The Wayfare Tavern just might be the most beautiful building on the block. Its three stories wax poetic of a far off time - perhaps of a place Jay Gatsby might have taken his new friend, Nick Caraway, for lunch on a day in the city in F.Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, The Great Gatsby.
It’s an homage to the American vintage aesthetic - a second floor of dark wooden walls between white floors and ceilings - plate settings stamped with the restaurant’s crest, both modest and sophisticated.
The Wayfare Tavern is also the new flagship restaurant of celebrity chef Tyler Florence.
I admit that when I think of Food Network celebrity chefs, I don’t generally feel moved to admit to their greatness. I often think of safe cuisine, contrived and excessive charismatic folksy dialects, and Guy Fieri. All of this is enough to make me lose my appetite.
That said, Tyler Florence’s WF is treat. While not entirely perfect yet, the Wayfare Tavern proved to be a restaurant that is okay with taking classic American dishes and making playful gestures with their interpretations.
I entered the Wayfare Tavern with bias, expecting to be met with good tasting plain food. I stand corrected.
WF’s starters, while distinctly American cuisine, are breath of fresh air, including such plates as the California avocado and hearts of palm with cucumber, shaved onion, cilantro, and lime dressing (10).
Sure, there’s no such thing as a bad avocado, but this dish was notably rich and buttery while retaining the necessary acidity of the lime.
Another appetizing dream come true is Tyler Florence’s salt roasted bone marrow. Again, why the food world is crazy about offal, using every limb and tendon of the beast, WF’s bone marrow takes a humble dish and gives it a status of elegance with its parsley-shallot salad, veal demi, sourdough toast and molasses butter (14).
WF’s entrees included a wood grilled Alaskan salmon adorned with warm leeks, a summer potato salad, arugula blossoms, and sea beans (25). Admittedly, this dish was rendered excessively salty, though cooked perfectly in terms of both starch and protein.
I came in with a game plan: Florence’s signature organic fried chicken. But seeing that WF played with breakfast dishes for dinner, I was soon rendered a slave to two very difficult but mandatory options: WF’s Hangtown Fry, dubbed “a dying man's last meal,” which consisted of “fluffy Petaluma eggs, crispy oysters, smoked bacon, and Sausalito watercress” or the American classic steak and eggs.
Playing it safe, I went with the steak and eggs - a refined composition of filet mignon, eggs and toasted Dungeness crab topped with asparagus and béarnaise sauce (25). The dish was beautiful - it was hearty without leaving you feeling like you burdened yourself by actually eating steak and eggs.
The cornmeal pound cake proved to be the ideal dessert for a fourth of July dinner. The cake, while somewhat dense, was smartly sweetened with summer berries, cabernet sorbet as well as a bed of crème fraîche.
Above: With the check came two incredibly moist coconut macaroons drizzled in chocolate. Both were light and very fresh.
It was a given that Tyler Florence’s Wayfare Tavern was never going to be a slouch, but the restaurant’s decision to deliver refreshed spins on old classics while incorporating as many local ingredients as possible makes WF a fine addition to SF’s embarcadero district - one that thankfully ignores the trends that would relegate it to a tourist trap and promises to deliver elegance and flavor of the highest of standards.
558 Sacramento Street
San Francisco, CA