My first time at Farallon was in 2002, right when I moved to the city. I was new to the Bay Area but, like most tourists, had heard of the famous San Francisco seafood restaurant. Even though I remember having a good time, it took me 7 years to go back. The reason? Location, location, location. The more time you spend in a city, the less time you spend in its most obvious places–the touristic places. San Francisco has so many great dining options that joining the out-of-towners in Union Square hardly comes as a first choice.
To the restaurateurs credit, in a city that suffers from boring ambiances, they clearly recognized the importance of interior design and how it can affect your dining experience. Farallon is an “underwater fantasy”, as they describe it. The unique light fixtures tell it all. Jellyfish glass chandeliers appear to float in space surrounded by scattered recessed spotlights that create a surreal submarine constellation. Once you get over the initial theme park feeling, you start to notice the beautiful 1924 building interior and Pat Kuleto’s carefully crafted design. All in all, you can’t argue that the ambiance is original (okay, it takes some time but it will grow on you).
The atmosphere is intimate, despite the fairly large dining room. As you enter the long, narrow space, a raw bar and a few tables can be found. Keep going towards the back and you’ll come across an ample arched dining room with view to the open kitchen. A glass-divided private dining room offers the popular business crowd a quiet space for important conversations–or expense-account-powered loud client parties.
The primarily seafood fare features a good selection of raw bar items including 9 oyster varieties, caviar and ceviche. For appetizers and main courses, chef Mark Franz creates inventive seasonal dishes that celebrate their main ingredients. The menu is very appetizing, the type that leaves you wondering what to order. Vegetarian appetizers and meat entrées are also available for the sea averse, just in case.
Two types of fresh bread are served with butter, topped with Hawaiian red Alaea sea salt. The red salt crystals gain their bright color as a result of volcanic clay meeting ocean waters.
As an amuse bouche, English pea purée, lemon agrumato olive oil. A delicate dish combining the freshness of the pea purée with the citric aroma of the agrumato oil–which is made from the first pressing of olives and lemons.
For appetizer, Champagne cured monterey sardines, heirloom tomato salsa, crisp shoestring potatoes, lemon crème fraîche. Beautifully presented, the sardines are incredibly fresh and perfectly cooked. Accompanied by well-balanced ingredients that highlight its flavors and complement its texture.
A non-seafood appetizer worth trying is the RHS farms heirloom tomato salad, Idiazabal cheese croquettes, olive oil fried almonds, aged sherry gelée. The flavorful tomatoes are served with crispy outside and creamy inside croquettes made with the nutty, smoky sheep’s milk cheese. The sherry gelée is also very good.
As a main course, Seared Alaskan halibut, English pea puree, Dungeness crab hash, truffled Madeira vinaigrette. Another perfectly cooked fresh fish; moist and flavorful. The purée and vinaigrette bring a delightful lusciousness to the dish. All flavors complement each other beautifully.
Before dessert, a delicate palate cleanser of Blackberry, pear sorbet and vanilla Chantilly.
To finish, Frozen butterscotch cream tart, Valrhona Araguani chocolate sauce, chocolate pecan coconut crunch. A rich and tasty dessert that, despite its ingredients list, is not too sweet. It’s just right. A delicious combination of textures and flavors with the creamy butterscotch and the bitter chocolate sauce made from Venezuelan cacao beans.
The original, albeit slightly theme-parky ambiance, made Farallon a San Francisco landmark. And to a certain extend, a touristic attraction. But this Union Square restaurant is worth putting your prejudice aside to enjoy its fresh, inventive coastal cuisine. But remember to smile, you may end up on someone’s photo album.
Farallon is at 450 Post Street