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San Francisco In Rare Restaurant Gold Rush

LUCE When it comes to hotel-based restaurants, Americans certainly lag their European counterparts. The Plaza Athenee in Paris is home to Alain Ducasse, and London's Claridge's is home to Gordon Ramsey, both rated with three stars by Michelin. In San Francisco, there is only one hotel that has the type of restaurant worthy of checking in, and that's the Intercontinental San Francisco, home to chef Dominique Crenn. The one-star Michelin chef and August winner of Iron Chef America recently announced that she'd expand her culinary prowess to Atelier Crenn in the former-Plumpjack space along SF's posh Fillmore Street this year.

Until then, there is Luce, part molecular gourmand in attitude and part feel-good ode, offering a new $90 prix fixe tasting menu that begins with a two-way foie gras served seared and as a terrine that is perhaps the best rendition of the dish anywhere in the U.S. The menu continues with creamy chilled corn soup that's actually entirely cream free, and locally harvested summer garden salad that feels as though it was plucked from the farm that day. Ambitious presentations with sorrel mushrooms and prune gelee make fans of the fearful rabbit eater, and later comes medallions of venison with beets and wild herbs. Dessert is one of the prettiest and tastiest we've seen. It appears to be a simple bunch of grapes, but on actual grape stem is goat cheese in a candied concord coating and smooth gelato that melts together to create something sugary and sublime.

DEL AMI, PLUM and SONS & DAUGHTERS Switching from obscure molecular master chefs to more recognizable fine dining, the scene includes fall newcomers Del Ami by Spruce owners The Bacchus Group, in a glossy black lacquer space on Union Street; still-to-prove-itself Plum in Oakland by Coi creator Daniel Patterson, who lost his star chef just a few weeks before opening; and Sons & Daughters, which finds its postcard-ready restaurant space on Bush Street a cable car ride up from Union Square below Nob Hill.

Sons & Daughters co-chefs Teague Moriarty and Matt McNamara, one bearded and one tatted, summon a menu of emulsions and blended foams from this small-kitchen operation with big league talents. The restaurant is part Victorian and part indie rock 'n' roll, one of the few new uniquely S.F. spaces. It incorporates the city's younger sprit and evokes another time, combining checkerboard floors and crystal chandeliers with the backbeat of Bob Dylan anthems.

Expect a thoroughly gourmet menu: oxtail tartare with miso and juniper berries; sweetbreads over purpled potatoes; honey squab au jus followed by dark chocolate truffle cake; and a sensational sheep's cheese risotto with summer truffles and egg that's refreshingly runny, given the current fear of the yolk. There's a prix fixe menu of three or four courses refreshingly priced at $36 to $48 per person that proves the city's next generation of gourmands has ears to the recession and eyes on the future.

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Michael Martin is the managing editor of, a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in InStyle, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine and on ITV and the BBC.
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