Pre- and Post-Show Dining and Music at Uccello Lounge

If you follow me on Instagram, you probably already know that I enjoy attending live music performance. I took my father-in-law to hear Emmanuel Ax play Hayden and was thrilled by Anders Hillborg’s new Piano Concerto which had its American premiere that evening. (Nerd out by watching it on YouTube and reading about the performance I attended.) More recently, I bore witness to the marvelous violin artistry of Alexandra Conunova at San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall. Before that show, I stopped in for dinner at Uccello Lounge across the street. It’s chef Loretta Keller’s latest restaurant.

Scofflaw cocktail at Uccello Lounge, San Francisco restaurant

Scofflaw cocktail / view of the bar

I’m embarrassed to say – I was not only unaware that chef Keller (whose cooking at Bizou, Coco 500, Seaglass, and before that, Stars, helped define San Francisco’s modern culinary style) was still cooking in San Francisco, but that her restaurant was so close to Davies Symphony Hall. My cheeks are pinked!

What to Eat at Uccello Lounge

Uccello is a single room with a streamlined feel. The restaurant is fronted by tall glass windows. A long bar bends around the back wall. A small stage for musicians – students and alumni from the adjoining San Francisco Conservatory of Music, mostly – means jam sessions and live music while you eat and drink (check out their events page for details). Furnishings are functional, designed for a pleasant dinner, if not a cozy one. The lean style doesn’t shout “lounge” – leave that to the music – but offers plenty of opportunity for your eyes to marvel at what is on your plate and in your glass.

European flavors from the countries surrounding the Alps – Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland – are built into the menu’s California sensibility.  I delighted in dishes like fritto misto, tossed with rice flour instead of wheat flour. (Yes, it’s gluten-free.) Dungeness crab salad, zhuzhed up with celery root remoulade and capers, then topped with rice crackers and fines herbs, was light with a bass note thrum from the remoulade. The dish was the essence of spring and a perfect expression of Ms. Keller’s style: Balancing classic flavors and fresh herbs, presented with style, without pretense or pounding your taste buds into submission. There is a forthrightness alongside the lighter flavors.

Should your palate prefer sturdier flavors, Savory Spring Shallot Custard, whisked with sherry and nutmeg, is perfect for scooping up with the potato chip topping. Pork schnitzel (not gluten-free) is a Keller classic. Topped with mustard greens, the paillard is cooked until golden, the crust snapping beneath a knife’s pressure. Though it is not served with lemon wedges, tangerine and pomegranate add tart, citrusy notes. Or just ask for lemon.

My dinner companion and I shared a dessert of sesame-oat pudding to go with our espressos, a Middle Eastern touch that is not out of place on a menu that I’d say is more Californian than European.

vegan sesame-oat dessert at Ucello Lounge, a San Francisco restaurant

sesame-oat pudding with pignoli

Great Location + Staff That Understands Your Time Constraints

Many of the restaurants near San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall are on the Hayes Valley neighborhood side of the concert hall. Uccello Lounge is on Van Ness is literally across the street from Symphony Hall and the Sydney Goldstein Theater. That puts it a block away from Herbst Theater and the War Memorial Opera House The location could not be better for a meal before the performance. Staff timed our dishes so we did not feel rushed but made sure we left with 15 minutes to go until curtain.

Is Uccello Lounge the Best Restaurant Near Davies Symphony Hall?

There are plentiful options for good eats in Hayes Valley and Civic Center, including a Mano and Corey Lee’s Monsieur Benjamin. I’d put Uccello and chef Keller’s bona fides right up there. While all have a fairly casual vibe and would make a good choice for dinner before a show, I can’t wait to go back and see what inspires chef Keller next. The chance to hear live music seals the deal. It’s Uccello time.

Is It Worth It?

Cocktails are all $16. Appetizers range from $14 for pretzel rolls with cheddar cheese and mustard fonduta to $24 for the crab salad. A Wagyu flat iron steak will set you back $48 or $36 for chicken al Mattone. Before a show, I’d recommend a dinner of small plates, like the fritto misto and a truffled mushroom flatbread. They are perfect for sharing and light enough to feel pleasantly full but not over-stuffed, a required balance to best enjoy a post-prandial performance.