Seafood restaurants can be pretty predictable—basic AF crab cakes, uninspiring pairings of protein and vegetables, and over-sauced pastas with clams or shrimp.
But now San Francisco foodies with a taste for fresh fish can head to Hotel G, where new restaurant Ayala is ready to save us from sad seafood woes with some innovative tweaks on crustaceans and bivalves.
From the raw bar, cherrystone clams topped with caviar.(Molly DeCoudreaux)
But first, we've got to hand it to Ayala for making a worthy dining destination in the treacherous landscape that is downtown SF: crammed with shoppers and aggro commuters, the workaday neighborhood isn't exactly the quaintest spot for a meal. But the corner restaurant inside the stylish boutique stay invites us to feel at home with multiple spaces to chill, whether you prefer standing to slurp down a snack and a drink beneath the arched ceilings of the raw bar or flopping into velvet banquettes in the "oysterette" lounge. The main dining room was designed in shades evocative of the ocean, and to soothing effect, with intimate two- and four-top tables lit by retro-modern globe pendant lights.
Ayala, by the way, takes its name from Juan de Ayala y Aranza, a Spanish naval captain who, along with his crew, is believed to have been the first European to enter the SF Bay.
Helming this ship are chef/partner Bill Montagne (formerly of New York's famed Le Bernardin) and executive chef Melissa Perfit (a Bar Crudo alum), who've whipped up a menu of dishes you've never had before: sea urchin with shiso, cucumber, and yuzu tobiko; savory nori spaghettini; and a bright tomatillo-poblano cioppino verde.
If hotel restaurants are a turnoff, you might be appeased to find that Ayala manages to stand on its own (sea) legs—you could easily forget that Hotel G is there (though you wouldn't be remiss in grabbing an after-dinner drink upstairs at Benjamin Cooper). From what we could tell on our first visit in Ayala's debut week, the service is good and the food tasty—a solid choice for dinner whether you're out shopping in the neighborhood or venture downtown just for the occasion.
Tomatillos and poblano peppers turn Ayala's cioppino a delightfully unexpected shade of green.
// Ayala, 398 Geary St. (Tendernob), ayalarestaurant.com