Everyone is always asking me, “What is your favorite restaurant in San Francisco?” You’d think that with the abundance of fine dining options in this city, this would be a hard question to answer. But for me it’s easy. Hands down, Zuni Café is my favorite SF restaurant and always will be. It was the location of my first dining experience in San Francisco when I came to interview for my first job nearly seven years ago. Zuni was also the location of my last meal on the eve of my knee surgery in 2010. And one time, I even powered through an entire meal at Zuni with my parents, while I was fighting a 24 hour stomach bug, which I claimed was from drinking bad wine.
The Zuni bar features artisan cocktails, and the talented mixologists will work to make you anything that tickles your tastebuds.
A few weeks ago when I was telling a friend that it was my favorite restaurant in the city, another friend chimed in and said, “oh my God, the chicken is out of this world amazing.” I coyly admitted that in the six times I had been to Zuni, I had never once ordered the famed chicken. I always wanted to, but then I would see something else on the menu that would catch my appetite and I wouldn’t want to wait the full hour to eat my entree. My friend was shocked, and I vowed to her that I would go to Zuni and order the chicken this month – and I made a reservation on the spot with my handy Opentable app.
The time finally came last night. My anticipation for this chicken was making me crazy, and I began to worry that I was building it up so much that I would end up being somehow disappointed. Wrong. Zuni did not disappoint. In fact, they exceeded my already sky-high expectations and it was without a doubt the best meal I have had at Zuni since living in seven years, and one of the top five best meals of my life.
I was joined at dinner by three close girl friends. One who had been to Zuni even more times than me, but had never had the chicken; one who had been to Zuni a couple times but had never had the chicken; and one who had never even been to Zuni at all but had heard about the chicken. We agreed in advance that we would share the chicken as our entree, and order several other small dishes to enjoy before the arrival of the bird. We selected a few oysters, the Piccolo fritto, Montauk scallop ceviche, ricotta gnocchi, and Caesar salad – served in that order. It was the perfect amount of food to share, and still leave us hungry for the star of the meal. A particular standout was the gnocchi, which melted in my mouth and had an unimaginable lightness to it.
Piccolo fritto: deep-fried Monterey Bay squid, onions and lemon with aioli
Montauk scallop ceviche with avocado, radishes, Padron peppers, and tortilla chips
Bellwether Farms ricotta gnocchi with Hen of the Woods mushrooms, shallots and tarragon
The chicken was outstanding. Crispy and salty on the outside, and juicy and tender on the inside – just as it should be. It’s a huge portion and although they suggest sharing for two, you can easily share with four people. I tasted every part of the bird – leg, breast, and thigh – and each one was delicious and unique. The salad was light and flavorful, with generous portions of toasted crunchy bread and perfectly seasoned greens. It was so good, that I found myself urging our neighbors to order the chicken when I overheard them trying to make a decision. I’m not usually one to boast about chicken – let alone order it at restaurants – but it’s truly the best chicken of my lifetime!
The Chicken: roasted in the brick oven, over a warm bread salad with scallions, garlic, dried currants, and pine nuts.
I also brought two bottles of wine in an effort to keep the bill at a reasonable amount (Zuni has an extensive and very expensive wine list, but only charges $20 per bottle for corkage): a Red Car 2012 Vivio Vineyard Roussanne and a JAQK Cellars 2006 Soldiers of Fortune Shiraz. The aged Shiraz – which is more like a Rhone-style Syrah – went perfectly with the chicken, highlighting the smokiness in the meat and the herbs in the bread salad.
A little Roussanne to start off the meal.
The first vintage of JAQK Cellars Soldiers of Fortune Syrah – my favorite from the winery.
We finished off the meal with some butterscotch pot de creme and Challerhocker cheese with nectarine and almonds, and I couldn’t resist ordering a glass of Fonseca NV Bin 27 Port. I only tried a bite of the cheese because I was too obsessed with the pot de creme to even put my fork down. I’m not huge on desserts, but I know when the time is right to engage my sweet tooth, and this was certainly it.
Butterscotch pot de creme with bourbon whipped cream and hazelnut praline.
Challerhocker cheese with nectarine slices and dry roasted almonds.
As you can see, the food was outstanding and presented with the utmost attention, while still maintaining a somewhat rustic feel. Our server was watchful (and pretty easy on the eyes), but not overly attentive. Our bill came in at just over $200, which was more affordable than I expected – probably thanks to the corkage.
Zuni is a MUST for any foodie, whether an SF local or visitor to this culinary city. And if you are a visitor and you’re only able to go once, do yourself a favor and order the chicken. It’s a shame I took so long to do it myself, but it was certainly worth the wait.