At Angler, a spectacular addition to the San Francisco restaurant scene, picture windows overlook the Embarcadero to the Bay Bridge, with its ever-changing light show. In the lounge, a crowd heavy on thirty-somethings from the neighboring South of Market tech business scene sip Champagne and inventive cocktails at waist-high tables.
In the kitchen, much smaller than that of its sister restaurant, Saison, but still big enough to accommodate a 30-foot wood-fired hearth and grill, chef Joshua Skenes and his team have distilled what they achieved with Saison to create something much more approachable.
Saison, which opened in 2013, has collected top ratings from a long list of raters. Skenes and his cooks prepare one refined bite after another in a spacious kitchen for 18 diners. The chefs themselves serve and describe the dishes on a tasting menu that can stretch to more than a dozen courses.
Angler, opened in September, sprawls over two large rooms, totaling 116 seats. Mounted fish on the walls adorn the front room, the other sporting antlered heads. The wine list runs to 106 pages, nearly as long as Saison's Wine Spectator Grand Award winner with 1,800 selections.
The menu is à la carte but, like Saison, Angler deals in impeccably acquired ingredients and a pantry full of inventive add-ons made in-house. Seafood, some of which comes out of a row of glass tanks, holds six of the main-course options. The others are a whole roast chicken, a 28-ounce porterhouse steak, and a grilled rabbit that's actually a forcemeat laced with foie gras reassembled on the bone.
Every dish I tried on a recent Thursday evening breathed with invention, conception and careful execution. A savory gelée, chopped into the same size dice as the bigeye tuna, formed a disc of tartare from the raw bar, a plate-sized cracker of airy texture, dusted with seaweed powder, making an ideal carrier. A server filleted a whole petrale sole, gently redolent of smoke from the hearth on which it was cooked, its flesh sweet and juicy. A gravy boat held a smoked butter sauce to drizzle over the fish. Brussels sprouts were crushed just enough for them to roast into beautiful flowers. A condiment tray included a revelatory fermented hot sauce made in-house.
The winner for me was a dish just added to the menu, a sea bass fillet from Mexico deep-fried to a crunch like a Chinese salt-and-pepper preparation, its crust contrasting with a remarkably silky interior. Fried shallot slices curled into a topping spiked with minced jalapeño and chives. Yes, it was as good as it reads.
It's also worth saving room for dessert, especially a sundae of soft-serve vanilla ice cream, its ethereally satiny texture melding with rich caramel and cacao nibs.
Main dishes range from $34 (for the bass) to $60 (for the sole), sides $12 to $14. Raw-bar luxuries such as caviar made specially for Angler, or a sea urchin plucked from one of the tanks, can run up a big bill. For us, food for two came to $177, a fraction of the $298 per person at Saison.
Co-owner and wine director Mark Bright's wine list teems with temptations. Big spenders can splurge on white Burgundies from Ramonet, Leflaive or Sauzet. Meatier options can match with multiple vintages of Chave, Jaboulet or Guigal's La-La's from the Rhône. From the half-bottle page a Chehalem Chardonnay Willamette Valley Stoller Vineyard 2014 ($40) brought depth and spicy fruit notes to the fish dishes. So did a glass of Domaine Weinbach Riesling Alsace Clos des Capucins ($21).
The main cellar occupies about half the basement. Plans are to use other half of the space for a members-only wine venue, private restaurant and bar.
A second Angler is nearing completion in Los Angeles at the posh Beverly Center, where fellow San Francisco chef and restaurateur Michael Mina already has a thriving seafood-centric, coastal Italian spot called CalMare
132 The Embarcadero, San Francisco
Phone: (415) 872-9442
Open: Dinner, daily