Back in my advertising days, I remember being (occasionally) invited to some fabulous vendor lunches--three-hour affairs that made me want to curl up and sleep under my desk once we returned to the agency. It was the mid-nineties, so places like One Market, Postrio, and Farallon were high on rotation.
There is a definite art to a good business lunch spot: attentive but unobtrusive service, a spacious and well-appointed dining room plus private rooms and big tables or booths, a menu with some luxe dining items in case someone feels like showboating/splurging/taking advantage of the expense account (ditto on the killer wine list, with a range of safe choices and some trophies, too), and food that is savory and interesting but not too outré--you should be able to confidently eat anything presented to you, and there should a range of items that can accommodate all kinds of dietary needs and picky eaters.
So, my advertising days are long gone, but I do have publicist pals who sometimes invite me to dine with them at nice restaurants that I'd probably not consider shelling out the big bucks for. Like, say, ~ONE MARKET~. I mean, c'mon, how long has One Market been around, you know? Years. Like, 14. Why go there when there are so many new, hip, and happening places to visit?
Which is exactly why I like to feature tried-and-true places in this column. Granted, restaurants that are a hit with the business dining set are not high on my shortlist, but I found chef Mark Dommen's contemporary American cuisine full of elegant execution and nuances (thanks to his pedigree that includes Fleur de Lys, and Lespinasse, Park Avenue Café, and Palladin in New York). And while the prices aren't cheap, the menu is brimming like a CSA box with quality seasonal product (yes, it helps to have the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market just across the street), plus Dommen has sourced special purveyors, like the couple in Alaska who supply his wild sockeye salmon.
During a recent dinner, one of the apps we tried was the sautéed wild Gulf shrimp paired with watermelon and a hit of Espelette chili ($13.50)--it reminded me of the yummy bags of cantaloupe, jicama, papaya, and watermelon sprinkled with chile you can get from Mexican street vendors, especially in L.A. One look at this dish's slightly blanched, peeled, and halved cherry tomatoes on the side of the plate, and you're like, wow, that's some labor, that's some care in the kitchen. My sole kvetch was I wanted a bit more salt to play around in this dish.
The smoked Tasmanian ocean trout "mi cuit" ($13) was like my ideal breakfast dish morphed into a dinner appetizer: the pretty in pink trout was perched on a bed of potato rösti (operating like hash browns for me) and had a marvelous hat of a plump poached egg, with a tangy pancetta vinaigrette around the periphery of the plate. Rich, yes. Am I craving it right now? You betcha. (Dommen prepared this winning dish for StarChefs this year, you can check out the recipe here.)
One Market's menu is quite a meat-fest (wait until you see the setup in the back of the restaurant) and includes a daily rotating roast, some wood-grilled faves, and other marvy meaty combos, like bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin ($25.50). Pork? Check. Bacon? Check. Let's party. The portion was quite hefty (yay, high-end lunch leftovers!), with smoky bacon wrapped around three plump and tender rounds of pork. I found the dandelion "persillade" base a touch bitter as an accompaniment, especially next to the pork's bed of sweet apple--but the heavy reduction and side of golden salsify helped bring it all together.
Lavender-rubbed lamb loin from Colorado ($31) was like buttah (thanks to the sous vide preparation), and again, the kitchen showed off its elevated technique and skillz with the spaghetti-like ribbons of zucchini on the side. The pan-seared Alaskan halibut ($28.50) tasted under-salted, but the dollop of bone marrow made for a decadent touch, and the accompanying asparagus spears were the picture of seasonal perfection.
Patti Dellamonica-Bauler's desserts have a reputation of their own, and this particular night we tried sweet treats like strawberry rhubarb turnovers with mascarpone ice cream, and honey-roasted apricots with star thistle ice cream, a buttery almond financier, and candied pistachios (both $9). Why stop there? There's always Bradley's butterscotch pudding to tempt you, or what the heck, go for the mini platter of three choices ($13.50) so you can get three butterscotch puddings, heh.
Some deals on the menu include the "The Business Lunch," the Caesar salad and a choice of fish or chicken for $20.95 (add a mini dessert for $4!). When I was there for dinner, there was also a three-course Summer Market Menu for $45.
The all-American wine list has some nice by-the-glass picks, like the Foxen 2004 chenin blanc from the Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard ($10.25) that was totally meow with the shrimp. Some of the by the glass options can creep up there price-wise, so pay attention if you're watching your boo-jay--it's too easy to get distracted with the Embarcadero views through the massive windows.
Now, for those of you who made it through my lengthy missive (per usual, sorry), there's a swell secret in the kitchen: the chef's table. It's one of my favorite restaurant tables I've ever had the pleasure to dine at. Imagine a mafia don's table, an old-school booth upholstered in black leather (-ette?) in the back of the house, with views of the inner workings of the kitchen, and the Ferry Building outside as well.
I like to fancy myself closing big deals back there, although a birthday blowout is more apropos since you can squeeze seven folks at the table. The chef and crew personally serve you a tasting menu, and you can even get a tour of the kitchen (when it's not totally slammed). The entire thing is a blast.
So, if you're looking for a location for a memorable group dinner, this hidden little table is it. And the next time you have a business dinner coming up, or maybe you're hosting out-of-town guests who "don't want to eat anything too weird" but want a San Francisco "big city dining" experience, One Market's dining room will totally fit the bill (well, that depends on who is paying, doesn't it?).
1 Market Plaza
Cross: Steuart St.
San Francisco, CA 94105