Luce in San Francisco

If you’re a food lover, it doesn’t get much better than traveling to a city like San Francisco, whose food scene is among the best in the world.  The Bay Area has perfected just about every type, style and genre of food, from street vendors to luxuriously high-end, to authentically ethnic, funky fusion and even restaurants within restaurants.

Amberjack with spring onions, trout roe and avocado.
Amberjack with spring onions, trout roe and avocado.

But once the excitement of unlimited culinary possibilities subsides it can be overwhelming to decide exactly where to eat when traveling to San Francisco, especially if you’re only staying for a limited time (and who isn’t?).  I usually peruse foodie websites and local blogs when I research a trip (SF favorites are, 7×7, and SFweekly), but even those resulted in a laundry list of restaurants impossible to combat in the few days we’d be in town during our stay.

So what’s a food-obsessed traveler to do in a city like San Francisco?

A Manhattan served tall sitting on Luce's menu.
Starting the evening with cocktails.

Relax and realize you’ll never eat everywhere you want or every place that’s recommended, but take comfort in knowing that most places you do go will probably be awesome.  We picked a place we couldn’t find in Salt Lake City :: a Michelin-rated restaurant that focused on local ingredients served in a creative way, called Luce.

The amouse bouche was fennel custard with peas and dill pistachios
The amouse bouche was fennel custard with peas, dill, pistachios.

Luce has received the prestigious Michelin star four years in a row, a momentous feat for any restaurant but even more so in a city as culinarily competitive as San Francisco.  Located in the InterContinental Hotel in the SOMA neighborhood of downtown, it’s a white tablecloth, high-ceiling sort of place that blends well in a nice hotel but without the pretentious wait staff that usually comes with.  In fact, our server was so friendly he drew us a map of sightseeing recommendations to take with us when we left.

Salmon with clams, scallops, artichokes and Shiitakes at Luce in San Francisco.
Salmon with clams, scallops, artichokes and Shiitakes.

The menu offers a la carte entree options (all reasonably priced for a Michelin restaurant around $26-38) or a nine-course tasting menu for $95/$150 with wine pairing (available Tuesdays-Saturdays).  Sundays and Mondays feature a three-course prix fix menu $48.  Since we dined on a Sunday, we went the a la carte route.  Breakfast, brunch and lunch (including a prix fix menu) are also served.

Sweetbread Ravioli at Luce in San Francisco.
The house-made sweetbread ravioli with shaved truffles.

The menu evolves seasonally except for one item, their signature dish :: the Sweetbread Ravioli ($9).  My friends were a bit skeptical but the waiter convinced us to try it.  All I can say is once we tasted the savory, rich raviolis we all oohed and ahhed like we were watching fireworks, then exclaimed that it may have been one of the best dishes we’ve ever tasted.  Ever.

Amberjack with spring Onions, trout roe and avocado at Luce in San Francisco.
The Amberjack appetizer was beautiful.

Our other appetizer, the Pacific Amberjack ($19), was served in a sashimi-like fashion, lightly marinated in yuzu (a Japanese citrus) and olive oil, topped with trout roe, wild flowers and avocado.  Not only was it beautiful, it was deliciously fresh and savory.

Rib Eye of Prime Beef with Mushrooms and Red Onion Marmalade.
Rib Eye with mushrooms and red onion marmalade.

All of the entrees we ordered leaned heavy on the meat :: roasted lamb loin with lamb belly, prime beef rib eye in roasted butter ($38) and salmon with clams and diver scallops.  All were presented in ways that complemented the flavor profiles of the meat, not to overpower or outdo the tastes of their own characteristics, just to enhance them.

Roasted Spring Lamb Loin, Crispy Belly 35 Baby Carrots, Slowly Cooked with Honey & Spices, Yogurt, Hazelnut Granola
The lamb loin with crispy lamb belly.

I love when the flavor of the ingredients is allowed to speak for itself.  A perfect example was the dish I ordered, the Roasted Spring Lamb Loin ($35) with crispy lamb belly slow-cooked with honey and spices, served with baby carrots, yogurt and hazelnut granola.  The familiarity of the lamb was comforting yet it was executed so well I felt like I’d never tasted lamb like it before.

The colorful, creative and delicious desserts of Luce.
The colorful, creative and delicious desserts of Luce.

We finished with Panna Cotta, infused with basil-macerated strawberries, basil powder, rhubarb sorbet and the Mascarpone Cheesecake with roasted blueberry sorbet & streusel ($10/each).  Again, the same philosophy reigned supreme :: less is more.

For my friends’ first time in San Francisco and first time at a Michelin-rated restaurant, the expectations were high when we walked in to Luce for our first meal in the city.  But Luce was so incredible that by the time we walked out of the restaurant, the bar had been raised even higher for everywhere else in the city.  And that’s quite a feat in a city like San Francisco.

Go to Luce for :: incredible food in both flavor and presentation, outstanding service and a nice atmosphere.  Note :: Reservations are available online via

Luce on Urbanspoon

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  • Seeing this makes my mouth water-literally. Every time I eat a steak now, I’m sadly reminded its not THAT steak. :(

  • Every one of those dishes are so beautiful! Lately I’ve felt so spoiled – I definitely feel lucky to have dined in so many great restaurants over the past few years. None Michelin-starred yet [that I can recall anyway,] but certainly some great meals. Having had such great experiences and developing my own skills cooking has raised the bar in general while eating out and mediocre meals that I would have loved 5 years ago can be such a disappointment! I feel like that sounds so bratty, but when you’re paying good money, not to mention time and calories, even if it’s not a fine dining restaurant, experience and quality really do matter!

    I’ll probably toss this out on twitter in the next few weeks – but as a joint birthday dinner, my husband and I were thinking of treating ourselves to Forage. There are a few fine dining-type restaurants in the area we’ve yet to try [The Farm at The Canyons has been calling my name for awhile] — is there a place you’d recommend more strongly or would you encourage sticking with Forage?

    • Hi Caroline! I definitely know how you feel that as your palate grows more sophisticated, it raises the bar on what you feel is “amazing” food or worth a lot of money.

      The Farm is a great restaurant, easily one of my favorites, but if you haven’t been to Forage I think you should give it a shot. It’s such a neat experience, especially if it’s your first time with molecular gastronomy, it will be a lot more memorable. Forage is more of a special occasion place that requires an excuse, while The Farm can be disguised as a regular dinner later on in the year if you get the urge to drive up the canyon. Enjoy your dinner (wherever you decide) and let me know what you think!

      – Kelli

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