Last week my husband Jack forwarded a list of new restaurants on SF Eater to me. The Perennial caught my eye, primarily because of its proximity to the the Orpheum Theatre, as I’m always looking for new places to dine at before a show (we are SHN members). However, I had no idea how stellar the food would be or how environmentally radical this new restaurant was until Jack surprised me with dinner there last night. We were blown away by each and every dish we tried, and I can’t say enough great things about the quality of the food and the philosophy of the restaurant.
The Perennial opened in January of this year. The restaurant team includes head chef Chris Kiyuna, as well as wife and husband co-founders Karen Leibowitz and Anthony Myint of Mission Chinese Food and Commonwealth fame. Regarding the restaurant’s environmental philosophy, the website states that “agriculture has the potential to reverse climate change and our goal is to serve great food and drinks that are part of a positive food system.” With the help of aquaponic agriculture, perennial grains, and carbon farming (which you can read about here), The Perennial is able to serve delicious seasonal food, while keeping their carbon footprint as small as possible.
The Perennial is located in the Mid-Market area of San Francisco, a neighborhood that’s undergone a dramatic change over the past few years, thanks in large part to the arrival of Twitter on Market and 10th Street. The Perennial is an easy walk from Civic Center or Van Ness Stations, and is conveniently located near the cultural center of the city (various theaters, the ballet, the symphony, and the opera are all within walking distance). And while the neighborhood has undergone a recent transformation, San Francisco’s homeless problem and the divide between rich and poor are very much on display here. I don’t know what the answer is (and I’m not sure a food and travel blog is the appropriate forum to figure it out), but the status quo certainly isn’t working. My hope is that our governmental officials start to think outside the box to find a way to get these individuals the healthcare, shelter, and services they so badly need.
Last night was a stormy evening, and The Perennial offered a warm respite from the rain. The space is quite large, with plenty of room at and around the full bar. We each tried a cocktail (Jack had the Rust & Char and I had the Salted Lime Collins), and they were delicious. They also offer a cocktail flight, which would be fun to try next time we visit. The bar offers a separate “bar bites” menu, though I would imagine you could also order off the main menu at certain times of the evening. One of the “aquaponics” aquariums is visible as you enter the dining room, and it is nice to see the restaurant’s environmental consciousness in action. They really walk the talk: our server encouraged us to use the same set of silverware throughout the night, and we were informed that the menus and napkins are composted as part of the circle of life that helps supply the restaurant.
We decided to start with the Pumpkin Seed Bisque with crisp sunchoke, cardamom, and lemon oil as well as the Cauliflower Toast with puntarelle, cilantro, and savory glaze. The kitchen kindly split our soup between two bowls and it was creamy, rich, and delicious. The toast was made of good quality bread and had so much flavor with the fresh herbs, glaze, and cauliflower (both roasted and pureed). We were off to a great start.
Next we had the Beef Tartare with tepary beans, root vegetables with horseradish, and pickled chili. I’ve had a lot of beef tartare in my life, and this was up there with some of the best. While I do like a traditional preparation with lots of salt and spice and a raw egg, this unique tartare really worked. The toasts were nice and crispy and complimented the tartare well.
The Crisp and Tender Grains with black trumpets, artichokes, and cheese may have been the standout dish of the evening. The dish highlights the perennial grain “kernza” which grows with “deep roots that help restore the prairie ecosystem and promotes healthy soil, mitigating drought conditions, reducing fertilizer runoff and related nitrous dioxide emissions.” The dish was the ultimate comfort food: a blend of soft cooked grains and crispy toasted grains, with a nice umami flavor and creamy richness. I wish I could have a quadruple portion with a poached egg on top for dinner tonight. I will definitely be back for this.
At this point we were so taken with the quality of the dishes already served, that we dove right into our Stemple Creek Beef before I could get a picture. But you can see from the photo below that the beef was cooked perfectly medium rare. Because The Perennial uses as much of the cow as possible to minimize waste, the cut of beef they serve varies from evening to evening. We lucked out that last night was bivette steak night (only served about twice a month), and we were not disappointed. The steak was served with pickled beets and greens.
We also shared the Celeriac Gnocchi with fresh cheese, grilled apples, nettles, and preserved sudachi (a Japanese citrus similar to lime). Gnocchi is one of my favorite dishes to order in a fancy restaurant; I love how the dumplings are always soft on the inside, crispy on the outside. This version used celeriac, a root vegetable that is in the celery family, and it worked perfectly. The apple gave a bit of sweetness, and the texture of the sauces complimented the gnocchi perfectly. Another standout dish.
While I’m usually not a huge fan of creative restaurant desserts (I’d rather have a piece of pie à la mode), we opted to get dessert at The Perennial, as everything we had eaten so far was incredible. We were not disappointed with the Lemon Oil Sorbet with apple, sorrel, and olive oil cake. The sorbet had a creaminess to it, and the lemon oil provided a nice lemon flavor and a lovely texture. The small olive oil cake was hidden underneath the sorbet and was a delicious surprise. I sometimes find that lemon desserts leave my tongue tingling, but this dish was very well balanced and not too tart.
We were very impressed by The Perennial and look forward to returning soon. It is a large restaurant in an unusual part of the city, and I hope it becomes a destination for diners. This will definitely be my new go-to spot before a show (Cabaret in June!), though something tells me we’ll be returning before then.
The Perennial: www.theperennialsf.com 59 Ninth St, SF, CA 94103 (between Mission and Market) (there are fake pianos decorating the outside of the building). 415-500-7788. Hours: Mon-Thurs 5:30-9:30pm; Fri-Sat 5:30-10:30pm. Closed Sundays. Reservations accepted over the phone or via OpenTable.