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Dine on Design

October 30, 2012 Filed under: The Buzz

Elle Decor - A focus on design makes these three downtown hotel restaurants worth a trip to San Francisco

Generally, when traveling, it’s best to leave your hotel to dine. It’s the way to “really see” a place, and likely enjoy a better meal. But in San Francisco’s SoMa (South of Market), a neighborhood better known for business deals than culinary offerings, three restaurants, all affiliated with or adjacent to hotels, are upending that notion. The real proof: They are hits with the locals, too.

The local food movement, now ubiquitous, had its origins in the Bay Area more than 40 years ago, thanks to Alice Waters. So as a culinary concept, Trace, which opened in September at the W Hotel, isn’t groundbreaking. Where it captivates, at any time of day, is in its design by local interior designer-architect Stanley Saitowitz. The principal of Natoma Architects refreshed the eleven-year-old property with a contemporary look, befitting the hip hotel, but unexpected in the farm-to-table restaurant world. Sheer curtains filter daylight from a window wall, transforming the grid-like motif of the walls into a constantly-changing work of art. The crisp white quartz tabletops and leather-upholstered chairs echo the room’s geometry.

This doesn’t mean the design overpowers the food. Executive chef Paul Piscopo, who refined the art of farm-to-table at Rancho Santa Fe before joining the celebrated San Francisco establishment, Masa, works with his team to create small plates that include olive relish and basil pistou and braised pork shoulder with crisp gnocchi, and main courses like California King salmon with eggplant caponata and red chard.

Trace Restaurant, 181 Third Street, 415-817-7836; trace-sf.com

Six-year-old Ame Restaurant, nestled in a corner of the San Francisco St. Regis, just garnered a 2012 Michelin star for the fourth consecutive year. Yabu Pushelberg created the serene interiors, with lacquered walls, zebra-wood wrapped columns, and walnut “Terra Wood Screens” made by Hirotoshi Sawada. Amply spaced tables make it an ideal environment for conversation, be it a romantic tête à tête or a high-stakes business deal. To hold its own among its art world neighbors—S.F. MoMA and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts are across the street—the winners of the James Beard Foundation award for excellence in restaurant design enlisted art consultant James Robertson to put together a collection of hundreds of paintings, photographs, drawings, and sculptures that fill the hotel.

At Ame, seafood dominates the menu, as chef and owner Hiro Sone draws on his Japanese heritage to fashion a menu of seasonal New American cuisine. Highlights include a ceviche of sea bass with a duo of Peruvian pepper purées and a crudo of the day, in addition to a nightly tasting menu, which, refreshingly, the entire table doesn’t need to order.

Ame Restaurant, 689 Mission Street, 415-284-4040; amerestaurant.com

Bluestem Brasserie finally opened this summer, after two-and-a-half years in the making. The restaurant transformed a former entrance to the adjacent Marriott hotel into an airy, light-filled space. Co-creators Adam and Stacy Jed built the open-plan space from scratch, enlisting Olle Lundberg and his Lundberg Design team to create a dining area with thirty-foot ceilings, plenty of windows to welcome natural daylight, and LEDs throughout, including randomly embedded in the concrete bar, creating a starry-night effect. Even the floor gets special treatment, with a graphic pattern made from cuts of reclaimed Indian rosewood.

Executive chef Sean Canavan honed his skills at the four-star Lespinasse in New York, and subtly elevates typical protein-based brasserie fare with dishes like apple-fed pork with cheddar grits and pickled pear. The results are artful, though not intimidating, and just right in this setting.

Bluestem Brasserie, One Yerba Buena Lane, 415-547-1111; bluestembrasserie.com.

By Zoe Settle

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