1658 Market St, SF, CA | 415.552.2522 | website
Mr. K and I joined his co-worker LisaG and Eric for a festive holiday meal at Zuni Café before going to see the hilarious Book of Mormon musical. The restaurant was decked out for the holidays with a giant wreath hanging outside and a brilliantly lit Christmas tree in the bar, which lent additional warmth to the subdued but convivial atmosphere. Earlier in the week we were shocked to read that chef-owner Judy Rodgers had succumbed after battling cancer at the age of 57, and I noticed wreaths and bouquets with lilies hanging above the bar… We toasted the Chef and enjoyed cocktails at the bar before we were led to our cozy intimate table upstairs which was located in a tangle of interconnected dining cubbies. The ceilings are high throughout the triangular restaurant, which gives it an open feeling.
We sat next to a half wall overlooking the kitchen, where we could watch pizzas and chickens coming and going from the wood fired oven. Mr. K and I had our first date here many years ago, and still come back because we love the quirky restaurant and the gorgeous food served here. Nearly all of the produce, meat, and fish is farmed or harvested in a sustainable manner and the daily changing menus are inspired by seasonal organic ingredients and incorporate traditional regional French and Italian cuisine. We have our favorite dishes that we crave and come back for and are always dazzled by the consistently awesome quality of the food we are served.
From my perch, I watched the kitchen staff, which moved with quiet efficiency – each was focused on the task at hand.
Directly below me was the oyster shucking station, and I noticed that they shucked bare handed, dang that is hard-core!
First we were served warm slices of crusty sourdough with sweet butter. And before we knew it, we were enjoying a bounteous assortment of oysters and raw clams, served with a classic mignonette. Each morsel was sweet and fresh, bathing our tastebuds with the fine taste of the sea.
We split a couple of the famous Zuni Caesar salads ($10.00), which we all swooned over. The dressing is bright and lemony and balanced with the rich shavings of reggiano that literally melt on your tongue, fruity olive oil and the strong marine kissed flavor of anchovies. I love the lightness of their dressing and the dense crunchy croutons and we agreed that this should be the standard for ceasar salads.
Chicken for two roasted in the brick oven; warm bread salad with scallions, garlic, dandelion greens, dried currants, and pine nuts. For $48 you get an entire roast chicken and the most delicious bread salad containing chunks of the best stuffing in the entire universe tossed with radiantly dressed bitter greens. Be warned that it takes approximately 1 hour from the time you order.
Ahh the chicken. The skin is crisp, the meat is well-seasoned and juicy, it is perfect. But my attention was drawn to the bread salad, the pieces of bread are alternately crisp and chewy, infused with juices from the bird and dotted with rich pine nuts, dried currents, and tossed with a champagne vinegar, creating a heady combination of textures and flavors. Every time, I want to say winner winner chicken dinner!
We also shared a plate of Steak (priced in the $30s), which had all the fat/gristle removed. We savored the tender slices of perfectly cooked steak, dark pink in the center with a lightly charred crust, served with a crunchy dark green vegetable. At this point we were quite stuffed and realized we had to leave in order to make the 8 pm curtain time.
Sadly there was no time for dessert, but we left feeling very satisfied and full of the holiday spirit.