Restaurant review: Silverware service weakens experience at San Francisco’s 1760

1760 celery amuse bouche

1760 celery amuse bouche

The Frette napkin was a red herring. After taking my seat during a recent visit to San Francisco’s 1760 restaurant, I oohed over the softly crisp napkin, perfectly positioned over what appeared to be a hand-thrown plate. Things, I thought, are looking good for a fine meal. After placing the napkin on my lap, I realized I had no tableware. Neither did my dining companion. Where were the forks and knives?

After a server took our order and the sommelier, in jeans and a collared shirt, deciphered our wine particulars, a wooden carrel was unceremoniously placed – clunk! – on the table. In it were the missing utensils. Oh my, what was this? Is my fine meal to be compromised by the downscaling trend in upscale restaurants? Yes.

1760, opened in the latter months of 2013, is the second San Francisco restaurant from the team that brought Italian fine-dining to the long-running Acquerello. At 1760, the vibe is more urbane. Smoky mirrors behind the bar deflect light from Washington Street. Eighties beats thump from the stereo. The sommelier station is a table in front of the open kitchen. Dishes are grouped on the menu from the bite-sized (caviar with Hokkaido scallop – $8) to the rib-sticking (BBQ pork belly – $22). Dishes arrive all in a rush, three at once, then a brief interlude before two more. The entire meal was over in an hour.

Lobster ceviche

Lobster ceviche

This is not to say that the food is bad. Far from it. Chef Adam Tortosa is adept at putting diverse flavors on the plate and unifying the seemingly disparate elements, often elevating a dish to cult status. Pressed into a soft cake, modernist fingerling potatoes ($9), was adorned with bullets of cilantro cream and curves of charred avocado. Bucatini ($21), thick and glossy strands of spaghetti, was topped with butter-soft uni, its rich, umami-laden character tempered by the crunch of chile and toasted bread crumbs.

Caramelized coconut added deep sweetness to lobster ceviche ($17) and Tortosa pumped up the volume again with pineapple and Kaffir lime. Irresistible. But it was the SRF beef tartare ($16) that convinced me of Tortosa’s skill. Riffing off of Thai beef salad, lush cubes of raw beef crossed an herb salad thick with Thai basil, cilantro and rounds of red chiles. A brushstroke of almond purée grounded the dish in California, adding a creamy note to soften the bright, vinegared heat of the herbs and metallic tang of the beef. Beautiful.

With food like this, why rush service? Why demote this critical aspect of dining to “haute diner?” Each dish deserves its moment, a pause to reflect on the flavors that emerge and meld from bite to bite.
Perhaps it is a reflection of this place in time. Many diners do not want to experience a meal but only pause long enough to eat, take a few photos and say they were here. Small plate formats (or small-to-large, in this case) are hot but this arrangement constrains restaurants. They have to move more plates through the system in the limited time window that is dinner hour in order to make their margins. Fine. Just please do not rush my dinner experience so much that it feels more like a blown-up snack.

Either that or do away with the beautiful napkins and place a striped dishtowel napkin, like everyone else, on top of that hand-thrown plate. Confusion eliminated.