Opened in 1997, Farallon made a big splash as a high-end seafood restaurant with the décor by renowned restaurateur Pat Kuleto and sophisticated seafood dishes by Chef Mark Franz.
I recall visiting years ago for a celebration dinner – because the price point made it one of those special occasion dining destinations – and marveled at the Jellyfish Lounge, a unique and whimsical environment for the otherwise refined and elegant food.
Over the years, the Union Square/Theater District restaurant seemed to cater mostly to a tourist crowd or businessmen with expense accounts. It’s not a place I see tweeted or Instagrammed that often.
But maybe the restaurant is looking to refresh itself?
Earlier this year, they brought on Jason Ryczek, who worked at sister restaurant Waterbar, as its executive chef. Ryczek recently revamped Farallon’s menu, putting his personal touch of global flavors to the predominantly seafood menu (they do have a few meat items on the menu).
I was invited recently for dinner by the restaurant to sample Ryczek’s new menu, so I brought along my friend Kim who lives in the area. Walking through the door for the first time in years, the jellyfish lighting and coral and gold tones brought back memories. It’s hardly changed over the years, which can be a good thing for people looking for classic, nostalgic restaurants, but may seem like a place stuck in time by others (I’m talking to you, Millennials).
The menu, which is adjusted daily to reflect the ingredients, features a six-course tasting menu for $95, or an ala carte menu with entrees ranging from $36 to $49. Kim and I selected a few dishes from both the tasting and ala carte menu, and the restaurant’s wine director, Luke Kenning, expertly provided us with wine pairings. (The wine pairing with the tasting menu typically cost $70.)
Side note: I really enjoyed Kenning’s pairings, not just for the novelty of his offering in the form of a rose or Riesling, but his depth of knowledge about not just the wine but the winery and producer.
We started with an ahi tuna poke (told you Hawaiian poke is THE hot dish right now) that was made with the traditional ingredients of ahi tuna, seaweed and kukui nut. But what I appreciated about how Ryczek presented this dish was the lusciously large cubes of the tuna, which really highlighted the richness of the raw fish.
From the tasting menu, we had the Cayucos abalone dish. I rarely see abalone on the menu so it was a treat to eat abalone, presented simply in a glaze or jus and a side of seaweed salad.
For our main courses, Kim ordered the Mt. Lassen trout from the tasting menu, which was presented beautifully with an array of colors and textures, from the coral color of the trout (which was sous vide) and the pop of green from the fiddleheads, the bright orange roe to the foam and mint. There were fried skin served like crackers to provide even more texture to the dish.
I ordered from the ala carte menu the Alaskan halibut ($39) and I’m not going to lie that I was persuaded by the addition of smoked pork belly. The overall dish, which also was presented beautifully with a smear of avocado against the dark bowl, had a Mexican flair to it. In fact, our server said the dish is supposed to transport you to Cabo and the surf. Even though I’m not a fan of Mexican food, the freshness of the perfectly cooked halibut blending with the other ingredients such as the purple pozole really made me feel this is what good Mexican food should be about – fresh ingredients presented in perfect combination.
The dessert menu is curated by Executive Pastry Chef Eleana Rosenthal, who has been with the restaurant since February 2015. She has large shoes to fill since Farallon’s dessert program has been headed for many years by the James Beard Award-winning Emily Luchetti.
We tried the strawberry shortcake, which Kim loved the light layer of meringue on top of the cake, but both of us were not a fan of the crème de mint pearls. We also had the fennel pollen flan, which was beautiful and nicely done with just the right amount of caramel to coat the entire dish, set off by either yogurt or goat’s milk (sorry, can’t remember exactly).
The last bite
I’m not giving my typical review rating since I was a guest of the restaurant, but I feel there’s a real excitement and freshness to the menu by Chef Ryczek. If he continues to experiment (which a changing menu allows him to do) with interpreting seafood dishes, he may be able to attract new diners to what is considered a San Francisco institution.
The deets: Farallon, 450 Post St. (between Powell and Mason), San Francisco. PH: 415.956.6969. Open for dinner daily from 5:30 p.m. (from 5 p.m. Sunday). Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.farallonrestaurant.com
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