As San Francisco’s Mid-Market neighborhood transforms, some hidden gems of new restaurants are emerging. You just have to know where to find them.
Take Villon. Found inside the boutique Proper Hotel, this two-month-old restaurant can be overshadowed by the reality of the real world outside where the homeless and panhandlers mingle not too far from the Civic Center fountain and a corner fast-food joint. But inside, you could be in the lobby of any hip European hotel.
Villon is right on the first floor, and when I arrived on a weekend for brunch with my niece and her boyfriend, the tiny hallway (where tables are set up outside the restaurant like patio seating) was bustling with young couples and other hipsters either dining or sipping on coffee or cocktails.
The restaurant’s focal point is a stylish tall bar with a drink program created by the same people behind Trick Dog and Bon Vivants. But surprisingly I skipped the brunch drinking and went straight for the food. The brunch menu reflects the approach by Chef Jason Franey, a James Beard Award-nominated chef from Seattle who most recently worked at Restaurant 1833. He combines seasonal California ingredients with the global cooking influences of the Bay Area, particularly Japanese.
Our server told us that the menu is designed to be shared, but I have to say looking around the dishes, they all looked like they were suited for individual servings. Still, we did start by sharing two items: a ubiquitous avocado toast ($14) and fluffy ricotta pancakes ($14).
The avocado toast, reflecting the sophisticated plating style of all the dishes, came with thinly sliced green apples with brie and pepper cress (aka garden cress). The ricotta pancakes, served with raspberries and blackberries and dusted with confectioner’s sugar, looked just like dessert. The pancakes were light and fluffy, and the three on the plate were easily shared among all of us.
For our mains, our table ordered the sausage and egg sandwich ($14) (be warned that the egg is soft boiled so can squirt out the yolk on first bite), eggs benedict ($16) with speck, and breakfast pho with pork belly and short ribs ($16).
I enjoyed my eggs benedict, which was nicely executed. My niece had a hankering for the pho, but while the meat toppings were nicely cooked, the broth was lacking in a punch of flavor.
We ended our brunch with a passion fruit curd ($12) that was like a sophisticated dessert constructed at a fancy restaurant, where the pieces all come together to provide a mixture of textures and a beautiful artwork on a stark black plate. The passion fruit curd was almost cake-like, with coconut coating and fresh mango and mascarpone. It was topped by a sugar medallion sheet that my niece cracked with a swift tap of the spoon like breaking in a creme brulee.
The last bite
With attentive service and a stylish setting, Villon appears to be a fine-dining destination with the pedigree and approach to get back it up. Its location can be a challenge, but once inside you have a brief escape from the neighborhood and you enter a gastronomical respite.
The rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Villon (inside the Proper Hotel), 1100 Market St., San Francisco. PH: 628.895.2040. Open daily for breakfast, lunch (and weekend brunch) and dinner. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. Website
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