As most San Franciscans know, this is a city with an impressive amount of open spaces, and perhaps none quite as accessible and rich with history as the Presidio. It offers everything from rugged cliffs that drop down into the waters of Baker Beach to the lush clusters of fragrant eucalyptus in Presidio Forest. Between the water and the plant life, husband-and-wife chefs Laura and Sayat Ozyilmaz say the Presidio feels almost like a piece of the Mediterranean that’s been picked up and dropped right here on the California coast. This is why they say it’s the perfect place to open their first restaurant as chefs and owners.
Dalida, their full-service restaurant serving Eastern Mediterranean cuisine, will make its debut on June 30 at 101 Montgomery Street, Suite 100, overlooking the Presidio’s Main Parade Lawn. “This is very personal,” Sayat says. “This is a reflection of seven years of trials and errors. It’s Laura’s adopted cuisine and, for me, it’s a reflection of everything we have come to be.”
The restaurant has been a long time coming for the couple, who’ve been cooking around San Francisco at top restaurants including Saison and Mourad for years. Sayat originally hails from Turkey, and Laura, who came to the U.S. from Mexico, previously ran a successful pop-up called Istanbul Modern. Through it, they developed a robust fan base for both their Mediterranean cooking inspired by the ancient city and their ability to bring the community together around food and drink. Now they say Dalida will take that concept to the next level. “We’re building a place where we want to eat every day, where we want to celebrate,” Laura says. “And at the same time, offering that je ne sais quoi, that cultural element.”
They hope the restaurant will be a one-size-fits-all destination for weeknight dinners, special occasions, and everything in between — something that will grow into a dining institution for the city in the same vein as Zuni Cafe and Boulevard. To that end, there are familiar Mediterranean dishes like a fattoush salad and kibbe, and classics with a slight twist like a half-chicken served with tarragon and yogurt sauce or lamb chops with hummus. For those looking to share larger plates — or perhaps to infuse the meal with a more celebratory air — a lamb shoulder tandoor begs to be split between several diners while a sea urchin tahdig topped with smoked trout roe promises to elevate the meal.
The couple is particularly excited about the Middle Eastern Pastas section of the menu, which they say is rooted in the ancient tradition of making noodles. The trio of dishes includes Turkish kayseri mantisi, or tender dumplings stuffed with lamb and layered under garlic yogurt and a tomato sauce, as well as su borek, starring sheets of yufka pastry interspersed with local Point Reyes Toma cheese sauce.
Beverage options will focus on cocktails and wine, though the couple also promises nonalcoholic options and, for brunch, coffee from Oakland-based roaster Proyecto Diaz plus wild teas from a women’s cooperative that forages in Georgia and Armenia. They called on bar director Evan Williams to craft a list that pulls ingredients from across Eastern Mediterranean including spices, yogurts, and preserved fruits, while wine director Ruth Frey assembled a list that highlights Old World bottles alongside more unexpected selections from countries including Armenia and Portugal.
Restaurant fanatics may recognize the space as the former home of chef Traci Des Jardins’s the Commissary, especially since the couple says they weren’t able to make structural changes since it's a historic building. But with help from design team JAK W, they hope the many incremental changes — think the addition of furniture made from upcycled wood, leaning into a brighter color palette, and installing square Mediterranean tiles around the kitchen — will make a sizable impact. Local artist Emily Parkinson created custom murals and wallpaper installations that echo the beauty of the Presidio’s natural spaces in both the main dining room and private dining space. “This part of the city — the whole western part of the city — I feel like is going through a renaissance,” Sayat says. “It was a perfect spot for us to do something that’s inspired by Istanbul and the eastern Mediterranean.”
Most of all, the couple says they’re looking forward to having a place to once again welcome their fans. They wound down Istanbul Modern in 2018 to focus on the opening of Noosh, which they departed in November 2019 after having a high-profile and messy falling out with former business partner John Litz. Now they say they’re ready to focus on moving forward and have no regrets about everything that brought them to opening Dalida. “I couldn't feel prouder to open a restaurant in the Presidio,” Laura says. “As an immigrant, I feel like people have welcomed us and at the end of the day, food is about people. I have nothing to be regretful about.”
Dalida (101 Montgomery Street, Suite 100, San Francisco, 94129) opens on June 30 and will serve dinner Wednesday through Sunday from 5 to 9 p.m.