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, theSons & Daughters 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 Sons & Daughter’s 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 Background of Sons & Daughters Restaurant
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 restaurant, 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 who has 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 Sons & Daughters 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 restaurant, 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.
Sons & Daughters Menu
For the first course, an oyster was marinated in mezcal for a slightly smoky flavor. Enjoyed with a dollop of smooth coconut cream and topped with sea beans and coins of potato, this bite has layers of complexity.
A cool and creamy red bell pepper soup was roasted and blended with a house-made 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.
Sons & Daughters doesn’t consider the art of baking good bread unworthy of its upscale offering. Throughout the meal, the chef introduces three different breads, including these miniature loaves of multigrain sourdough, fresh out of the oven and served with house-cultured butter and salt.
Forget about avocado toast. In one of his most standout dishes, chef Moriarty makes avocado the star, infusing it with yuzu and topping it with a sprinkling of spiced pistachio crumbles. Creamy versus juicy, this memorable take on the avo is embellished with thin slices of pluberries and elegant marigold flowers
The Grains of Paradise toast is made from grains that are part of the ginger family and are primarily found off the coast of West Africa. You’ll taste notes of pepper and citrus that give life to perfectly toasted brioche.
Ready for something rich? Foie gras mousse has never looked as festive as it does here, poached for a dense, buttery texture and heartily topped with huckleberry puree, fresh raspberries, and lightly roasted blackberries for a bite that’s sinfully decadent and refreshingly juicy. Poached yellow beets and the chef’s self-proclaimed “World’s Greatest Potato Chip” finish it off.
Cleanse your palate with an intermezzo of beer ice cream, made with La Chouffe Belgian ale, laced with notes of lemon and coriander, and sprinkled with ale-seasoned salt. The savory confection is served over a lemon puree and dark rye breadcrumbs.
In a city that’s obsessed with fried chicken sandwiches, this golden fried chicken skin terrine is a nice upscale twist. This crispy two-bite wonder is a salty morsel that is even further enhanced by the buttery taste of glossy, golden Kaluga caviar and whipped cod.
The next course was a two-part piece of downright gorgeous art. Summer melons are cooked in turmeric crema to give them a soft, supple texture before being crowned with trout roe and a few fine shavings of celery.
For act two in this dish, a piece of local cod is poached in koji, infusing a light buttery taste to the fish. A frisée slaw is tossed in little apple cider vinegar and accompanies the cod for a welcomed contrast of flavors.
Pretzel rolls topped with sea salt are a comforting surprise.
For the main course, a roasted squab breast and confit leg is served with stewed eggplant and golden raisins. The plating here steals the show, while the various pieces of tender dark meat deliver a rich, fatty flavor.
Sons & Daughters closes out the meal with a strong trio of sweet and savory dessert courses. First: Marin French Cheese’s Petite Breakfast triple creme, balanced by slice of tomato leather, pickled cherry tomatoes and swirl of lavender-infused olive oil.
Chef Moriarty plays into seasonal flavors with a cucumber and lemon verbena granita. The addition of exceptional mulberries, unchanged and simply fresh from Dark Hill Farm, creates a vivid, fresh dessert.
Capturing the taste of summer, a scoop of blueberry sorbet is paired with poppy seed sponge cake, fresh frozen blueberries, and sweet summer corn puree.
With more than 200 labels in house, wine is a key part of the program. A new addition to the team is wine director Amy Currens, a Master Sommelier and recipient of the Advanced Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) Award. At Sons & Daughters, she focuses on curating an international selection of wines from France, Italy, Germany, California, Spain, and Hungary.
// Sons & Daughters price is $150 per person, with a beverage pairing for an additional $89 per person; 708 Bush St. (Tendernob), sonsanddaughterssf.com
This article was originally written and photographed by me for 7×7 and can be viewed here.