It’s like an artist took a brush dipped in amber and carefully – ever so carefully – painted a chicken to make it glow like a warm sunset.

But it’s more than the beauty of the roasted chicken that came to our table at the San Francisco institution Zuni Cafe. Yes, the seasonal greens gave the plate that rustic drama, and the Tuscan bread salad unearthed from the bountiful whole chicken added pop. But as we bit into the tender chicken pieces, some still dripping with moist chicken juice, it was then that we understood true beauty.

Zuni Cafe’s Judy Rodgers has elevated the simple roasted chicken to an art form, first with the well-known technique of salting a whole chicken at least 24 hours in advance, and then roasting at high heat in the restaurant’s brick oven.

The recipe for this famous chicken is in Rodgers’ award-winning The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, but if you want to try it done right, you have to order it at the restaurant on Market Street just south of Hayes Valley. Made for two ($48), the dish takes at least an hour, so prepare yourself for a leisurely lunch as I did when I went recently with my friend Maureen.

We took the time to catch up, munching on fresh oysters and house-cured anchovies.  And when the chicken finally arrived, it was the star of the table as other diners turned to watch the waiter place it on our table, many whispering to each other, “oooh, that’s the roast chicken.”

Zuni Cafe’s roasted chicken is still on every food lover’s list of must-eat food. I am so glad to say that I have tasted it, and happily checked it off my list.

Zuni Cafe, 1658 Market St., San Francisco. PH: 415.552.2522. Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner (closed Monday). Reservations and major credit cards accepted. www.zunicafe.com

zuni_roasted_chicken_02

zuni_roasted_chicken_03

zuni_roasted_chicken_06

zuni_roasted_chicken_05

zuni_roasted_chicken_04

9 Responses to A Zuni Cafe Classic: The Roasted Chicken

  1. Karen Tran says:

    would you go back and order the chicken again?

    • Ben Ben says:

      Yes, I’d definitely order it again when I’m going with someone else (that’s the deal with these “dishes for two”). But I can’t do it too often because it can add up once your include the drinks you have while waiting, plus oysters and appetizers.

  2. hungry dog says:

    This remains one of my my favorite restaurant dishes after all these years. I think the bread salad is what makes it.

  3. foodhoe says:

    ahh I love zuni, mr k and i had our first date there! that dish is amazing, the last time I went there my friend gave our leftovers to a lucky panhandler!

  4. Chelsea M. says:

    Delish! Absolutely love your photos & writing! Always nice to read reviews from a fellow bay area foodie 😀

    Chelsea M.
    ChowDownSF

  5. Carolyn Jung says:

    One of my favorite chicken preparations of all time! It’s pretty straight-forward to make it home, too. The skin comes out AMAZINGLY crisp, too. Swoon.