Gary Danko alters palette for a casual palate

One of San Francisco’s most famous chefs will open a casual dining restaurant in Ghirardelli Square — a traditional tourists’ stronghold recently overhauled as a social hub for locals and other well-heeledCalifornians.

A Gary Danko restaurant is emerging amid the rich chocolate scents that waft on Bay breezes through the wood and brick factory-turned-timeshare building and upscale retail center near Aquatic Park.

The restaurateur owns a fine dining restaurant just hundreds of yards from his new location.

“The new venue will be a more casual food — an American-style brasserie that’s open for both lunch and dinner and will offer the locals and visitors a place to hang out,” Danko said. “I felt that this specific neighborhood lacked in this type of restaurant.”

The restaurant will specialize in burgers, steak and fries, pizzas and pasta dishes, according to Danko. Diners at Danko’s other restaurant, by contrast, can begin their meals with $125 dollops of fish eggs.

The 52-year-old said he has long dreamed of “designing a restaurant from a blank space,” and that he hopes to help turn Ghirardelli Square back into the gathering place he found when he moved to The City in 1978.

“Over the years, the square was lumped into Fisherman’s Wharf, making it an area where locals rarely come to,” Danko said. “I was drawn into the new transformation.”

An unveiling is scheduled for today, but construction will continue for months and Danko’s restaurant is expected to open in November.

Developers in 2004 began to reinvent the historic square, according to JMA Ventures principal Todd Chapman.

JMA Ventures booted T-shirt stores and other knick-knack merchants out of the square and wooed upscale Northern Californian retailers in their place, including a gourmet grocer specializing in local fare, a Cloverdale winery and a San Francisco-based cupcake company, according to Chapman.

Along with the store makeovers, the square will offer 53 new timeshare units, which are available for people willing to pay $274,000 for a one-tenth share.

The 530 residential memberships were targeted at people living within 90 miles of The City and 40 percent have been sold, according to Chapman.

jupton@sfexaminer.com

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