The story: The Perennial is the latest concept from restaurateur innovator Anthony Myint and his wife, Karen Leibowitz, who brought us Mission Street Food (now Mission Chinese Food) and the charitable-yet-upscale Commonwealth. The splashy new Perennial in the redeveloping Market Street corridor may be their most ambitious yet because this restaurant wants to save the world.
Every thought put into the designing of this San Francisco restaurant and how it operates lead to the overall mission of reducing climate change. From the sourcing of ingredients from its own West Oakland garden to better-than-organic ingredients used in dishes to how the kitchen cooks to reduce waste all adds up to a business that hopes to change the way restaurants serve food and how diners think about it.
Why I went: I’m all about saving Earth and conserving, so was interested to see whether a socially conscious food concept can also deliver a tasty meal. I recruited my regular food blogging dining companions to join me, Sandy of Foodhoe’s Foraging (and her husband Mr. K) and Brenda of Bites & Bourbon, for a weeknight dinner.
The vibe: The spacious and open dining area reminded me a lot of all the other environmentally conscious dining rooms that have popped up in California, such as Berkeley’s Gather and San Francisco’s The Progress, meaning lots of reclaimed and untreated wood and live plants. The environmental message is clear from the beginning as the menu states: “We believe that food must be part of the climate change conversation, and that restaurants can lead the way.” The dimmed lights add to the calm surroundings.
The booze: The bar program was developed by Jennifer Colliau (Small Hands Food, the Interval) and it’s impressive, with wine, beer and house sodas. The specialty cocktails (all $12 each) sounded delightful, and were divided into four categories: highballs, lowballs, “fun” and “complicated.” From the “fun” section, I tried the “Ambrosia,” a frothy drink made with Aviation gin, Meyer cream cordial, orange and egg whites. It was like an adult version of an Orange Julius, just perfect balance of citrus and gin.
The menu: Chef Chris Kiyuna offers a limited menu of maybe 15 items, but they most certainly not your typical menu items around town like beet salads or something sea urchin. These are dishes using sustainable ingredients like the signature Kernza bread (made with a wheat that doesn’t need to be replanted every year) or gnocchi made with celeriac. Even dessert comes with financier made with buckwheat.
The portion size tends to be on the small size (maybe it’s revolutionizing America’s super-sized appetite?) but most of the starter were on the reasonable range of $11 to $15. Only the meatier dishes got pricey, ranging from $23 to $25.
We shared a variety of dishes at our table, and most of the plates were standouts, drawing oohs and aahs from primarily Brenda (Sandy went ga-ga for the house-made butter that came with the Kernza bread). I was impressed by the blending of ingredients, but the dishes were never overly complicated, striking a nice balance of creativity and taste.
My favorite dish: Many of us enjoyed the dish simply called “Crisp and Tender Grains,” ($11) a bowl of hearty grains blended with black trumpet mushrooms, artichokes and cheese. It was a delicate balance of bold flavors and textures.
The last bite: The Perennial is the kind of restaurant you can dine without feeling guilty that you’re contributing to a decaying Earth. On its surface, it doesn’t seem much different than any ingredient-driven restaurant in California (see Alta or AL’s Place), but at its core it is changing the restaurant business. You come here not just for the food (which is creative and good but, again, see Alta or AL’s Place), but because you support the cause for climate change. The Perennial feeds your soul.
The rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: The Perennial, 59 Ninth Street (between Market and Mission Streets), San Francisco. PH: 415.500.7788. Open for dinner, Monday through Saturday, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. (till 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday). Reservations, major credit cards accepted. (SF health tax added to bill.) www.theperennialsf.com
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