At the risk of sounding like an asshole, I have to admit that somewhere around the 10th new restaurant or hotel I wrote about this year, they began to bleed together in my memory.
Just one night at the Line Hotel in San Francisco shook me out of my reverie.
The 236-room Line SF opened on the edge of Union Square at the end of September after a long pandemic delay. It’s not 100 percent complete yet—the lobby-level Dark Bar is set to open in December—but it’s close enough.
Depending on who you ask, the best thing about the weeks-old Line is its style—the way it seems to seamlessly integrate natural elements like rough stone and vegetal matter with modern art and industrial design. Or maybe its Rise Over Run, the greenhouse-encased rooftop bar that opens onto plant-lined pathways freckled with cafe tables and fire pits.
But for me, it’s Tenderheart, the restaurant by executive chef Joe Hou, that steals the show. In a city filled with excellent food, I’d even go so far as to say it’s the best new restaurant I’ve been to in SF this year.
We're calling it, Tenderheart is one of the best SF restaurants of 2022.(Patrick Chin)
Tenderheart, a chic salon of neutral colors, bentwood chairs, and pendant lighting, is an innovative send-up to Hou’s Chinese-American heritage. His food is exciting and unexpected, and even at times challenging—that’s part of why it’s so unforgettable.
After checking into my room on the eighth floor, a corner suite lined with glass and concrete and a dreamy earth-toned mural, I head straight to the restaurant without especially high expectations. Hou’s got quite a pedigree (he’s done stints as the pastry chef at Angler, Le Fantastique, and Palo Alto’s Bird Dog) but this is the first restaurant he’s helmed. Thank god he got the chance.
Hou’s menu puts California fare in compromising, never before seen positions. He pairs creamy burrata with nutty, charred salsa macha and fiery pickled gypsy peppers, and serves them with crisp wontons. He pairs caviar with tiny, perfect English muffins and buttery salted egg yolks; lamb belly with fried dates and comforting, warm spices; crispy Brussels sprouts with bonito flake–infused mayo and pungent cheese.
Drinks designed by local cocktail legend Danny Louie (The Alembic, Gamsaan) compliment the menu in both tone and spirit. Though it terrifies me as much as it intrigues me, I order a gin martini made with white truffle, butter, dill, and fortified wine.
Did I love everything at Tenderheart? No. But even the dishes that didn’t float my boat were like food-based science experiments I couldn’t look away from. How can you not appreciate Hou’s wild attempt to wrestle something new and interesting out of ingredients you thought you knew.
Rise Over Run at Line SF(Jean Bai)
Upstairs at Rise Over Run, where I retire after dinner, Hou corrals his creativity just enough to please the cocktail-swizzling set. I get a seat at the bar inside the roof’s fully-enclosed glass greenhouse. From there, the outdoor deck is intimate and magical, a secret garden illuminated by the city’s light.
I take one for the team and find the space to nibble one last dish—a satisfying, late-night spicy tuna tostada with chili crisp, avocado crema, and bonito mayo—alongside a tiki-inspired Tuk Tuk Julius (made with rum, vodka, Thai tea, mandarin and citrus, and cream). When the fried chicken thighs served with porky Carolina gold, Szechuan sauce, and date molasses float out of the kitchen in a golden birdcage, I can’t stop myself from stopping the server just to admire the plump, golden brown bird.
In the morning, there are two options to get myself up and moving. I could get dressed and go down to Alfred Coffee, a Los Angeles–based shop with a handful of breakfast items along with an apparently famous iced vanilla latte, or I could stay snuggled up in bed and order in-room delivery. You don’t have to guess which I chose. I happily nosh on my breakfast sandwich with egg, bacon, cheese, caramelized onions, and tomato-pepper jam under the covers.
I can’t say how Line SF, the fourth location for the brand, compares to its properties in L.A., D.C., and Austin. But the Tenderloin hotel is a treasure, and Tenderheart is the thousand-carat diamond at its center.
// 33 Turk St. (Tenderloin), thelinehotel.com
The lobby at Line SF(Patrick Chin)