Once or twice a year I get to lunch with the camera-shy publisher of this august organ. The venue for these awesome assignations must be selected with great care. Simply put, a sandwich, no matter how handsomely filled, will not cut the mustard. No, I simply had to find one of the handful of SF eateries that still consecrates the institution of luncheon with fervor and respect.
Although Dominique Crenn was just recently chopped into sashimi by the brutal judges on the TV show without table manners, Iron Chef, her restaurant, Luce at the Intercontinental Hotel, which opened a mere 18 months ago, recently picked up a Michelin Star. Possibly, the one Michael Mina fumbled on his way to the bank. So to SOMA we salliedâ€¦
Luce is Italian for â€ślight,â€ť and there is lots of it streaming through the floor-to-ceiling windows that arc around the corner of Howard and 5th. A little off the beaten track for the downtown mob but close enough to the convention hordes at Moscone, Luce appears to draw a discerning business clientele.
The big windows and high ceiling put Kim in mind of an upscale airport lounge, but I rather liked the cathedral like modernity and stone mosaic floor tiles. Our servers were numerous, attentive and informed.
Each white linen bedecked table, with its ensemble of Reidel stemware and gleaming flatware, was graced with a classy, single orchid. This subtle scene set the stage for a menu of superior choices held together, somewhat loosely, under the banner of Tuscany meets California.
These days it should come as a given that any restaurant worth its salt will feature produce that is organic, seasonal and sustainable. Crenn is true to form and sources local, artisanal ingredients for her menu.
Fortunately for Kim and I, Luce is currently featuring its very own stimulus package â€“ a three course power lunch for $20. Finding a three-course luncheon anywhere for the price of an Andrew Jackson requires some doing, but to find it at a restaurant like Luce is an absolute steal! The choices are, admittedly restricted, but the quality to price ratio is unsurpassable.
The first courses on offer were the Lentils Soup with goat cheese and the Capay Farms green salad with radishes and cranberries. The latter was zesty and fresh, if a little sparing on the radishes and cranberries. The soup was smooth and smoky. Kim likened it to a good wine that keeps getting better and better with each luscious mouthful. Speaking of wine, Luce boasts an extensive, if intimidating, wine list, requiring a Sommelierâ€™s certification and a spare 20 minutes to make sense of. Unless you really know your Italian wines (and who does?), it might be better, if you fancy a tipple, to ask.
For our second course, choices were more numerous (a quartet), and I made a bold play for the Butternut Squash Risotto with Chanterelle mushrooms. Bold, because I do not usually find myself going veggie, but the Chanterelle mushrooms are one of natureâ€™s great persuaders as far as I am concerned. The autumnal hues and aromas fused adorably with the sweet nuttiness of the risotto. Kimâ€™s also had a ration of wild mushrooms amidst her somewhat chewy Pappardelle but melt-in-the-mouth beef short rib.
Proving that she has a sense of humor, even after her mauling on the Food Network, Crennâ€™s prix-fixe dynamic dessert duo consisted of Nutella (!) Pot de CrĂ¨me or Jasmine Panna Cotta with seasonal fruit. The former was unsurprisingly similar to chocolate mousse and the latter was an elegant and fragrant finale to my herbivorous feast.
As a chic spot for an affordable high-quality business lunch, Luce is peerless. I shall certainly be returning for Supper.
88 Howard Street
At 5th Street
Daily breakfast 6:30am-11am
Mon-Fri lunch 11am-2:30pm
Sat-Sun brunch 6:30am-2:30pm
Dinner daily 5pm-10pm
Tell them Teddy sent you!
Price Guide: $$
Rating Guide : ****
Ratings Guide $
$ : Cheap
$$ : Moderate
$$$ : Expensive
$$$$ : Very Pricey
$$$$$ : Take out a second mortgage
Ratings Guide *
* : Forget it, Iâ€™m never going back
** : Unremarkable
*** : OK, Iâ€™ll eat there if
someone else is paying
**** : Yummy, yummy
***** : Carry me out, stomach
groaning, on a stretcher
Dine Out & Donate
The fourth annual StreetSmart4Kids campaign runs through Nov. 15. Dine at one of the participating restaurants, which includes Stone Soup favorites; Ana Mandara, Betelnut, Chez Spencer, Home, and Tangerine, and leave a donation in the StreetSmart envelope. Just $3 will provide a hot breakfast and $50 will pay for a homeless kid age 12-18 to get supper and sleep in a warm bed for a night. All proceeds go to help youth at Larkin Street Youth Services and other charities providing life-giving services for our cityâ€™s homeless youth.
For a complete list of participating restaurants go to: http://tinyurl/streetsmart4k