Starting this week, there’s a new place for San Franciscans to dive head first into a steaming bowl of moules-frites paired with a glass of zingy white wine or dip into a hot bowl of French onion soup, nuzzled under a cheesy blanket torched to a crisp. New French restaurant La Société begins serving dinner Tuesday, August 16 with plans to add lunch service down the line. The restaurant, nestled in the corner of the lobby of the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Downtown Soma, is the first San Francisco opening from TableOne Hospitality, the spinoff restaurant group led by Patric Yumul, Mina Group co-founder and former president.
TableOne Executive Vice President of Culinary David Varley says La Société’s home inside a massive hotel shouldn’t define the restaurant. “We’re not a hotel restaurant,” Varley insists. “We’re a restaurant that’s in a hotel. We’re a restaurant for San Francisco and the only way this will work is if the community embraces it.” In the kitchen, globetrotting Executive Chef Alexandre Viriot plans to lean on an arsenal of experience gathered while cooking everywhere from France to Las Vegas, where he worked for star French chefs Guy Savoy and Joël Robuchon, to Macau and St. Petersburg, where he worked for Alain Ducasse.
For his first job since returning to the U.S., Viriot offers a list of bistro and brasserie classics designed to transport diners to the meandering cobblestone streets of Montmartre or a sunny seaside on the Cote d’Azur — that is, if either place benefited from the incomparable bounty of ingredients found here in the Bay Area. For example, duck a l’orange stars Sonoma County’s own Liberty birds snuggled up with chubby Thumbelina carrots and grilled summer chicory, while pork pate gets paired with Jimmy Nardello peppers and dijon mustard. Viriot says he’s particularly excited about the Salt Spring mussels — they’re “almost too big for the shell,” he swoons — which the restaurant flies down from Vancouver and arrive tableside scented with saffron and absinthe.
There are a few uniquely San Francisco touches to the menu. The most obvious comes in the form of puffy gougeres, which sport the beloved crackly crust of Dutch crunch bread. The restaurant’s French onion soup also leans more toward Silicon rather than the Loire Valley, arriving with an accompanying bone, bisected to showcase roasted marrow buried under oxtail ragu. (Viriot also plans to offer a meat-free onion soup for any vegetarian diners).
Beverages also span the Atlantic with a blend of bubbly, red, and white wines from California and France. TableOne Director of Beverage Phil Collins (not that Phil Collins) says he wanted to pull out some of the single varietals that often get tossed into blends, so you’ll find bottles of roussanne and petit verdot from France mixed in with Russian River pinot noir and Napa Valley chardonnay. As for the cocktails, Collins says he aims to “reshape the wheel” rather than reinvent it, so expect riffs on classics like a Last Word and Sazerac. The Le Fin plays on the gin-and-Chartreuse classic swapping in grassy rum agricole and pear brandy. The house martini, meanwhile, blends California-made St. George citrus gin with a trio of French ingredients: Citadelle gin, pineau de charentes, and Suze.
La Societe’s opening is just the beginning of the work TableOne Hospitality plans to do in the Bay Area, Varley teases. And as for why the hospitality group peeled off from the Mina mothership, Varley explains the leadership hoped to create more growth opportunities for longtime Mina Group players like himself (Varley worked with Mina for about a decade and a half). “There’s always a need in any organization for upward mobility,” Varley says. Through TableOne, there’s more opportunity to take on new projects, both hotel restaurants like La Société and freestanding spaces like the recently opened Mother Tongue in Los Angeles.
But even as La Société plops a piece of L’Hexagone between Mission and Market, Varley and Viriot say they hope the restaurant remains approachable for diners of all types. “We want to aim at the center of the bull’s eye,” Viriot says.
Starting Tuesday, August 16 La Société, (50 Third Street in San Francisco) will offer first come, first served seating in the bar and lounge only from 5 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, with full dinner service in the dining room launching September 6. Reservations are available on the La Société website. The bar is open daily from 4 to 11 p.m. For updates check the La Société website and Instagram.