San Francisco is already so fortunate to have the talented Melissa Perello and her restaurant Frances in our collection of culinary crown jewels, and now there is another ruby to add: ~OCTAVIA~. The corner location dates back to the 19th century, and was home to the Meetinghouse, the first Quince, and later Baker & Banker. Now, with the awnings taken down and the heavy carpeting and dark woods removed, it’s an airy and light-filled space. The dining room is larger than Frances and has a variety of seating options, from the more intimate tables in the corners to tables with a view of the open kitchen in the back. There are tall industrial black shelves used as partial dividers, reminding me a bit of a feature I love at Alta. The flower arrangements and display on the wall (from The Petaler) add to the natural attractiveness of the room.
The feeling is immediately comfortable and welcoming, with beautifully patterned wood tables (the wood was reclaimed from attorney Melvin Belli’s home, I hear), nubby cotton pillows on the banquettes, perfect warm lighting emitting from the droplights…the room hits the right notes of American design: a bit Shaker, rustic-chic, and farmhouse residential. Kudos to Michael Baushke of Apparatus Architecture on this transformation. Oh, and private dining will return to the downstairs soon.
Perello is having fun with this menu, and while it’s still rooted in her own breed of Cali cuisine, she is expanding the flavor profiles and presentation to a style that feels very au courant here. You will find an array of small plates, like chilled squid ink noodles ($6) covered with a flurry of Cortez bottarga. And it wouldn’t be an SF menu without some toast ($5): hers is so pretty, the buttery and golden Josey Baker levain spread with charred spring onion purée and warm housemade ricotta, with sprigs of cress on top.
Egg lovers will gravitate toward the spicy “deviled egg” ($4), the creamy yolk runs into a bed of Fresno chile relish and is covered in a blend of chiles and sesame—it reminded me of Istanbul with its notes of Marash and cumin. Grilled beef tongue ($8) in a bone marrow broth, just yes. You should just cover your table with a bunch of these plates, order one of beverage director Paul Einbund’s vermouth cocktails, and call it a party. Your eyes will be enchanted, your palate abundantly compensated.
True appetizer-sized plates include a vibrant green garlic fumet ($9) made with halibut, and Melissa’s salads are always on point, like one with Bloomsdale spinach ($11), toasted walnut vinaigrette, and Piave Vecchio. Her pasta dish is currently paccheri ($13) loaded with plump clams, shaved garlic, and fennel pollen pangrattato (you want to get this, trust). Larger plates run from stuffed quail to perfectly cooked spring lamb to halibut ($24-$28) and a dry-aged rib-eye (AQ).
Desserts from pastry chef Sarah Bonar are abundant and include a playful creamsicle float with housemade Meiwa kumquat soda ($8) and a toasted fennel pollen genoise ($8) with Albion strawberries and Meyer lemon sherbet, plus three more that will give you pause. Don’t forget the list of Madeiras, either.
We only came in on night three, and were so impressed with the depth of flavors, the balance, and dialed seasoning we found in our feast. Dishes are refined but approachable and rooted—it’s like the elevated home cooking of your dreams, kind of how you’d imagine a French-trained chef would cook at their California cabin on a weekend off. How can something be casual and soigné at the same time? Perello hits it.
Everything is served on gorgeous pottery by Sarah Kersten, who custom made the pieces for the restaurant, joined by well-selected mismatched silver. Service is warm and attentive—regulars will recognize some Frances servers on the floor. The wine list is definitely larger, with plenty of inspired selections for you in all budgets (if you want to go deep and rare, you can here), and is primarily a love letter from Europe. It’s everything you want in a neighborhood restaurant. The experience is so soulful, and leaves you so very content and feeling quite lucky to live in San Francisco. Because we are.
Reservations are recommended, and there will also be seats reserved for walk-ins. Dinner nightly 5pm-10:30pm.
And so it begins… Photo: taken by our charming server!