House Pasta & Caviar at A5 Charcuterie Decadence: SoMa’s new AFICI | by Virginia Miller | October 2022
The large industrial space that housed Alexander’s Steakhouse Group’s The Patio pop-up during the pandemic, opened as AFICI on September 24, 2022, on a busy stretch of Folsom Street during rush hour in the South of Market (SoMa) district of San Francisco.
But AFICI isn’t a steakhouse, it’s more of a fine-dining restaurant with a regularly changing four-course prix fixe menu shaped by seasonality, full use of animals, handmade pastas and a program unique house charcuterie centered on A5 wagyu beef. Chef Eric Upper hails from the Bronx, having cooked at such renowned New York restaurants as Morimoto, Aureole and Joël Robuchon. Upper moved to SF in 2018 to take over as executive chef at Alexander’s Steakhouse (my last review/visit there was in 2019), then ran pop-up The Patio where he reconnected with his culinary roots and refined AFICI’s vision.
The space is transformed. Still soaring, you move from the long marble bar and glass-walled room overlooking Folsom Street to the equally tall but warmer second room, lined with fabric-covered booths, chandeliers and a wine bar. . The AFICI team worked with Marc Dimalanta of D-Scheme Studio on the design, reimagining the space, complete with a pasta-making station, custom deli rack and whisk(e)y racks.
Chef Upper teamed up with Executive Chef Daniel Lucero (also of Alexander’s) and they crafted a decadent luxury menu, exemplified by menu additions like Upper’s house-selected and personally harvested white sturgeon caviar hand and transformed with his team with California. Caviar Co. and its founder Deborah Keane. Their homemade caviar is “high in fat”, which adds umami and creaminess – it’s also quite salty. Working with the Koehler method, this amazing culture technique will revolutionize caviar, keeping fish alive with safely harvested spawn/fish roe every season. Upper’s unique caviar service ($183 an ounce) sifted egg yolk and creme fraiche with the touch of mini green onion pancakes instead of blinis. It feels oh-so-SF with its Chinese nod, warm and flavorful with the caviar and cream.
The other add-on is a must. I thought I knew what to expect with the A5 house wagyu charcuterie (reasonably priced at $50 per person). I did not do it. Their Hitachi Wagyu whole cow program uses the whole cow in creative ways. The platter is a wonderland of meat bites with the highest quality beef, A5, prosciutto style, or as rillettes with Bronx grape jam, or whipped lard pate with mustard and fennel. Next up is gnocco fritto, a puffed, deep-fried pastry from Emilia-Romagna normally high in lard, here with a sheet of lardo draped over it, imparting a silky, greasy sumptuousness. A5 style pancetta, wrapped around grissini bread sticks, makes an ideal bar snack. The plate is also worth ordering at the bar with whisk(e)y, cocktails or wine, a plate of charcuterie creative enough to refresh the often tired category.
Moving on to the full menu, at $125 per person for three savory courses, you choose from one of five courses for each course, a hearty feast that ranges from seafood and other appetizers to mid-course meat and pasta. other entries. Then, if desired, dessert.
My husband Dan, the Renaissance man, and I did business as usual: each chose opposing dishes so we could split eight dishes against four and try more. We still struggled to narrow down and choose from intriguing options.
First course: For a seafood contrast to the extravagance of A5 charcuterie, we opted for the popular halibut crudo dipped in a canadew (hybrid honeydew and cantaloupe melon) emulsion with compressed cantaloupe and a twist subtle serrano peppers. Already eating beef and seafood, I opted for my other favorite meat after pork: rabbit. In this case, a Devil’s Gulch rabbit entrée, which gives off Germanic vibes roulade over a nifty green streak of parsnip pistou with a vegetable/herb salad and pickled mustard seeds.
Course two (pasta hour): While there are decadent options like the white truffle tagliatelle ($80 extra) or plain spaghetti, bottarga and caviar ($10 extra), we didn’t opted for the deluxe pasta, which I love but have the privilege of having often. Instead, we picked two that seemed the most interesting. First, casoncelli pasta stuffed with pistachio puree and marinated bing cherries, meaty with candied wagyu. What a happy marriage between an already perfect duo — cherry and pistachio — and the silkiness of wagyu. Then corn cappellacci, with the taste of late summer SF, playful and tasty with popcorn, Jimmy Nardello peppers and yuzu kosho.
Course three: I’m a sucker for a good chicken roulade and this was a winner. A tender chicken roll filled with red orach, a spinach-like herb, gently tossed with Point Reyes blue cheese sauce, and paired with pasty malfatti (Italian spinach, ricotta and parmesan ravioli). It was pure comfort, somehow reminiscent of childhood, though unlike any dish I grew up on.
We also decided to end the wagyu experience with “Duo of Beef” ($80 extra): Grilled striploin steak, tender braised brisket, Jerusalem artichoke chips and mash, as juicy and rich (but appropriately sized) as you’d expect. While this dish is a shining example of what Alexander does best as a group, I would venture to say that the other dishes – especially this wagyu charcuterie platter – best showcase Upper’s unique perspective and m intrigued to see where he and AFICI are evolving.
Wine director Nicholas Keegan has a keen sense of humor and manages a tight wine list of small production vineyards from California, Italy, France and Spain on a menu of around 20 wines at the glass and more than 80 bottles. His skillful wine pairings with our dishes included the balanced, subtle skin-to-skin body of Specogna Friulli Cotti Orientale Pinot Grigio Ramato from Italy, the earthy olive, vegetal and dark berry notes of the 2018 Kathryn Kennedy Estate Cabernet from the mountains from Santa Cruz, and a fresh, sparkling 2018 San-Lurins Malvasia Frizzante Venezia Giulia.
Bar manager Nicholas Bonney whips up the usual classic cocktails and more intriguing house drinks like Ripple Effect, with Sipsmith London Dry Gin, aquavit, radish as garnish, wasabi-infused bianco vermouth, thyme and butterfly pea flower for tinge violet. The radish adds a welcome savory-vegetal component, while I really wish I could taste the aquavit and its notes of cumin, dill, anise, caraway. Ranchero is a mezcal-forward, rose-orange cocktail from Los Vecinos Mezcal, Dimmi, rhubarb, tomato water, and Terga cucumber vinegar. More cucumber and rhubarb would add a targeted sharpness to its tomato-y mezcal profile. Whisk(e)y racks for your own select bottles, a robust spirits list and membership offering rare whiskeys, complimentary cocktail service and exclusive tastings add extra appeal on the drinks side.
Pastry chef Anna Szeto’s desserts also feature NorCal seasonal produce, while a chocolate budino rich in miso caramel, cocoa and candied hazelnuts was like an evergreen crowd pleaser, though thankfully earthy and dark chocolate rather than too sweet. Yuzu posset is a play on the lighter citrus “milk” dessert and pudding, lovely and light with local floral yuzu, citrus meringue and blackberry granita to contrast with the yuzu cake.
AFICI is arguably the most unique concept of the Alexander’s Steakhouse group of restaurants (the original Alexander’s Steakhouse in Cupertino, CA, since 2005, followed by locations in SF and Pasadena; The Sea by Alexander’s Steakhouse in Palo Alto since 2012; the 2019 One65 multi-level French complex in SF). From caviar to A5 wagyu, from homemade pasta to thoughtful wines, it feels like a party night where the care of the team seals the deal.
// 680 Folsom Street; www.aficisf.com