2000s spots?), Verjus is inspired by the hip bohemian wine bars of Paris. It will serve mostly natural wines and minimal intervention wines from around the world, complemented by casual Cali-French small plates and large-format dishes. Like Cotogna, Verjus' casual nature and long afternoon hours will allow plenty of flexibility for diners, amenable to a long, multicourse meal or a glass of wine and a quick bite. A retail component will sell wines and cute household wares discovered by the Tusks in Europe.
Madison Fraser and Ryan Shelton of Merchant Roots. Photo by Amanda Lynn
After co-owning the short-lived but beloved Reverb on Polk Street, business and life partners Ryan Shelton and Madison Fraser are shifting to another major San Francisco dining thoroughfare: the stretch of Fillmore that is home to State Bird Provisions. Their two-part concept, Merchant Roots, is finally on the verge of opening after over a year of delays. In the daytime, the merchant component is the focus (with housemade pastas, charcuterie made on a turn-of-the-century sausage maker, wine, beer and takeaway home meal kits), while evenings evolve into an ambitious, eight-seat “The Table at Merchant Roots” setup featuring monthly seasonal tasting menus with themes like chemical elements or "the language of flowers," with ticketed prices anywhere between $75 and $165.
The Mission’s former Range will reemerge as this casual, midcentury-meets-contemporary bar with retro '60s cocktails and bites, including a fresh take on fondue. Range's chef and co-owner Phil West will team up with his “restaurant family” from The Treasury, including cocktail star Carlos Yturria, chef Arnold Eric Wong and Tristen De Foy Philippart as general manager. The Beehive will reflect The Treasury's same cocktails-first, food-to-complement-the-drinks philosophy and boast a similar informal, loosen-your-tie vibe to match the fun-loving nature of Valencia Street. For a more exclusive experience, there's a small reservation-only "VIP" booth with more elaborate cocktails.
ETA: Late winter
It seems like a week doesn’t go by without a new fast-casual addition to the Bay Area dining scene. Well, here’s one of the few cuisines that's been barely touched by the trend wave: Scandinavian. That will change when Roberth and Andrea Sundell (owners of Pläj in Hayes Valley) unveil this concept in their longtime hometown, Petaluma. The formality of Pläj’s intricate dishes will be swapped at Stockhome for Swedish street food favorites. Turkish street food is also apparently extremely popular in Roberth’s native Stockholm, so the chef will also serve his versions of kebab plates, shawarma and falafel wraps, housemade hummus and Turkish delight. The 40-seat space will be dominated by midcentury floral-printed wallpaper imported from Sweden and a prominent wall featuring Swedish candy — yes, a wall of candy where kids (and kids at heart) can buy sweets in bulk.
Before 2018, dining and drinking on Treasure Island meant a stop at Woods Beer Island Club or a winery or distillery. In other words: Bring your own food or eat on the mainland. That will change in 2018. Chef Parke Ulrich (Waterbar, EPIC Steak) seeks to prove that Treasure Island can be a dining destination with a globe-spanning, casual all-day restaurant serving a range of items from togarashi kettle corn and pozole verde to tuna melts and a double-stacked Wagyu burger. Breakfast will feature egg sandwiches, pastries (by Hayes Valley Bakeworks) and a build-your-own toast option. Mersea is made out of recycled shipping containers and boasts an outdoor patio and the spectacular views you’d expect from Treasure Island. The restaurant is located by Treasure Island’s Great Lawn, at the far northern end of the island (the non–Bay Bridge side).
The Archer Hotel's soon-to-open rooftop patio. Courtesy of Charlie Palmer Group
Rooftop patios: The Rooftop at Twenty Five Lusk and Archer Hotel Napa's TBD bar
ETA: January and spring, respectively
With the opening of Charmaine’s and BarVIA, rooftop bars were a key trend of 2017. It won’t slow down in 2018. For The Rooftop at Twenty Five Lusk, guests will enjoy casual comfort favorites (lobster rolls, oysters, margaritas by the pitcher, boozy slushies) and pizzas from a wood-fired oven; look for pies like one topped with prosciutto, arugula, fig, pistachio and Point Reyes blue cheese. The 100-guest space includes a living green wall, a glass and steel windscreen, built-in heaters and an edgy industrial meatpacking theme (hanging chains, meat hook relics) that echoes the building's history.
At the Archer Hotel Napa, the 80-guest sixth-floor rooftop restaurant and bar is the highest point on the valley floor. Hence, you can certainly count on some knockout views of the Napa Valley, enjoyed with some great wine and delicious bites. It will be open from lunch through dinner, and will serve breakfast and brunch seasonally. Now we know where Napa's future bachelorette parties will stop...
Manufactory Food Hall at SFO
Flying in or out of SFO will be a little more delicious thanks to a trio of San Francisco's most beloved restaurants. The Boarding Area A side of the International Terminal (post-security) will welcome Tartine, Cala and Kin Khao in the Manufactory Food Hall around the summertime and be a much needed addition to the not-so inspired SFO dining scene. Tartine’s influence at the food hall will be as a Tartine Bakery pastry case/coffee bar and a full-service restaurant serving sandwiches, salads and soups like at Tartine Manufactory in the Mission. Kin Khao’s Pim Techamuanvivit will offer Thai rice bowls, noodles, salads and grilled meats. Meanwhile, Cala’s Gabriela Cámara adds tacos, breakfast tortas and tostadas to the food hall. Note that there will also be a bar at the Tartine Manufactory restaurant featuring cocktails from all three concepts — try them all but don't miss your flight.
Also on our radar for 2018:
Bar Crenn: Dominique Crenn's long-delayed wine bar next door to Atelier Crenn
The Board: A fast-casual, diner-style concept in SoMa that plans to be "a celebration of everything between two buns" from Deli Board's Adam Mesnick
Nyum Bai: From La Cocina pop-up to food stall at the Emeryville Public Market, Nite Yun's Cambodian dishes will soon have a permanent home in Oakland's Fruitvale Village
4505 Burgers & BBQ: The Best Damn Cheeseburger crosses the Bay Bridge and will open in Oakland's Laurel District
Pearl: Pizzetta 211's new sibling in the Outer Richmond offering homemade pastas and rustic dishes often cooked in a prominent wood oven
Range Life: A seasonal Californian concept in Livermore by husband-and-wife team Bill and Sarah Niles (he was co-chef at Tartine Manufactory, she was a sommelier at Outerlands)