When I When I first arrived in the UK, I worked for a Large Soft-Drink Company as a temp. It was a crazy few months, not least of which was my one-night trip to Atlanta. Yes, you read that correctly. One. Night. It involved a long and convoluted story of a family moving to London and some passports erroneously packed with the household goods, ending up at London Heathrow’s cargo terminal while the family remained stranded in the US. For some reason, the only viable option was to send somebody over to carry the passports to them in person – and that somebody ended up being me! After a very happy few hours spent in the tender care of BA Business Class, I arrived, handed over the passports, and then was whisked off to the Atlanta Four Seasons Hotel for the night. I dined blissfully alone in a restaurant overlooking the hotel lobby that night and I remember every detail, from the first seared scallops I had ever tasted, to the heady perfume of stargazer lilies in the massive arrangement in the lobby, to the waiter who remarked that I looked as if I was completely lost in the enjoyment of my food, alone in a bubble of happiness. Needless to say, I have had a soft spot for Four Seasons hotels ever since and seek them out where I can.
On our recent trip to San Francisco, we had dinner at MKT Restaurant and Bar at the Four Seasons San Francisco, located on Market Street on the border of the SoMa district. The restaurant itself is on the first floor of the hotel, comprising a sleek, clean-lined bar and a long dining room lined with windows overlooking bustling Market street. Market Street was historically the heart of San Francisco’s newspaper publishing industry and MKT’s decor takes its cue from the printing presses of old, with brass detailing, dark oak floors, and hunter green and black leather accents. The atmosphere is chic yet relaxed and the California-focused menu comprises both traditional main courses and an excellent selection of smaller plates made for sharing. We were also fortunate enough to arrive on Splash Wednesday – an event where every Wednesday, a different wine, spirit or beer producer takes up residence in the MKT bar and offers complimentary samples of their products to guests. On the day we visited it was the turn of The Macallan whisky and we had a mini tutored tasting of their 12 yr cherrywood cask and 15 yr fine oak cask whiskies. Both were gloriously smooth, complex and nutty but surprisingly I preferred the 12 year old.
Impromptu whisky tasting over, we were led to our window table to ponder the menu over an excellent cocktail (an Old Fashioned with cherry juice). MKT’s newspaper theme is continued in menu, which is presented in the shape of a broadsheet with sharing plates under the headings of first and second edition; desserts under the heading of “extra” extra!”; as well as some advice on wine choices for lost wine lovers dressed up as an agony aunty column addressed to “dear som…”. We dithered rather a lot over starters as there was just so much to like, but in the end we settled on Delta asparagus (grown locally in the San Joaquin delta between San Francisco and Stockton) with burrata, prosciutto, fried egg yolk and egg vinaigrette ($14.00); the royal sweet scallop with Thai green curry, ramps, toasted coconut and green papaya ($19.00) and the Spring peas with sheep’s milk ricotta gnudi and radish ($15.00). Both dishes were beautifully presented and a seasonal delight (we visited in May). I loved the al dente asparagus and the sinfully creamy burrata; the pillowy gnudi was perfectly offset by the fresh green peas and crunchy radishes; and the massive, sweet scallop was lifted by the zing of the Thai curry. To accompany our starters, the sommelier suggested a glass of wine which gave us the opportunity to see the Coravin in action. This fascinating gadget uses gas technology to allow you to pour a glass of wine from a bottle without removing the cork, therefore ensuring that the remaining wine stays as fresh as an uncorked bottle. We had a glass of quite sublime white Burgundy Chassagne Montrachet 2010 Niellon 1er Cru “Les Chaumes” ($60.00 for 175ml) – a rich, complex and fantastic match with our starters and my fish main.
Mains are simple affairs, relying mainly on the quality of the produce to shine through and leaning heavily towards steaks. But despite the temptation of a slab of steak, Nick chose the slow-cooked leg of lamb with Spring vegetables, grilled rosemary bread and black olive jus ($28.00), while I had the brown butter-crusted halibut with cilantro, artichokes, morels and artichoke broth ($28.00). Both of these were very accomplished dishes without being too fussy. Nick’s lamb was pink and tender with exceptionally good chunks of charred sourdough and sweet little pearl onions. My halibut was firm and sweet, contrasting nicely with the earthy baby artichokes and the nutty brown butter crust. On the side, we also had excellent Delta asparagus with brown butter and preserved Meyer lemon ($8.00), and an irresistible bowl of aligote – a French potato puree with garlic and Tomme de Laguiole cheese ($9.00). Quite simply heaven in a bowl.
The dessert selection defeated our decision-making capacity, so our lovely waitress suggested bringing us a selection to try. We shared the mascarpone-stuffed waffle with smoked pecan streusel, maple ice-cream, and a strawberry-rhubarb compote with rosemary ($9.00); the blackberry-basil napoleon (blackberry cremeux, basil meringue, chocolate crumble and lavender sorbet) ($9.00); the cajeta molten cake with honey-thyme ice-cream, white chocolate & orange cremeux and walnut crumb ($9.00); and the apple celery sorbet with olive oil powder, black sesame crumble, apple olive oil cake and a fennel and brown buttered rum sauce ($9.00). All were thoughtfully and attractively plated, and all were significantly different dishes, rather than any sort of variations on a theme. While we both agreed that the mascarpone-stuffed waffle was the most decadent, my favourite was the cajeta molten cake, while Nick’s was the decidedly un-sweet apple celery sorbet. To accompany the desserts we had a glass of gorgeous Piedmontese Moscato d’Asti from Michele Chiarlo, a lightly sparkling sweet wine redolent with the aromas and flavours of peaches and apricots.
Much as we would love to have lingered longer over coffee and maybe a digestif, we had an early start in the morning and so reluctantly had to make a move to depart shortly after dessert, but the restaurant and bar were still buzzing when we left. It’s a chic yet unpretentious venue for a relaxed dinner with friends and the service was exceptional – professional, friendly, knowledgeable and engaging in a way that only American service can be. All the staff members we dealt with were happy to answer questions or find out details of a dish that were not apparent from the menu. Each dish was excellent, from the ingredients to the execution to the plating, although never overpowering the essential quality of the carefully-sourced ingredients. Definitely recommended if you find yourself in need of sustenance on San Francisco’s market street.
DISCLOSURE: I enjoyed this meal as a guest of the Four Seasons San Francisco but received no further remuneration to write this post. I retained full editorial control and all opinions are my own.
MKT Restaurant and Bar
Four Season Hotel San Francisco
57 Market Street
Tel. +1 (415) 633-3838