There’s no denying that Afici, the latest restaurant from the Alexander’s Steakhouse group, is a fine dining restaurant. There are liquor lockers and white tablecloths in the dining room, and a $183 per person caviar supplement on the menu. Still, don’t expect all the beefy bravado you get at the group’s restaurants in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Southern California. Instead, SoMa’s new Afici represents a bit of a deviation from the group’s normal playbook, with executive chef Eric Upper leaning into his Italian-by-way-of-the-Bronx upbringing and classic French training to put together a surprisingly light menu that layers flavor with equal parts restraint and panache. Upper says the inspiration for Afici really came out of the time he spent cooking for the restaurant's outdoor dining pop-up in 2020. “It’s not an offshoot of Alexander’s Steakhouse,” he says. “It really started during the pandemic.”
Afici serves a prix-fixe menu including four courses for $125, relatively affordable by San Francisco Bay Area standards. First course options range from carne crudo, made from thin sheets of beef contorted into blush-colored roses, to a summery tomato and peach salad. The second course, meanwhile, is all pasta. In some ways, Upper plays the usual seasonal NorCal hits: There’s a corn-filled pasta (in this case, hat-shaped cappellacci), plus spaghetti topped with a golden pillow of sea urchin. But even if the template feels familiar, Upper treats uni as a delicate briny backdrop for the dishes’ other components including sweet gypsy pepper and soft squares of bottarga. Parcels of corn-filled pasta find an unexpected pairing with citrusy yuzu kosho and kernels of popped corn.
Upper also picked up a penchant for whole animal butchery while working at New York’s Italienne, so the menu embraces some less-common cuts; wagyu beef tongue, for example, appears on two dishes. For a third course, diners can choose chicken roulade just barely kissed with the flavor of Point Reyes bleu cheese, Devil’s Gulch squab with plums, or matsutake mushrooms “in multiple applications.” But for the beef eaters out there, Upper offers an $85 A5 wagyu supplement starring two cuts: brisket and strip. Learning how to transform wagyu brisket into devastatingly tender nuggets of meat took years to perfect, Upper says.
Pastry chef Anna Szeto delivers four options for a sweet course to end the night including an elaborate Paris-Brest of raspberry curd wrapped in choux, dusted in matcha powder, and topped with a hearty scoop of pistachio ice cream. A chocolate budino arrives nestled in the center of a dramatic bowl, glowing under a scattering of crushed hazelnuts and icebergs of cocoa nib tuile.
Diners may remember the space, cloistered in a glass office building overlooking Folsom Street, as the previous home of ALX Gastropub and its pandemic-era iteration the Patio. But the dining room has been dark for many months while the space underwent a fairly extensive remodel in partnership with Marc Dimalanta of San Francisco’s D-Scheme Studio. A bank of rounded ocean blue booths now swims through the center of the main dining room, meant to break up the large space and give diners a sense of privacy. The team also added a wine station to spotlight the restaurant’s more than 80 selections by the bottle or 15-20 options by the glass, though a roving bar cart will also deliver cocktails tableside.
In the front room, bar director Nicholas Bonney takes over the long marble-topped bar stretching across space. Here, diners looking for a more casual meal can belly up for a drink and a few food items available a la carte; a lounge filled with low-slung seats also provides a more laid-back seating option. Both areas have a front-row seat to the newly installed pasta station and the duo of tall dry agers standing sentinel behind. They serve as home base for Upper’s undertaking of turning the restaurant’s extraneous cuts of Hatachi wagyu into cured meats, which are available as part of a $40 per person charcuterie board supplement. Bonney’s cocktails double down on the kitchen’s efforts to reduce waste, so the drink menu incorporates some of the same overflow ingredients found on the dinner menu including plums, rosemary, and housemade pickles.
Afici (680 Folsom Street in San Francisco) opens Saturday, September 24 and will serve dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Reservations are available on the restaurant website.