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Downtown Treasures

Tratto makes a mark + SOMA’s hidden Japanese jewel

By James Stolich

There is never a shortage of new restaurant openings — and closures, for that matter — in our vibrant and ever-changing city. Who would think that some of the most expensive and pristine sushi would be found inside an unremarkable storefront in SOMA, or that some of the best and most authentically prepared Italian dishes lurk inside an establishment that caters to tourists?

Tratto The Theater District has an exciting new Italian restaurant inside the Marker Hotel at 501 Geary Street. For nearly 18 years the iconic space was home to the Grand Café and, more recently, the short-lived BDK at Hotel Monaco. The new concept comes from restaurant consultants at the Puccini Group and features a freshly renovated interior with bright white walls, leather banquettes and an installation from local artist Amos Goldbaum featuring a series of large, landscape line drawings of the Tenderloin and city skyline.

Executive chef Kevin Scott (Big 4, Scala’s, Bar Jules) is serving some of the best Italian food in the city. His menu focuses on refined yet rustic small plates, pastas, pizzas and several family-style entrees. Start off with the butter beans with goat cheese, roasted tomatoes and bread crumbs. The tomato base of this dish goes extremely well with the Venetian-style meatballs, so be sure to order the two together. All of the pastas are made in-house and are cooked perfectly al dente to order. The pappardelle with a simple sauce of tomato, butter and Parmesan is ethereal and will make even a native Italian swoon. As for entrees, indulge in the iron skillet bone-in rib-eye with crispy potatoes and king trumpets, all heavily inflected with the scent of rosemary. Be sure to try one or two specialty cocktails from beverage director Cynthia Tran. Tratto is open seven days a week for breakfast and dinner and offers weekend brunch.

Omakase Located in SOMA on the bland, busy Townsend Street corridor across from Zynga headquarters is a little-known, hidden gem that has been serving some of the most exquisite sushi in the Bay Area for the better part of a year. With just 14 seats around a yellow cedar bar, Omakase makes for a very intimate experience. Owner Kash Feng (Live Sushi Bar, Live Sushi Bistro) brought on head chef Jackson Yu (Live Sushi, Ebisu and Ukai in Japan) and consulting chef Masaki Sasaki (Maruya) to create a high-end Edomae-style sushi experience.

There is no set menu. Guests choose between a pricing option of $150 or $200 per person (not including sake pairing). The latter typically includes two appetizers, two pieces of sashimi, one yakimono or grilled dish, and 12 pieces of nigiri, all personally selected by the chef. Dishes change daily and fish is flown in three times a week from Japan’s Tsukiji Fish Market. On any given day guests will have the opportunity to taste rare and often hard-to-procure fish such as live conch with botan ebi or tiny Japanese spiny lobster served with abalone. Omakase is located at 665 Townsend St. and is open for dinner Monday through Saturday.

James Stolich’s cookwithjames.com provides regional Italian and Spanish dishes for all occasions. He has been featured in urbandaddy.com, agencyspy.com and Jenn Garbee’s book Secret Suppers, about rogue chefs and their little-known culinary lives.

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