Ernest is a hard restaurant to categorize. Unless “Everything Is Phenomenal” counts as a category, the closest point of comparison is Rich Table (which tracks, since the chef/owner of Ernest was their head chef for five years). But trying to put Ernest firmly in one box doesn’t really matter—what matters is that each dish that hits your table is more playful and unexpected than the next. Coming here is a little like eating at Rich Table’s younger, sexier cousin. And it’s also one of the most exciting places to have dinner in SF.
Let’s start with the menu. The dishes are seasonal and subject to change depending on what’s good at the market. There are clear Asian influences throughout, which you’ll see in the carbonara-esque lo mein, or the aged beef and bone marrow dumplings. There’s also a raw bar section, which is incredible, and covers everything from oysters and clams to Kaluga caviar with tater tots and crème fraîche. Narrowing down what to order can be daunting, because everything looks and sounds so damn good. You might give yourself whiplash watching plump Parker House rolls or perfect uni spoons getting whisked across the dining room. And you’ll probably do a double-take when you see the beef tartare topped with glistening, bright orange ikura pass by in all its shiny glory.
You can order a la carte, or if you’d rather leave the decision-making in the hands of the kitchen, go big with the $95 chef’s pick menu. It’s a 10-ish course meal with super generous portions and some special off-menu items, and you absolutely will need to be rolled home afterward. Each course is portioned out depending on the size of your table so you can share every dish family-style.
But the food isn’t the only reason to come here. Sitting in the dining room at Ernest feels like getting an invitation to the coolest supper club in the city. The restaurant is located on an industrial corner in the Mission, in a nondescript building that’s easy to miss if you’re not looking closely. But once you step inside, you’re greeted by a bright two-level space, a bustling open kitchen, and a wall full of miniature maneki neko cats lined up like soldiers, waving their tiny little robotic paws at the diners below. (They’re cute, but at Ernest, where ownership is white, the cats feel mildly tokenizing.) Cats aside, though, service is attentive without being overbearing or too formal—there are no white tablecloths or stuffy energies here. Just a lively buzz in the air that’s relaxed and fun, like your best friend’s housewarming party, or a cool wedding reception with unusually great food.
It won’t matter if you’re coming to Ernest for a big anniversary date with a reservation you made a month out, or if you decide to walk up to the bar on a random weeknight and treat yourself to some oysters and a glass of natural wine. Whatever the case, prepare to be treated to a dinner that’ll surprise you in the best possible ways—and make you find a reason to return before you’ve even finished.
Layers of perfect sushi rice, beef tartare, and ikura are neatly stacked and served alongside some nori, so you can make handrolls. It’s textured, flavorful, and almost too stunning to eat. Don’t be surprised if you hear a chorus of angels singing after your first bite.
Hokkaido Uni Spoon
Sure, shelling out $19 for a single bite of food isn’t exactly on our checklist of financially responsible habits. But if you’re a fan of uni, this bite is worth the splurge. The spoon has little pieces of jamón serrano underneath the quail egg-glazed uni, and throwing it back instantly creates a fireworks display of salty, creamy, and briny flavors on your tongue.
Parker House Rolls
Plump, golden-brown, and still warm from the oven. If the Ernest menu was a high school, these rolls would sit with the cool kids.
Aged Beef & Bone Marrow Dumplings
Good and very rich, but not a must-order.
This dish is decadent with a capital D. The chewy lo mein noodles are drenched in uni butter (with the gentlest hint of uni), bacon bits, and Jidori egg yolk. You must have this on your table.
One of the heartier entrées on the menu, the pork tonkatsu comes topped with green goddess dressing, chunks of juicy heirloom tomatoes, and a heap of fresh herbs. The tonkatsu is surprisingly light for having been fried, and it’s delicious.
Life-changing. Soul-curing. Epiphany-inducing. There aren’t enough dramatic hyphenated phrases in the dictionary to describe our love for this creamy dessert. A tall swirl of hazelnut and vanilla soft serve arrives covered in a crunchy hazelnut praline sauce, then chocolate magic shell is poured over it all, tableside. Get this.