Angler catches you even before you walk through its front door. As you approach the restaurant, which is near the waterfront on San Francisco’s Embarcadero, you’re greeted by a stream of 1980s pop music that leaks out onto the sidewalk, drenching you in the likes of Toto and Hall & Oates. The soundtrack continues inside, where the main dining room (there is also a private dining room, called the game room) is dominated by a 32-foot hearth and grill on which the majority of the menu is cooked over open flames.
On an early evening in November, both hearth and dining room were in full swing. Six weeks after its opening, Angler was one of the most desirable reservations in town. It’s the second restaurant from Joshua Skenes, the founder of Saison, a tiny, impeccably refined, three-Michelin-star establishment. Angler, which Mr. Skenes describes as “sea-life focused,” was intended to be casual, at least in relation to its older sibling.
What casual means here is an à la carte menu, “Hip to Be Square” on the loudspeakers, wood-paneled walls bedecked with the disembodied heads of wild animals, heated toilet seats in the bathroom, private-batch caviar sourced from Sacramento, and $3 butter that has been house-cultured for two weeks from the milk of local cows, including some of Mr. Skenes’s own.
“The parts that are casual are that it’s a very fun environment,” Mr. Skenes said. “Come in, have a great time, and celebrate. But on the other hand, the part that is not [casual] is that we wanted to make sure that everyone got as close to perfect food and service as possible.”
On the evening I ate at Angler, both food and service did indeed hover in the vicinity of perfection. We were seated at the bar in the game room, where we were surrounded by the aforementioned taxidermy and served by an extremely personable bartender who took our order in a tiny leather-bound Moleskine notebook.
Angler’s oceanic focus was inspired by Mr. Skenes’s desire to utilize regional, sustainable seafood that wasn’t readily available for local use, such as sea cucumbers, gooseneck barnacles and California box crab. “My only criteria,” he explained, “is that it’s alive.”
His close relationships with local fishermen were evident in the freshness and delicacy of the petrale sole for two, which was deftly filleted by our bartender and served with a gravy boat full of smoked butter sauce. Butter also contributed to the success of the Parker House rolls, which had been brushed with wild boar fat and cooked over the grill (the kitchen is run by the executive chef, Nicolas Ferreira).
But while meat and game are a theme of both the restaurant’s décor and menu — the antelope tartare has been an early hit — nothing at Angler is quite as visceral as the radicchio, which is grilled and slicked with beet juice-infused X.O. vinaigrette. Served whole, it is violent crimson and improbably meaty looking; it's presented to you with a bib to catch all the splatter.
Desserts were more demure: A coconut sorbet, served in a half-coconut shell, offered a cool rejoinder to the earlier carnage. Eaten a few feet away from the watchful eyes of a taxidermied brown bear (the restaurant’s menagerie was a private gift), it encapsulated the pleasures and gentle ridiculousness of Angler, a restaurant that wears its hunting lodge drag as proudly as it does its contradictions.
Angler, 132 Embarcadero, (415) 872-9442; a meal for two, without drinks or tip, is about $120.
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