Summer to fall in the Bay Area doesn't follow the usual warmer to cooler patters. Instead, our weather turns warmer and our markets and restaurant menus are filled with seasonal tomatoes. Everything from tiny cherry tomatoes to enormous colorful heirloom tomatoes grace our menus. Of course, they are outstanding on their own, or with a little mozzarella and basil, but local chefs are going a step further and making tomato cocktails, filling tortellini with cherry tomatoes and even pairing braised beef tongue with Sweet 100 tomatoes. Summer might be almost over, but it's prime tomato time in the Bay Area.
Tomato salad with filo torta at SPQR
We’re used to talking about the imaginative pastas at the Fillmore's exciting Cal-Ital destination, yet this summer plate reminds us that chef Matthew Accarrino is equally masterful with produce-driven starters. For this dish, a moist, flaky wedge of a filo dough torta functions as the partner for a tomato salad that's given an earthy-spicy jolt of shishito peppers and umami boost of aged provolone cheese. An opal basil vinegar finishes this beautiful dish you'll be dreaming about when it's root vegetable season in January.
1911 Fillmore St.; 415-771-7779
Tomato and smoked salmon bunuelos at Canela
Alert to diners looking for hors d'oeuvres to serve at your next house party: savory Latin American beignets filled with the salty-sweet combination of smoked salmon and tomato. It's a thrilling one-bite idea from the Castro Spanish and South American restaurant, with the bunuelo nestled atop tomato jam. Move over bagels topped with lox and a slice of tomato. This is the best meeting of smoked salmon and tomato we've found.
2272 Market St.; 415-552-3000
Cherry tomato tortellini at Maybeck's
Think of the pork jus explosion when enjoying a xiao long bao dumpling at a dim sum restaurant. Now, replace the dumpling dough for pasta dough and that pork part with a peak ripeness, ready-to burst-with-juice whole cherry tomato. You’ll encounter that at the newly renamed Marina restaurant where the filled tortellini come accompanied by basil pesto and pine nuts. This is as ideal a summer dish as it gets, bridging sunny Liguria with sunny California. Whatever you do, don’t even think about trying to cut these in half to share.
3213 Scott St.; 415-400-8500
Braised beef with tomatoes at Mister Jiu's
Tomatoes and mozzarella? We’ve seen that a million times. Beef tongue and tomatoes? Not so much. Chef-owner Brandon Jew pairs the two together at his Chinatown hot spot, using Sweet 100 tomatoes and Tokyo turnips to accompany the slow-cooked tongue, brisket and short rib. The fortifying, cold-weather-welcoming entree is a complete opposite of most raw, pristine summer tomato preparations. But when you walk outside the restaurant and the fog has blown in, you'll remember tomato season can also feel like winter here.
28 Waverly Pl.; 415-857-9688
Tomato and peppers salad at Comal
The Berkeley modern Mexican restaurant has a riveting twist on the typical heirloom tomato salad called sikil pak, a pumpkin seed salsa from the Yucatan region of Mexico. Nardello peppers (another prime local summer produce), feta cheese and black olives round out the salad that boasts an intriguing mix of bold and refreshing. It's the perfect starter; pair it with the spicy tequila and hibiscus Jack Satan cocktail.
2020 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley; 510-926-6300
Tomato and roasted garlic burrata crostini at Jersey
We have to include at least one tomato and burrata dish this season, right? The SoMa ode to the Garden State, best known for its New Jersey and California-style pizzas, also knows how to deftly tie together a major San Francisco trend (things on toast) and the city's favorite summer duo (other than MadBum and Buster) by pairing roasted Toybox tomatoes and creamy burrata. Basil, balsamic and roasted garlic function as the supporting cast, with the latter lending a definite Jersey twang to the proceedings.
125 Second St.; 415-912-1502
Pan con tomate at Black Cat
Jazz lounge. Supper club. Cocktail bar. The game-changing, weeks-old Tenderloin establishment is one of the only, if not the only, place in the city to have that trio together where one element isn't dominant over another. Well, can we add tapas bar as a fourth? Every Spanish tapas bar has a form of smashed tomato on toast but your normal jazz bar–supper club certainly doesn't. It's a simple dish highlighting the rustic side of tomatoes. Just make sure not to crunch too loud during a song or the band will ask you to share.
400 Eddy St.; 415-358-1999
Roasted Japanese eggplant with tomato charmoula at Gather
Now here's a tomato curve ball that is just a part of a superb seasonal vegetarian plate from the long-time Berkeley restaurant's new chef, Charis Wahl. It's the North African spice-heavy marinade, charmoula, here interpreted with roasted tomatoes for a chutneylike addition to another summer crop, Japanese eggplant. Wahl adds additional cherry tomatoes, feta, red rice, quinoa and tahini to the dish for an array of textures and substance. It's an easy-to-love dish that is a light-meets-hearty metaphor for Berkeley's climate this time of year: sometimes sunny and warm, other times foggy and chilly — always tomato and eggplant weather.
2200 Oxford St., Berkeley; 510-809-0400
Fried green tomatoes at Loma Brewing Company
Tomatoes don't have to be red! Young, honeydew-green tomatoes can be just as sweet and juicy as their red peers that get all the attention. The idyllic greaseless, crunchy cornmeal batter is particularly noteworthy on these almost burger-sized tomatoes. They're topped with another summer staple, corn, as a smoky garlic corn relish, and are nestled atop an onion dip. This is definitely not a fried-food-at-a-brewpub dish. It's a proper seasonal-driven starter at a South Bay restaurant that brews its own beer.
130 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos; 408-560-9626
Tomato cocktails at The Advocate and Alta CA
Remember, it’s acceptable to drink your summer tomatoes too! The Bloody Mary gets a sunny overhaul from heirloom tomatoes in the Golden Mary, a limited-run seasonal cocktail at The Advocate in Berkeley's Elmwood neighborhood. St. George green chile vodka, made nearby in Alameda, serves as the base with the bitter liqueur Suze and a rising warmth from coriander and morrita chiles. Note: Currently The Advocate has an excellent tomato and melon salad that you should definitely try with the drink.
Meanwhile, Alta CA in Mid-Market is one of the city leaders in terms of spirit-forward barrel-aged cocktails, but it also knows how to shake up fresh, light, seasonal drinks like the caprese cocktail. The bar staff makes small batches of gin infused with tomatoes, thyme and cilantro, then shakes the finished product with lime juice, simple syrup and serrano chile bitters before straining into a coupe. Then the bottom of the glass gets sprayed with, yes, basil oil. What about the mozzarella element of a caprese salad? Thankfully that is left out.