Adding to the Tenderloin's evolution, The Saratoga, a new restaurant by Bacchus Management Group (Spruce, Pizza Antica, the Village Pub), is an elegant supper club-style restaurant, that, like its au courant neighbors the new Japanese-inspired bath/tea room or the cultish cruffin bakehouse before it, will probably draw more stylish and "cultured" masses to the gritty neighborhood.
Entering the two-story luxe-industrial space, a former 1908 residential hotel, the lights kindle no higher than candlelight wattage, which cultivates a hushed ambiance. Perfect for conveying secrets, participating in clandestine rendezvous, dramatizing the heritage elements of the space (restored exposed brick walls, turn-of-the-century steel columns), or simply accentuating the main-floor bar, with its countless backlit amber spirits.
The Avenue: Bourbon, Calvados, passion fruit, lemon, orange blossom(Courtesy of The Saratoga)
Downstairs, a smaller bar and intimate 24-seat dining room feels like a secret back room, with a gallery of framed vintage paintings á la Lost Art Salon, mohair-covered walls, tufted banquettes, and handsome library chairs. It was here that we whet our appetites with one of barman Brandon Clements' cocktails, inspired by the pre-prohibition era. Spanning the 1860s to 1920, the concoctions invented during this time showcased such liquors as chartreuse, vermouth, and Pimm's. Though then considered flashy, they are in fact purer versions of modern mixology. Our poison of choice: The barrel-aged Brooklyn, a refined version of the Manhattan made with bourbon, dry vermouth, Amer Picon, and maraschino. At the next table, the Grand Pendennis (gin, apricot brandy, lime) arrived with its bitters aflame. Surrounding diners, hoping for Instagram gold, scrambled for their phones, trying to cue up their cameras before the theatrics extinguished.
The menu by chef de cuisine Jason Wittek features updated American classics neatly divided into Snack, Vegetable, Hearty, and Sweet. We started impossibly pillowy Parker House rolls (save the truffle butter to spread on forthcoming dishes) and 'Toga Tots, savory golden-fried cubes of potato, Fiscalini cheddar, chorizo and scallions. But for its name, this twist on a childhood favorite is so stratospherically elevated above the Ore-Ida taters of your youth that it can't possibly spoil you against those beloved frozen tots—they simply are out of each other's leagues. Thankfully, there's room for both in your life.
Vegetables are well-executed here, which is a boon for card-carrying vegetable haters such as Yours Truly. I am always surprised when these dishes produce my favorite bites of the meal, which has only happened to me twice: Once at 1760, where the broccoli di ciccio upended my lifelong notion of crucifers as the lucifers of the plant kingdom, and then here at the Saratoga, where the sublimely roasted Chantenay carrots, uplifted with a cool and exotic vadouvan yogurt, creamy avocado, and crunchy pepitas, inspired a holiday potluck dish that outshined—by light years—the traditional turkey and stuffing.
The Saratoga Burger(Courtesy of Saratoga)
Entrees feature globally inflected American classics: Traditional franks are served Cubano-style with slow-roasted pork and, of course, yellow mustard; chicken paillards are Berbere-spiced and accompanied by labneh. We opted for the Saratoga Burger, which is a masterful stack of two well-seasoned patties, super-melty Taleggio cheese, and crispy slaw. Imagine an In-N-Out burger elevated to its highest iteration. The dry-aged New York steak, a very shareable 12 ounces, is served au poivre—that is, unapologetically smothered in a rich cognac-peppercorn sauce. Cue the truffle butter from the first course—a swipe on each juicy, mid-rare slice does the body (OK, maybe not the body, but rather the soul) a lot of good.
Ho Hos: Frosted chocolate roulade, vanilla cream(Courtesy of Saratoga)
The dessert selection features a reimagining of the Hostess Ho Hos: Twin chocolate roulades are frosted with chocolate ganache and filled with vanilla cream. Like the 'Toga Tots, these cakes exist so dizzyingly high above their original inspiration that you can't possibly be expected to give up one for the other—they're just too different. Another standout confection is the Scotchy Scotch Scotch Pudding, a velvety butterscotch custard glistening with a thin layer of caramel infused with—what else?—Johnnie Walker Black. Even if you decide to skip a digestif cocktail (our waiter recommended the Bamboo, a soothing, stirred-not-shaken blend of Fino sherry, dry vermouth, Angostura and Regan's bitters), the potency of the liquored-up glaze should ease even the most glutted diner. After all, at the end of an indulgent meal at the Saratoga, St. Nick's belly shouldn't hold a candle to yours. // 1000 Larkin St. (Tenderloin), thesaratogasf.com