Chef Nick Anichini calls the start of the new Mission District seafood restaurant Ancora “serendipitous.” While working as the chef de cuisine at fine dining establishment Atelier Crenn, Anichini began forming an idea for his own restaurant centered around seafood, which he decided he’d dub Ancora, Italian for anchor. As it happened, through working at Atelier Crenn for nearly five years, Anichini formed a good working relationship with Joe Conte, co-owner of sustainable seafood company Water2Table, from which Atelier Crenn sourced its fish. During the pandemic Conte, along with wife and co-owner Andi, ran a meal delivery service out of the Locanda kitchen on Valencia Street featuring Water2Table’s fresh seafood, and eventually began playing around with the idea of turning the space into a permanent restaurant featuring their sustainable seafood products. The Contes just needed a chef.
The couple announced their plans to open the restaurant as Seven Fishes, mentioning they were searching for a chef to bring their idea of being a family-style seafood restaurant to life. Then they approached Anichini about the idea. “It just seemed like we had a like mind on what would be good and needed in the city right now,” Anichini says. “I think the only part that was missing [from my plan] was this connection to the boats, which is making Ancora something that’s extremely special — it really ties it all together.” The Contes brought on Anichini as partner and executive chef, then the project took on Anichini’s initial restaurant name, Ancora, which opens July 2.
With Anichini steering the boat (so to speak) on the restaurant’s menu, he’s counting Spain as an inspiration for Water2Table with a simpler approach to seafood preparation. “What it’s gonna boil down to is, I have access to such great products with Water2Table, or the bounty of the vegetables that grow in Northern California — so that’s really where it draws inspiration from, is treating the product right and making it as delicious as possible without giving it too much fluff and unnecessary garnish,” Anichini says.
The restaurant’s opening week will focus on a prix fixe menu for $125, before expanding to include ala carte options after that. It’s not a completely pescatarian restaurant, Anichini explains — “I’ve always enjoyed and respected the idea that seafood is really beautiful and can be accented by a little bit of meat product here and there,” he says — but will feature seafood in a multitude of forms. For starters, Anichini has a nasturtium dolma on the menu with “Burgundian escargot flavors,” a gougere with a smoked trout rillette, and anchovies served with pan con tomate. From there, Anichini pointed to a halibut crudo served with a seaweed and clam vinaigrette dish, along with what he called a “celebration of roe:” plankton pasta tagliatelle with caviar and bottarga, next to a fried artichoke with trout roe and creme fraiche.
Dessert will also be along more simpler lines of cooking, such as a dish featuring grilled peaches topped with Santa Rosa plums compressed with sugar, and served with a buttermilk vinaigrette and fennel pollen, topped with a tuille. Drinks, meanwhile, will be beer and wine to start; wine selections will focus on Spain, Italy, France, and coastal varieties that pair well with seafood, while the beer list will mostly consist of European options. A cocktail menu will be added later.
“We want it to be something that is fun, approachable, and seafood-centric,” Anichini says. “But we want it to be something that people can enjoy themselves at, that’s celebratory. The pandemic threw us apart for awhile, obviously, and people were afraid to get together. I think that my goal for this is to do these big, shared, family-style concept that allow us to come back together after it all.”
Ancora (557 Valencia Street) debuts Saturday, July 2 and will be open 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.