Farm-to-Table at the Fairmont San Francisco
With a geography rich in farmland and prime in produce, California has been trailblazing the farm-to-table trend before restaurateurs in Brooklyn and Portland deemed it ‘cool.’ Coming off a stay at the newly renovated suites at the Fairmont San Francisco, Jess Blumensheid checks in with the farm-friendly happenings up north.
Equal parts green and good-natured, the farm-to-table movement has been fielding, so to speak, all over the culinary map. But what might be considered a trendy moneymaker among budding big-city restaurateurs has long been part of the California lifestyle, as evidenced by one of NorCal’s most iconic stays, the Fairmont San Francisco.
With a history of environmental stewardship, the hotel, fresh off a $23 million renovation, has cultivated lasting relationships with many local Bay Area farms and purveyors with its abiding mission to offer local, organic, sustainable cuisine. “Sustainability is not a new concept,” says the Fairmont San Francisco Executive Chef Andrew Court. “It has been a farming practice for thousands of years, from crop rotation in the field to farms that diversify their animal breeding. The techniques of cooking have not changed — it’s differed more so in where we are sourcing our products from and in which seasons.”
Atop the original Beaux Arts-style landmark lives a 1,000-square-foot rooftop culinary garden containing rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, chives, cilantro and lavender — staple ingredients in any seasonal farm-to-table dish offered at the Fairmont San Francisco’s two restaurants and bars. “Sourcing local seasonal foods is one of the most effective first steps,” Court says. “Cooking sustainably takes more thought than effort, but the payoff in how we are treating the environment is paramount. Chefs live in the same communities as our guests.”
In June 2010, the hotel partnered with Napa Valley’s 4.5-acre Marshall’s Farm to install four nascent honey beehives on its rooftop. Now containing about 250,000 bees, the hives help support the city’s bee population, which has downsized by roughly 90 percent since the 1980s.
Producing an impressive 1,200 pounds of honey in a single year, the Fairmont San Francisco bees supply enough honey for various desserts, dressings and afternoon tea in addition to the hotel’s namesake Honey Saison beer available on draft at the Laurel Court Restaurant & Bar.
Fall brings robust menu options of hearty root vegetables, organic fruits, artisanal cheeses and meats from local farms, all of which are located within a 150-mile radius of the hotel. Everything from the house-cured meats to the catch of the day show proof of the Fairmont San Francisco’s ongoing green partnership with its sustainable neighbors. “Mutual respect is the most valuable aspect of the relationship between the Fairmont San Francisco and local purveyors and farms,” says Court. “We respect what the farmers are producing and why they are working this way, and they respect how the food is being utilized and presented.”
Sample the bounty with a stay in one of the hotel’s Specialty Suites, which were just renovated as part of the hotels $23 million makeover. Each uniquely designed suite has its own perks—the Buckingham, for example, was inspired by a 1930s cigar room and has a glass-enclosed balcony overlooking the city and a dry bar hidden behind a secret door. The Cambridge has a library nook, the Napoleon a romantic canopy bed, and the Diplomat Tony Bennett bridge-to-bridge views. And then there’s the Fairmont Presidential Suite with a pull-out bar and techy media hub ideal for both business and pleasure. All suites hook you up with special perks, from free WiFi to one-way pick-up from SFO airport and VIP welcome amenities, and are ideal for entertaining. They’re the perfect base for grazing the city’s other farm-to-fork fare.
Inspired by recent travels to Spain, restaurateurs Nick Ronan and Damien Chabaud-Arnault of the Bisou Group opened their second restaurant in the sizzling Castro. A riff off French sister restaurant Bisou, Beso Bistronomia adds a new spin on Spanish tapas with potato croquettes with Worcestershire béarnaise, duck-fat roasted potatoes served bravas-style, plus two rotating seasonal paellas. Spanish for “kiss,” Beso may be inspired by European traditions, but its ingredients are all harvested with an hour’s drive from the restaurant. The Bisou Group grows its own produce at its farm in Napa, which is also home to the new Northern California Bistronomy Center, an artisanal food project that allows visitors to pick produce and cook on site.
The Ramen Bar
With more than 20 destination restaurants worldwide, Chef Michael Mina opened his newest Bay Area outpost in the heart of the Financial District. His first casual concept, the Ramen Bar is a collaboration with chef Ken Tominaga of Sonoma’s famed Hana Sushi and offers two omakase menus featuring traditional Japanese fare. Signature dishes include ramen bowls of fresh noodles, homemade broths, proteins and a variety of freshly grown vegetables and greens from the on-site urban garden. The sushi nigiri tasting menu pairs well with cocktails from the Japanese whisky, beer and sake bar.
Box and Bells
Across the bay in North Oakland’s up-and-coming Rockridge is Box and Bells, the latest addition to Chef James Syhabout’s growing restaurant domain. Recruiting staff from his Michelin-starred Commis, Syhabout creates comfort cuisine inspired by the after-hours eats his cooks prepare for themselves. Set in an old-fashioned tavern, Box and Bells offers the “eating house” experience in which guests can pop in for bar standards like poutine fries with blood sausage gravy and a Bells’ sour (bourbon, maraschino, lemon). Those ready for round two can continue in the dining room for must-orders like the grilled pork porterhouse glazed in whisky and brown sugar, with hazelnuts, chanterelle mushrooms and black-eyed peas.
Belcampo Meat Co.
What started as a 10,000-acre ranch at Anya Fernald’s CCOF-certified organic farm in Northern California has expanded to include a humane processing plant, a neighborhood butcher shop, two restaurants and an eco-lodge in Belize that supports sustainable agriculture. Belcampo Meat Co.’s latest addition is a restaurant-butcher shop hybrid in Russian Hill that offers farm-to-fork cuts of the day with a strict coding system that tracks each animal from birth to butchery to your plate. After chowing down on a hearty brunch featuring fresh cuts you can’t easily find in the shop, don’t forget to take home a pack of the spiced breakfast sausage.