Just in time for Valentine's Day (and the requisite romantic dinner), SFBG food writer Virginia Miller picks her favorite new restaurants of the past year.
FOR PURIST PARAMOURS: HEIRLOOM CAFÉ
The menu (less than 10 starters and entrees) is so simple I almost got bored reading it. But each dish served in this Victorian-yet-modern dining room was so well executed that my skepticism vanished. More than a little Chez Panisse in its ethos, Heirloom will delight that special someone with a purist take on food, with ultra fresh, pristine ingredients, impeccably prepared. Savor a mountain of heirloom tomatoes piled over toasted bread with pickled fennel, cucumbers, and feta, or a flaky bacon onion tart loaded with caramelized onions. Heirloom's added strength is owner Matt Straus' thoughtfully chosen wine lists covering wines from Lebanon to Spain.
2500 Folsom, SF. (415) 821-2500, www.heirloom-sf.com
FOR SENTIMENTAL GOURMANDS: SONS & DAUGHTERS
Like Commonwealth, Sons and Daughters is another opening where young, visionary chefs create fine molecular fare at reasonable prices ($48 for four-course prix fixe, à la carte from $9-$24). But this space particularly lends itself to romance: intimate, black and white, with shimmering chandeliers and youthful, European edge. Dishes are inventive and ambitious, like the highly acclaimed eucalyptus herb salad of delicate curds and whey over quinoa, or the seared foie gras accompanied by a glass of tart yogurt and Concord grape granita. It's a place to hold hands and gaze into each other's eyes while never neglecting your taste buds.
708 Bush St., SF. (415) 391-8311, www.sonsanddaughterssf.com
FOR NEW YORKER HEARTS: UNA PIZZA NAPOLETANA
Yes, this one's casual, and you'll have to wait outside in line. But if your sweetie has New York roots, she will thank you. Pizzaiolo Anthony Mangieri closed his beloved New York City institution, Una Pizza, and moved west. As in NYC, Una Pizza is a one-man show with Mangieri single-handedly crafting each pie (which partly explains the no take-out policy and long waits; popularity accounts for the rest). All this may make it hard to frequent Una Pizza, but if you make the commitment, you will be rewarded with doughy heaven. With only five vegetarian pies, I dream of the Filetti: cherry tomatoes soaking in buffalo mozzarella, accented by garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, basil, and sea salt. On the plus side: all that waiting in line for a hand-made pie will give you and your sweetie pie plenty of time to talk.
210 11th St., SF. (415) 861-3444, www.unapizza.com/sf
FOR AMORE ITALIANO: BARBACCO
True, Barbacco can get obnoxiously noisy and crowded. But it's a good alternative to its parent restaurant, Perbacco, offering the same outstanding quality at a great value ($3-$14 per dish). For a bustling Italian enoteca-style date, this is the place. Heartwarming food and a thoughtful wine list make it an ideal urban trattoria and a comfortably affordable night out. Order a glass of Lambrusco, the fried brussels sprouts, and raisin and pine nut-accented pork meatballs in a tomato sugo, then marvel at the minimalist bill.
220 California, SF. (415) 955-1919, www.barbaccosf.com