When Sons & Daughters opened at the corner of Bush and Powell in 2010, it was a kind of cowboy in the culinary no-man's land that straddles Union Square and Nob Hill. Next door to Uncle Vito's Pizza and around the corner from Lori's Diner, the restaurant, touting innovative twists on Cal-American fare, was an early comer to the neighborhood that would eventually be home to Del Popolo and, a few blocks away, Akiko's and Liholiho Yacht Club.
Nevertheless, its Tendernob address remains an unusual one for the kind of tasting-menu-only experience that has garnered it a Michelin star every year since 2012. Many a commuter has no doubt inched past its modest exterior without ever realizing a guidebook-level meal in progress within, while star-chasing foodies tend to follow the accolades to better known hot spots such as Coi and Benu. Now, a split among the restaurant's partners and an all new menu mean a turning point for the seven-year-old fine dining establishment: Can it retain its star? And, will its name at last carry the significance of its much-heralded competitors?
The warm but modern dining room remains unchanged.(Sarah Chorey)
Founded by chefs and co-owners Teague Moriarty and Matt McNamara (they met while attending California Culinary Academy in 2004), Sons & Daughters originally launched with a true farm to table concept: The dishes relied heavily on ingredients grown at the chefs' shared Dark Hill Farm in Santa Cruz. Just as Manresa once had an exclusive partnership with Love Apple Farms, Moriarty and McNamara set out to create a thoughtful, balanced bond between farm and restaurant. Each day, the two would play with whatever ingredient was bountiful, accepting the self-imposed challenge of working it into multiple dishes, without a particular focus on the cadence of flavors or concepts.
But this spring, Moriarty and McNamara parted ways, leaving the former as the sole chef and owner of Sons & Daughters, and the latter at the helm of their casual restaurant in North Beach, The Square, as well as in charge of the Santa Cruz farm, which will continue to supply Sons & Daughters with some unique produce and ingredients. But Moriarty—a California native whose done time at Bay Area favorites including Limón Rotisserie and Gregoire in Berkeley—has opened his restaurant's doors to new local vendors, relishing the lack of restriction that comes with a strictly harvested-this-morning ethos. Unfettered by limited ingredients, he's now designed an expanded nine-course tasting menu marked by a strong progression of the dishes, taking the opportunity to deliver consistent new favorites. "In the past, the menu was dictated by what the farm was producing," says Moriarty, "so the dishes were less conceived and stable and more forced to change day to day based on the whims of the farm."
If you have dined before at Sons & Daughters, the modern-meets cozy dining room, designed by Debbie McNamara (Matt's mom), will be nothing new. You'll sink into well-stuffed chairs upholstered in charcoal gray and take in the art—strong black-and-white photography—beneath glitzy crystal chandeliers. A tiled fireplace lends a homey vibe. The refined, yet straightforward space allows diners to focus on the food coming from the lively open kitchen, where Moriarty is enjoying having "more control over the entire arc of the menu, [where] dishes work better in relation to each other." The focus now is on "the whole experience," he says.
And with nine dishes that build upon one another to offer playful contrasts in flavor and texture, it is an experience. In the end, a few courses (the roasted squab breast and the poached cod) stand out more for their presentation than for their flavors, but there were plenty of courses that deftly carried the meal. Click through the slideshow below for our tasting notes on every last bite.
// $150 per person, with a beverage pairing for an additional $89 per person; 708 Bush St. (Tendernob), sonsanddaughterssf.com
A cool and creamy red bell pepper soup was roasted and blended with a housemade almond milk base. Moriarty again plays with textures here, adding pieces of house-cured American ham, mixed herbs, and brioche croutons for a delicate crunch. Finger lime, also known as lime caviar, lends an acidic tang that's juxtaposed against the earthy flavors of the dish.