For me, one of the best reasons for having a favorite restaurant is going back to visit. A favorite restaurant — perhaps one that has only been visited on a very special occasion — is like reconnecting with an old friend.
In the Bay Area, there is certainly no shortage of old friends — chefs Ron Siegel, Alice Waters, Gary Danko, Traci Des Jardins, Michael Mina, Nancy Oakes and Hubert Keller have been creating memorable dining experiences for more than 20 years at their signature restaurants.
During the holidays, what better excuse is there to reconnect with old friends over a meal?
Siegel recently opened Parallel 37 at the same location as his award-winning restaurant, the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, which has garnered AAA’s prestigious five-diamond rating for the past 14 years.
What to expect: Siegel’s new restaurant is a departure from fine dining to a less formal, more approachable experience. Celebrating simpler foods from local, hand-picked ingredients, Parallel 37 serves lunch and dinner featuring contemporary American cuisine, handcrafted cocktails and wines sourced in and around the Bay Area. Through New Year’s, the restaurant’s bar and lounge will feature a sharing-and-pairing menu.
Info: Parallel 37, 600 Stockton St., San Francisco, (415) 773-6168, www.parallel37sf.com
In 1982, Keller, an aspiring chef from the Alsace region of France, arrived in San Francisco to open a restaurant called Sutter 500.
Four years later, Keller opened his own place, Fleur de Lys, which has not only been recognized as one of the most romantic restaurants in The City, but as one of the best restaurants in the country.
What to expect: Located on Nob Hill, the restaurant serves dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays. Diners can choose from a three-course ($72), four-course ($82) or five-course ($95) prix fixe menu — as well as a four-course vegetarian feast ($72).
Info: 777 Sutter St., San Francisco, (415) 673-7779, www.hubertkeller.com/restaurants/fleur-de-lys.html
Des Jardins — a James Beard Foundation Award-winning chef who grew up in the San Joaquin Valley — opened Jardiniere in Hayes Valley in 1997.
What to expect: The French-influenced California fine-dining restaurant — housed in a beautiful landmark building near the Civic Center — is offering a special Friday lunch menu this week ($19 for one person, $29 for two, $39 for three or $49 for four) as well as a $45 Monday night prix fixe dinner. Daily chef’s menus — as well as the restaurant’s J lounge menu — are available online.
Info: Jardiniere, 300 Grove St., San Francisco, (415) 861-5555, www.jardiniere.com
Of all Bay Area chefs, Mina — who was named Rising Star Chef of the Year in 1997 and Best California Chef in 2002 by the James Beard Foundation — may be the busiest chef and restaurateur on the culinary scene, with 19 restaurants running in the U.S. The crown jewel of the Mina empire is still his signature restaurant, Michael Mina, which moved last summer to the same Financial District location where Mina first established his culinary reputation 20 years ago at Aqua. Featuring modern American cuisine with Japanese ingredients and French influence, the restaurant — which is open for lunch and dinner — offers an a la carte dinner menu with the option to have the chef cook for your table.
What to expect: For the holidays, the restaurant is offering two Christmas Eve menus — a feast of the seven fishes and a chef’s menu — as well as a New Year’s Eve menu with two seatings. All menus are online.
Info: Michael Mina, 252 California St., San Francisco, (415) 397-9222, www.michaelmina.net
The award-winning Danko opened his namesake restaurant in 1999 — and it has since been a Zagat Guide favorite for the past 12 years. Danko — whose achievements include a James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef in California — is known for cooking in French, Mediterranean and regional American styles, as well as adding seasonings and techniques drawn from Asia and India.
What to expect: The 75-seat restaurant, which recently received its sixth five-star rating from the Mobile Travel Guide as well as a Relais & Chateaux designation, serves dinner nightly with a choice of a three-course menu ($69), a four-course menu ($87), a five-course menu ($102) or a five-course tasting menu ($105). Menus are all online.
Info: Restaurant Gary Danko, 800 North Point St., San Francisco, (415) 749-2060, www.garydanko.com
In 1993, Oakes picked the Audiffred building — a San Francisco landmark built in 1889 — to open her regional American and French-influenced restaurant. Located across from the Ferry Plaza, the restaurant — which has a beautiful Belle Epoque-designed interior — serves lunch and dinner daily.
What to expect: Oakes, who was named Best Chef in California by the James Beard Foundation in 2001, adheres strictly to principles of sustainability to guide her menu. This popular restaurant — which seems to be brimming with diners every single time I have walked by it — is also the most affordable on this list.
Info: Boulevard, 1 Mission St., San Francisco, (415) 543-6084, www.boulevardrestaurant.com
In 1971, Waters opened Chez Panisse in an arts-and-crafts house on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, where it still stands. Named after Honore Panisse, a character in Marcel Pagnol’s 1930s movie trilogy about waterfront life in Marseille, France, the restaurant and cafe — known for using local, organic foods — has been credited for establishing California cuisine. The restaurant also celebrated its 40th anniversary this year.
What you can expect: With more accolades than room for this article, Chez Panisse posts its daily, prix-fixe dinner menus for its downstairs restaurant on its website, which also pays beautiful homage to Pagnol’s films; the cafe serves lunch and dinner with an a la carte menu. For those on a budget, Chez Panisse still offers a three-course prix-fixe dinner ($60 per person) at its downstairs restaurant Monday nights.
Info: Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, (510) 548-5525, www.chezpanisse.com