As is the tradition at Eater, our closeout of the year is a survey of friends, industry types and bloggers to get a read on the highlights and lowlights of the last year of eating in San Francisco. We asked the group eight questions, from Meal of the Year to 2012 Headline Predictions. Top Restaurant Standbys were passed on earlier today. Responses are related in no particular order; all are cut, pasted and unedited herein. We encourage your additions to the list in the comments.
Lots of folks are calling Parallel 37 a top newcomer. [Photo: Zagat Picasa Web Gallery]
Q: What were the top newcomers of 2011?
Paolo Lucchesi, San Francisco Chronicle Inside Scoop: Parallel 37, Boxing Room, Haven, Sushiritto (just kidding), the new Bar Tartine, and Locanda all deserve nods, but I think creative pop-ups (or one-nighters) like Hapa, Chef's Night Off, Rice Paper Scissors and the guest chef series at Baker & Banker and Fifth Floor were the most welcome development (even if the pop-ups weren't new to 2011, per se).
Grant Marek, San Francisco Editor, Thrillist: Slam dunks: Park Tavern (dude, Brussels sprout chips), Umami Burger, and Boxing Room. Mid-range jumpers: AQ Restaurant & Bar, and Leopold's (Steins! German! Girls in lederhosen!)
Jane Goldman, Vice President and Editor-in-Chief, Chow: I've got no newcomer standouts, I don't think. The standouts for me are places that got reinvigorated with new menus, new chefs (Bar Tartine, SPQR)
Amy Sherman, Cooking with Amy: Parallel 37, Jasper's Corner Tap, BlueStem, The Galley (inside Clooney's)
Josh Sens, restaurant critic, San Francisco magazine: Locanda, TerraBar, Hawker Fare, Boxing Room. I'm sure I'm forgetting something, but all the saturated fat has cut off blood supply to brain.
Sara Deseran, senior editor 7x7: As for new restaurants, being from Louisiana, I found love at the Boxing Room when I had their duck and sausage jambalaya. It's definitely a haute version but it's still down and dirty and rich and beautiful. I also have been to Locanda a ton and I had a pretty damn tasty brisket sandwich at Deli Board the other day.
Stuart Schuffman, Broke-Ass Stuart: I've been gone like 6 months of this year, so I'm a bit out of the loop. That said, I did eat at Southpaw the other night and it was great!
Virginia Miller, food and drink correspondent, SF Bay Guardian: Thus far, AQ is the whole package: inventive, delicious food (that boudin noir with chestnuts three ways, or charred avocado with squid!), elegant but unfussy seasonal cocktails, warm service and hip, multi-level space. My top cheap eats opening may be Chubby Noodle, from the Don Pisto's folks (another spot I love), in the back of comfortable North Beach classic bar, Amante. Sitting in big booths eating their ridiculously good fried chicken with sambal sauce and spicy garlic noodles makes for a happy night. Boxing Room delivers some Louisiana specialties I crave but don't often see outside of the South, like Creole cream cheese or fresh alligator. The izakaya trend keeps coming around every couple years and thus can feel a bit tired, but Nojo breathes new life into the genre while remaining close to tradition.
Brock Keeling, editor SFist: Park Tavern, Nojo, Darwin Cafe
Carolyn Jung, Food Gal: Hawker Fare in Oakland for its reasonably priced and addicting Asian rice bowls that are so worth waiting in line for. Michael Mina's return to the elegant spot where he first made his mark, the now-shuttered Aqua. Lunch there is an amazing experience, too, with seamless service and such unforgettable dishes as handmade pasta and butterscotch pudding with a float of real scotch. AQ in downtown San Francisco may sound gimmicky with not only a menu that changes seasonally, but an interior decor that does, as well. But the food, presented with such care and flair, will have you coming back for more and even excited to see how the dining room morphs throughout the year.