Hotel restaurants have some serious handicaps in San Francisco, a town where chef-owned establishments are what people often consider to be the true restaurants around here. Serving great food isn't quite enough. You need to see the owner's blood, sweat and tears in the woodwork.
I'm no different. I generally think, why go to a hotel restaurant when I could go somewhere more personal? Well, sometimes I'm just wrong.
The other afternoon, I was at a media luncheon getting a taste of the W Hotel's new restaurant Trace. And while the experience is definitely corporate and black and modern if hip—the W's m.o.—I'm going to tell you something very honest: I thought the food was fantastic and though very elegant, surprisingly down to earth (pun intended).
Trace is going for something that's been on the menu for a long time around these parts: an order of sustainable and local. Sounds familiar, I know. It sounds tired. But in the world of chain hotels, the locavore idea is still a fresh concept. And the W is right to own it now. (I mean hell, Jean Georges is exploiting this so-old-its-new food philosophy at ABC Kitchen in New York to great effect.)
At Trace we were sent out a little, jiggly and sweet, corn panna cotta topped with perfect brunoise of pickled watermelon rinds. It was a delicious summer statement that demonstrated whimsy and serious chefdom at once. The squash agnolotti with Bellwether Farms Carmody couldn't have been better. It could have held its own at any one of the pasta meccas around town. The rib-eye (pictured above) was served classically with slightly fried gnocchi came with Savoy spinach and trumpet mushrooms.
Chef Paul Piscopo—hardly a slouch—has cooked at Aqua, Oliveto, Masa and Charles Nob Hill and garnered a Rising Star Chef selection from the SF Chronicle. He's been cooking at the W for years when the restaurant was XYZ.
Tourists staying at the W should be so lucky to enjoy his food, but locals should stop by and give it a try. After all, Piscopo is clearly about as local as it gets.