Luce Restaurant- Best Restaurants in San Francisco
One aspect of the business that even the most luxurious of hotels struggle with in America is sustaining a signature restaurant that serves consistently excellent food with warm, genuine service while still offering some kind of value without break the bank prices (as is usually the case with hotel restaurants).
Since its opening in 2008, the Intercontinental Hotel in San Francisco has successfully branded itself as a luxury business hotel. What may come as a surprise to its guests and locals alike is that its signature restaurant, Luce, is not only a 6 year Michelin-starred restaurant but one of the best restaurants in San Francisco. Luce is everything that a food connoisseur searches for- soulful food with Impressionist-like presentations (if Monet were a food stylist, Luce’s dishes would be his product), thoughtful incorporation of seasonal and local ingredients with touches of the far-flung, a reasonably sized menu that offers something for every palate and diet, and, the evermore rare type of service that puts you both at ease and pampers you without too much fuss.
Sleek, modern furnishings with dark wood trim serve as a dining backdrop that is sophisticated warm while floor to ceiling windows are framed in Intercon’s famous azure blue hue (you can see the hotel from miles away as the entire building reflects the gorgeous azure).
Whether you’re dining for breakfast, lunch, brunch or dinner, any meal at Luce is guaranteed to be an exquisite one.
The Yellow Corn Soup with Roasted Corn and Crème Fraiche is always a standout first course, its smoothness a throat-soothing respite from a hectic day. Summer corn at its peak is blended with touches of butter and cream and just the perfect balance of salty and sweet. This soup leaves me wanting more and always rests at the forefront of my mind each time I return.
An homage to the strong Asian influence in California cuisine, a Seared Yellowfin Tuna is usually on the menu, with bits of red quinoa, avocado and a tangy savory dressing. This is one of the dishes I order most frequently as it’s a ubiquitous dish that few restaurants execute well. At Luce, you can rest assured that not only is the tuna truly sashimi grade but that it’s the best of the best. The sear lends a perfectly golden crust while the inside is that gorgeous deep pinkish red hue we look for in a fresh tuna. This dish just melts in your mouth for a taste of all that is right about Californian cuisine.
My number one go to dish is Luce’s Pacific King Salmon; this dish is the ultimate in food porn for fish lovers. A perfectly executed salmon should have a very crispy skin where when your fork cuts into it (no knives should be required), you can hear that delicious crackling sound that is music to my ears. Once you get beneath the skin, the salmon flesh should be firm but flaky. In other words, the fish should fall apart at the touch of a fork but do so in full flakes, not into an unrecognizable mush.
Luce’s King Salmon has that beautiful skin crackling and its pinkish orange flesh flakes apart, melting on my tongue with hardly any effort. A bed of mushrooms, fresh corn and an alternating assortment of seasonal vegetables (it changes depending on when you go) complement the salmon to create any nutritionist’s dream plate. For those of you who think healthy means flavorless, you’ll be proven extremely wrong here. This salmon dish is light, full of savory goodness and inspires you to create the same at home except it never turns out quite the same.
I’ve had nearly every single dish on Luce’s menu both at lunch and dinner and nothing on there is anything less than stellar. From the moist and flavorful Roasted Breast of Mary’s Chicken to the succulent Diver Scallops with sweet Crispy Pork Belly (my other go to main course) to the Prime NY Steak, depending on what you’re in the mood for, you will finish your meal at Luce already planning when to return.
Dessert simply must not be missed here. I don’t care if you’re watching your weight or have some other reason that prevents you from eating dessert but at Luce, dessert alone is reason enough to come here. Through the years I’ve had several versions of Luce’s Panna Cotta, one time it was the delicately scented Lavender Panna Cotta, lightly sweet, melt in your mouth creamy; another time it was the Jasmine Green Tea Infused Panna Cotta which is a dessert after my own heart, taking me back to Asia.
Whoever is the Pastry Chef at Luce deserves equal recognition as the Chef De Cuisine. I admit I’m a big fan of Panna Cotta but just like any other dish, many other restaurants do a sorry job of creating a pretty simple dessert. Luce’s team has consistently churned out creative versions of this smooth custard-like dessert, each one as soul-filling as the next. In the immortal words of Estelle Getty who played Sophia on the Golden Girls, “if this were a human, I’d get naked and make love to it.”
Other standout desserts through the years include an innovative Basil Pavlova (a meringue cake that is another of my favorite desserts) with Whipped Crème Fraiche and juicy ripe Strawberries. When both a Panna Cotta and a Pavlova is on the menu at Luce, I usually convince my dining companion to get one or the other so I can have both.
Did I mention that I’m not even much of a dessert person? Unlike most of my family and friends, I don’t have an insatiable sweet tooth but like anything else in life that is of supreme quality, I recognize a great thing when I see it, or in this case, taste it.
For those of you who love wine, you may never leave Luce. One glass wall is filled with thousands of bottles of wine. In the numerous times I’ve dined there, I’ve tried a few of the reds (all excellent recommendations from the staff) but haven’t even scratched the surface of their true repertoire.
If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area and have not been to Luce, I strongly urge you to make reservations and anticipate one of the best meals of your life. If you’re planning a visit to the area, do not miss out on one of the very best restaurants in San Francisco. Remember, Luce is open for all three meals of the day and has a great weekend brunch as well (think Brioche French Toast).