People who frequented the old Quince on Bush and Octavia had a hard time imagining what a big new Quince would feel like. The original was a Pacific Heights clubhouse whose members actually cared about food.
The exciting new Quince, located in a brick building near Jackson Square, indeed does have a completely different look. But somehow it has managed to keep its charming, almost naive personality while becoming a more grown-up restaurant.
Co-owner Lindsay Tusk and her team essentially built a room inside a room, a square with a framed portal cut out of each side. One opens to a long marble bar; another to a red brick wall along which there is additional seating and a dramatic windowed wine cellar; another to the street and the front of the restaurant where there is a small lounge; and the last to a playful wall-size photograph of the Louvre. A Venetian glass chandelier hangs from the center.
With this kind of space and a much larger kitchen, the new Quince offers a wealth of options.
Those who reserve in advance sit at thickly-linened tables and choose between a seasonal tasting menu ($85), an all-pasta tasting menu ($85) or an a la carte menu. The kitchen wants only to please. If a dish from a tasting menu appeals, the kitchen will make it for you.
Now, however, people can eat at the bar. I love the bar. No more reservations months in advance. No commitment to a long meal.
Two of us walked in, found two comfy, charcoal, leather bar chairs with backs, hung our bags on hooks beneath the wide marble counter, and got to work having a ball. The bartender, in suit and tie, made us feel right at home.
We ate sweetbreads ($16), crisp and golden on the outside, velvety inside, scattered with parsnip, artichokes and shaved white truffle, a winter fantasy plate.
Steelhead crudo ($13) came on a long narrow plate with glistening orange slices of raw fish, small ovals of tartare, shaved celery root, grapefruit segments and a sparkly lemon and olive oil vinaigrette, multifaceted and refreshing.
The kitchen split for us surprisingly al dente egg pappardelle ($19) in a deep, rich pig sauce. The top of the pasta was scattered with matchsticks of pig cracklings. By the end, the chewiness of the pasta seemed inevitable — just right.
A hunk of silken haddock ($27) with tiny bits of crispy pancetta, a sauce of dark green nettles, and whole cipolline onions, melded into lush, satisfying mouthfuls. The kitchen split that for us too.
Quince now has a separate pastry kitchen and the desserts ($11) and miniature treats coming out of it strike a balance between artful composition and exciting flavor. You know what you’re eating,
The stunning food, the abundance of unpretentious but intuitive service and now a chic dining room, bar and lounge, all make Quince a big-time, big-deal restaurant.
The generosity of the kitchen, the a la carte menu and reasonably priced glasses of wine and cocktails keep it accessible.
The new place delivers the sophistication of a high end New York room, but with San Francisco values. Don’t worry, East Coast chefs. Mike Tusk won’t just put a fig on a plate and call it a dish, but he sure knows great ingredients.
Patricia Unterman is author of the second edition of “The San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide.” Contact her at email@example.com.
IF YOU GO
Location: 470 Pacific Ave. (at Montgomery Street), S.F.
Contact: (415) 775-8500
Hours: 5:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday for dinner
Price range: Appetizers $10-$17; pasta $16-$18; entrees $26-$32; five course prix fixe $85; wine pairing $65
Recommended dishes: Rotisserie lobster; crab salad; haddock; sweetbreads; any pasta; apple cake
Credit cards: All major
Reservations: Accepted up to two months in advance