Impressing someone with a meal when the stakes are high can be nerve racking, like if you’re meeting your future in-laws for the first time, or really any big date ever. When you need a “no lose” scenario guaranteed to make someone happy, there are certain boxes that a restaurant should check off. The dining room should be immaculate, the menu should include dishes that sound impressive, and the food should be well worth the price of admission. Sorrel is a seasonal Italian place in Pacific heights that checks all of those boxes, and whoever you bring here will come away from the meal impressed by the whole experience, even if it feels like it was pulled from a textbook.
When you walk into Sorrel, it feels like you could be on the set of a Williams Sonoma catalog. There are hanging light fixtures tangled in ivy with giant Edison bulbs probably made for grow rooms, big twisting wine decanters on a back table, and when you pick up a spoon and look at it, you know that they put more effort into choosing that spoon than you did in picking where to go to college. It has everything that you need to consider it a “white tablecloth” restaurant, except there are no white tablecloths because then you wouldn’t notice the nice wood grain on the tables.
photo credit: Krescent Carasso
The menu here reads like it was inspired by a round of Family Feud about expensive ingredients. You’ll see things like Wagyu beef, black and white truffles, and all the other stuff you would buy every day if you won the Fast Money round. A lot of the dishes are what you would expect at a high-end restaurant and while it’s exciting just to eat things that have flown first class more recently than you have, the food here is also really good if you aren’t thinking about that. The beef tartare at Sorrel is served with nuts and seeds, unlike the traditional capers and mustard, and it’s worth ordering even if you think that all tartare is pretty much the same. The dry-aged duck for two is perfectly cooked, the lasagne is made with oxtail ragu and has more layers than a small town yellow pages, and even something that sounds simple like the sourdough focaccia is good enough to become one of the most memorable things you eat here.
But it’s not just that the food tastes great. Every dish at Sorrel is an actual work of art and looks just as good as it tastes, which is harder to come by than you’d think. There are swoops of squash puree and crispy leek nests piled high on top of them, tiny greens and carrot shards are tweezed into place, and dishes are “presented” tableside - from soups being poured over vegetable arrangements to the duck that’s stuffed with herbs and flowers, brought to your table before being carved in the back, and then carefully plated like everything else before it.
The one downside to Sorrel is that it almost feels like you’re eating somewhere that’s the result of a fine-dining focus group. They don’t take risks with the menu by serving anything that isn’t 100% guaranteed to make someone “oooh” or “ahhh” or even question if they might like it. You get the sense that you could drop this place into any major city around the world and they wouldn’t need to change anything to fit into the nice restaurant scene. But there’s still no question that when you have dinner at Sorrel, you’re getting what you pay for - it’s an incredible meal in a very pretty restaurant. If you’re looking for a place where you can pull out all the stops without having to drop tasting menu money or spend three hours and 14 courses trying to convince your future father-in-law that Scoot is a perfectly reasonable car substitute in SF, making a reservation at Sorrel is a good idea.
This walks the line between sourdough and focaccia so finely that it’s both and neither at the same time. It’s a little big for two people to split, but don’t let that stop you.
A5 Wagyu Tartare
Even if you like tartare, it’s okay to skip it at a lot of places. It can be a cop out, but this is one of the better beef tartares we’ve had in a long time. Instead of the classic setup, it has nuts, seeds, cured egg yolk, and anchovy, and it’s worth getting.
Hamachi with grilled avocado, radish, and smoked dashi vinaigrette. You’ll want a little bit of everything in each bite, and we’d eat the vinaigrette on pretty much any salad.
Young Carrot Soup
A simple carrot soup with little bits of candied ginger in each bite. The whole carrot slices are pretty, but are tough to get from bowl to mouth without looking like you’re playing a game of “choo choo train” with yourself.
This is a straight up work of art on a plate. Between each layer of ragu and pasta, there’s a thin leek leaf which probably took a microscope and a pair of tweezers to assemble. Could’ve been a little warmer though.
Black Sea Bass
A great piece of fish. There’s a world where you can see yourself just sipping on the saffron broth, and the brussels sprouts on top add more crunch to the crispy fish skin, which is all you can really ask for in life.
Rigatoni With Duck Ragu
This is a really good pasta, but if you’re looking for pasta to be the high point of your meal, there are other places in SF for that.
Dry-Aged Duck For Two
If you want even more theater to go with your dinner, get the duck. It’s presented tableside in a big copper pan with a large bunch of colorful herbs and flowers coming out of the top. After you take a few selfies with it and think about posting a funny caption like “RIP,” the duck will disappear back into the kitchen to be carved and plated. The skin is super crispy, the duck is rare. You know what to do.
Some of these are great, like the buckwheat ice cream with puffed grains that’ll remind you of eating cereal, but you could probably find the rest of them at a fancy hotel. If you’re staying in a fancy hotel, it’s fine to have dessert there, but if not, you were probably going to shell out $10 on ice cream somewhere else so you might as well just do it here.