Dining in the new decade 

Recession? Has anyone in this food crazy town heard of it? One wouldn’t think so based on the number of major new restaurants that opened in The City last year. Eaters have a lot of catching up to do in 2010 if they want to stay on top of the scene.

Quince
470 Pacific Ave., (415) 775-8500
Though not exactly a new restaurant, Quince moved from its cozy Pacific Heights storefront to expansive new digs near Jackson Square. Everyone who loved chef Mike Tusk’s French- and Italian-accented California cooking as well as the personal service in an intimate dining room worried about the move. But the new place works even better. The restaurant managed to keep its charm but now offers many new options: bar dining, a la carte menu plus several daily $85 prix fixe menus. Quince delivers the sophistication of a high-end New York room but with San Francisco values about the provenance of ingredients.

Wexler’s
588 Sacramento St., (415) 983-0102
Chef Charlie Kleinman has come up with a new idea about barbecue. He gives all kinds of foods a very delicate immersion in scented wisps of smoke that add an unexpected layer of flavor. His dishes are composed, rather elegant, but fun. I dream about his freshly shucked oyster stew ($11), gently smoked short ribs ($19) and a juicy pulled lamb shank sandwich ($12). The chic, spare dining room is shared with a happening bar that turns out Matt Wexler’s creative, perfectly balanced cocktails.

OTD-Bush
2232 Bush St., (415) 923-9575
Charles Phan has done it again at this super hip, architecturally modern branch of Slanted Door that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. I have favorites at every meal: warm coconut buns ($3) and brisket and eggs ($13), chicken pho ($9) and brussels sprouts ($7) for lunch, and shredded pork and pork rind for dinner ($14) — one of the greatest dishes in town. Drop in anytime and you’ll get something marvelous and interesting.

Contigo

1320 Castro St., (415) 285-0250
This small, stylish, always-packed Barcelona-style tapas bar creates such compelling little dishes ($7-$8) — moist oxtail croquettas seasoned with pimenton; lacy deep fried sardines and Meyer lemon slices; gently sautéed fava greens that taste like young peas — I’m willing to wait. Desserts are light and fabulous. Many wines by the glass take you on a tour of Spain.

Flour + Water
2401 Harrison St., (415) 826-7000
Why am I even telling you about this small, roaringly noisy place that serves such stunning wood-fired pizza ($12-$16) and house-made pasta ($14-$16) that it’s impossible to get in? I particularly love the colorful, vegetable-driven antipasti ($8-$12) of chef/owners who are alums of Quince and Pizzaiolo.

Nopalito
308 Broderick St., (415) 437-0303
Hot, made-to-order tortillas from freshly ground organic corn, produce directly from the farmers market and sustainably raised meats give the authentic, soulful cooking sparkle. Almost a food stand with half the seating under a heated tent, Nopalito’s price ($4-$14) to quality ratio is off the charts. This is one of my favorite places ever.

Hong Kong Lounge
5322 Geary Blvd., (415) 668-8836
New ownership, spot-on cooking and great value have turned the former site, Hong Kong Flower Lounge, into a big hit. A $69.99 dinner for four includes either Peking duck or lobster, a double rich meat broth and a choice of four other dishes from a long ever-changing menu. Lunch produces cooked-to-order dim sum and signature clay-pot rice. You can’t do better in this town for Cantonese dining.

Outerlands
4001 Judah St., (415) 661-6140
This 30-seat cafe with an open kitchen and weathered wood interior cooks simple, inventive comfort food inspired by hyperlocal ingredients. House-baked levain bread for sandwiches and deep flavored pureed soups star at lunch. Shell bean and pork ragout ($10), pretty salads ($7) and lots of vegetable sides make a delicious dinner affordable and healthy. You order at the counter and the food is brought out to you.

Dosa on Fillmore
1700 Fillmore St., (415) 441-3672
At the glamorous new Dosa, you can eat south Indian dosas ($11), crisp, lacy pancakes filled with spicy potatoes, or a full menu of reinterpreted south Indian dishes accompanied with cocktails and wine. Enjoy a multicourse prix fixe or pop in before or after movies at the Kabuki. Both work.

Kappou Gomi

5524 Geary Blvd., (415) 221-5353
The kitchen or “kappou” of master chef Masahiko Gomi executes a huge menu organized by ingredient with seven to 10 different cooking techniques for each one. You won’t know where to start, but just jump in. Most dishes are in $7-$8 range. I guarantee that you will taste something new and exciting in this very Japanese spot.

Patricia Unterman is author of the second edition of the “San Francisco Food Lovers’ Pocket Guide.” Contact her at pattiu@concentric.net.

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