From micro-seasonal tasting menus to perfect pita and classic cooking that speaks for itself.
As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said of hardcore porn, I can’t define precisely what makes greatness in a restaurant, but I know it when I see it. I care relatively little about “handcrafted” cocktails (a good old old-fashioned is good enough for me) and even less about trendy atmospherics. I’m no happier in a farmhouse eating foie gras than I am in a dim basement slurping pho. Innovation’s nice, but even the wildest culinary pyrotechnics are rarely more appealing than a classic dish done extremely well. In general, I’ve found, the shorter the menu, the better the food. The same laws of simplicity apply to service. Fancy can be fine, but when exchanges with waitstaff become white-tablecloth formal, I’d rather take a number at the counter. I’ve got a soft spot for mom-and-pop shops, but that doesn’t mean deep pockets can’t produce sweet places—so long as they’re smart enough to hire an impassioned chef. For every rule, of course, there are exceptions, which means that I should stop blathering and reframe my definition as a list: Here, my 10 favorite restaurants of the past year.
3. China Live
Given that the build-out cost owner George Chen a reported $20 million, I’m not sure that this grand culinary market (the Eataly of Chinese food, some have called it) will pay off. But I know that a meal here is money well spent. Operating at the scruffy edge of Chinatown, the thrumming restaurant at the heart of China Live provides a superb primer on an ancient and boundlessly diverse cuisine. There are lots of ways to go—dim sum, braises, stir-fries, roasts—but if I were going back tonight, I’d start with the preserved “century” egg ($8), adorned with roasted red peppers and Sichuan peppercorns, before moving on to steamed dumplings ($9) that are like translucent purses stuffed with gingery pork. With a menu that ranges from Peking duck ($19) to a bracing scallop-and-cuttlefish tonic ($25), the restaurant strikes a nimble balance between comfort and adventure. 644 Broadway (near Grant Ave.), 415-788-8188 – San Francisco Magazine (07.20.17)