The Perennial - San Francisco, South of Market

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The Perennial, run by the husband-and-wife team of Anthony Mynt and Karen Leibowitz, along with Chef Chris Kiyuna , is being touted (and self-touted) as a true locally-sourced, eco-friendly, self-sustaining, lower-carbon-footprint restaurant – the wave of the future. While all of that is inspiring, laudable, and fascinating (aquaponics greenhouse! compost-to-plate! It actually is quite impressive; read about it all here: http://www.theperennialsf.com/#about), I was happy to discover that the food is wonderful too. Which, of course, should be any good restaurateur’s main concern.

My friend and I both agreed that, of all the places we’ve been to in the last 4-5 years, this is perhaps the only one where we enjoyed every element of every dish, from start to finish. We were both astonished at the level of consistency in the quality of the food considering the restaurant had only been open a month when we went. The space is lovely too – airy and open, yet warm, with reclaimed woods (most of it from our own razed Transbay Terminal!) and other recycled materials laying harmoniously together, and a truly open, bright & sparkling kitchen.

We started out with Kernza bread with perennial butter. Kernza, it turns out, is a laboratory-bred perennial wheatgrass. Loved the nuttiness, and it played well with their rich, salty butter.

Our second dish was cauliflower toast – wonderful meld of textures and flavors – a cauliflower puree was the base for the bread, which was topped with marinated cauliflower florets, puntarelle, and micro-cilantro, and a mushroom-derived glaze. Lovely and tart, a perfectly light starter.

We asked about the Pumpkin Seed Bisque – was it as good as we’d heard? “Yes!”, was the enthusiastic answer. And it was. They split the bowl in half for us, which meant it was a very small serving each – literally perhaps four tablespoons each - but absolutely delicious. Crisped sunchokes, cardamom and lemon oil lay at the bottom of the bowl, awaiting the pour-over of silky pumpkin seed bisque. Nutty, crunchy, and surprising - flavors that just sparkled. This was my 2nd favorite dish, and I would get a bowl all to myself next time.

My friend being a vegetarian, I did get the next dish, my favorite, all to myself: confit potatoes with clam bagna cauda. The potatoes are first steamed and then pan fried, and then added to poached claims – clams that were raised together with the radishes and radish greens. Walnuts added a little crunch. The bagna cauda is made up of leftover clam bits sautéed gently in butter, garlic and herbs. I loved the umami-richness of this dish. Luscious.

Next, celeriac gnocchi with grilled apple and fresh cheese. The texture and subtly green/anise-y flavor of the gnocchi were perfect. The cooked apple gave the dish a bit of sweetness, and mimicked the gnocchi’s texture. Underneath it all was a creamy fresh cheese sauce laced with sudachi – a citrus fruit – and a dark green sauce of nettles. Blended together, they made a lovely compliment to the gnocchi.

We had already had quite a bit of wine before dinner (not there), so I had just one glass at the restaurant, and then we split a cocktail at the end: The Grapefruit Marmalade – fantastic, and so refreshing! Amontillado sherry and grapefruit marmalade with a little simple syrup over crushed ice, in Moscow Mule tin cups. They even split the cocktail for us, and it was a good serving.

Everyone we spoke to, including the general manager and the bartender, was warm, friendly, knowledgeable and eager to explain anything we wanted to know about the dishes, the labor that went into them, the idea behind the preparations, and the sources. The bar area is quite spacious, and there is a bar bites menu and a “conscientious” cocktails menu. Despite the green-speak, there was never a hint of being preached to, and it was clear that as much as this group of people is taking the task they’ve set themselves seriously, the focus is still about turning out thoughtful, high quality, delicious food.

I’ve read people (Yelpers, mostly) complaining about the portion sizes. They’re not wrong. We did not have any of the more substantial plates so I can’t comment on those, but the small plates were small. For me, I take into account what they’re trying to do here - to deal in one, small way with one of the biggest issues of our time – climate change – and the fact that the food is this amazing is, well, amazing, and I figure I’m going to have to pay for it.

I have to say I did not like Commonwealth, and Mission Chinese Food hasn’t over-wowed me, but I’m really rooting for The Perennial, and will go back again to see what they’re up to next. I can only imagine, as they learn more about their lofty endeavor, how much better the food will be.






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MC It sounds like I ought to take a plane to SF just to see you and dine at The Perennial. What a fantastic meal you and your friend had. Everything about your review is appealing and knowing the staff and chefs are on top of their game is reason enough to go. That the food is so exceptional is a rarity. Thanks for the splendid report.

Grazie, cara!

I just told our SF daughter about this (saying you know your way around food!). She’s a bit south on Market but could be great for a client dinner. Thanks.

If the client prefers meat, options are limited. I found their beef to be a very lean cut and not juicy. Lamb was fine. There was one trout dish, excellent the first time I had it, more overcooked the second time. No fowl on the menu. Have not tried the pork. Ps. Very interesting cocktail program, by the person behind Small Hands foods (orgeat, pineapple gomme, etc)

Ooh, that’s a good point. Probably not the best place for a client dinner. Do they have apps in the bar area?

No separate bar menu (wish they had one!)
But regular menu is available at the bar

On my way to market Hall, I noticed a new restaurant on 9th— the Perennial! They had several empty seats at the bar, and your enticing review motivated us to change our plans and eat here instead.

To echo @mariacarmen , this was one of those rare experiences where every dish nailed it, or at least had a strong component for the dish to succeed. I’ve had excellent dishes at nearby Alta Ca and AQ, but enough experiments gone awry that I’m cautious to return.

We loved the bread and butter, cauliflower toast (favorite dish from texture to tastes, savory glaze made from mushrooms), gnocchi (cooked in a log, sliced, and browned), bisque, pork (fatty parts were as good as I’ve tasted, pork flesh, I assume sous vide, was tender but didn’t excite me), and the buckwheat financier dessert (parsnip ice cream, a hint of candy cap mushrooms, and blood oranges.

The last page of the cocktail menu has a bar snacks list. Some of these items, like the cauliflower toast, are on the main menu but there are others that weren’t. I found the dishes appropriately portioned relative to the heaviness-- including tax and tip, we got out of there full for $67 a head, with a cocktail each.

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Great, hb, so glad you enjoyed!

My favorite place in that neighborhood, including Perennial, Alta, Cadence, AQ, Rich Table, and Dirty Water, is Bon marche.

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i’ve been curious about Cadence…

at Cadence, i would avoid the baby lettuce salad, the black pepper gnocchi and the chicken entree; the beef cheeks were ok. i went back to Perennial and had the pumpkin seed bisque, which was excellent as you said. Also the rye/charred walnut honey drink was very nice, with a side of the breaded sunchoke.

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I wanted to add that I had an overall good meal here, and make sure to mention our favorite dish, which is likely highly seasonal, the asparagus with polenta, nigella, and popcorn. The asparagus was the best I’ve tasted since I grew up with an asparagus patch in my backyard, and it had the property I’m often seeking in restaurant eating–the sum was much better than might be anticipated from the parts.

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That’s beautiful. Time to go back. Thanks for adding to this thread.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold