Eater's roving restaurant critic Bill Addison was a busy man in 2015, traversing the country in search of the country's most essential restaurants. Now, the results of his efforts are live and ready for eaters everywhere to consume. And unsurprisingly, the Bay Area made this year's Essential 38 more than once. Here's what caught the attention of our critic's tastebuds around town.
Benu made the critic's first ever Essential 38 map, then stuck around for a second helping this year. According to Addison, the food at Corey Lee's fine dining mecca "Bridges East and West like nothing before it," which secures Benu "as the one San Francisco fine dining restaurant you must experience." Considering the plethora of excellent fine dining in this city, that is a bold statement. For fans of Lee's intricate and "brilliant" dishes, keep an eye out for the chef's upcoming restaurant at the SFMOMA, In Situ, which will coincide with the museum's reopening this spring.
Café at Chez Panisse
The casual, upstairs scion of Alice Water's Chez Panisse maintained its spot as an Essential this year, showcasing dishes "obsessively in tune with the seasons." Addison loved the café's salads, pizzettas and "honest delights" like chicken cooked under a brick. Although Berkeley is currently experiencing a dining boom (including Dominique Crenn's upcoming Antoinette and NYC's Ippudo Ramen), Waters' café will surely keep its position at the top of the heap.
In a surprising move, the more casual sibiling of Quince made its way into the essential category for the first time this year. "Michael and Lindsay Tusk's trattoria captures several of the most vital aspects of San Francisco dining under one roof," said Addison. Calling Michael Tusk "nothing less than a pasta savant," Cotogna's cooking is the very definition of the "modern California-Italian ethos." The rustic restaurant also earned the superlative of "Best Spot for a Solo Lunch." Addison laments the death of the relaxing lunch in America, but says Cotogna reminds us all of what we're missing, with a cozy dining room and pleasantly leafy sidewalk patio.
It's a big year for Manresa's chef/owner David Kinch, including earning his third Michelin star and opening The Bywater, a playful New Orleans-inspired restaurant down the street from his original restaurant. Now that includes the continued placement of his fine dining restaurant as one of the Essential 38, which Addison calls "the current pinnacle of California cuisine." After dining there over the summer, the critic says that "It all left me with the impression that I'd never tasted truly fresh food before — even after a week of eating through the Bay Area's finest. It was otherworldly, a little unhinging, and entirely exhilarating."
While not currently on Addison's Essential 38, Dominique Crenn's restaurant provided the distinction of "Most Remarkable Bite." Having eaten many remarkable bites during his research, Addison's endorsement of Crenn's banana with caviar speaks for itself. The full review: "Something this strange and wondrous could only come from the mind of Dominique Crenn: a nugget of banana mounded with caviar, pecans, and gold leaf — a salted caramel banana split catapulted into luxurious, savory stratospheres. The bite showed up near the beginning of her nearly 20-course tasting menu, a four-hour meeting of the intellectual and the sensual, but of all the meal's wonders, this was the one unlikely marvel I kept reliving in my mind long after the meal was over." Crenn's creativity and constant evolution are also showcased at her newest restaurant Petit Crenn, and undoubtedly at her upcoming Antoinette in Berkeley.