On my trip to San Francisco recently, I was eager to experience Michelin-starred Californian cuisine. Aster in the Mission District of San Francisco seemed like the ideal place for just that: they are known for serving beautiful, Californian dishes in a casual setting and have been a one-star Michelin restaurant since 2016.
I need to credit David (pickydiners.com) who introduced me to Aster; he had wanted to visit the restaurant on his last trip to San Francisco but did not have the chance to do so. Even though he was joining me in SF for a few days, our jam-packed foodie schedule did not accommodate a visit to this restaurant.
Aster is chef-owned by Brett Cooper who has worked at numerous Michelin-starred restaurants in SF. He was also at one point the chef de cuisine at Saison (a three-star Michelin restaurant I also visited on the same trip).
Casual, Lively Setting
I made a reservation on Opentable.com for Aster just a day ahead and visited the restaurant on a weekday evening with my longtime friend from UBC undergrad who now lives in SF. The setting was a casual, contemporary, lively and inviting environment. It was dimly lit but more edgy rather than romantic. There was a mix of booths, one large centre communal table, and a few smaller dining tables. Guests can see into the open kitchen located at the back of the restaurant.
In general, I found the clientele to be a younger crowd eager for a fine-dining experience though not in a pretentious setting. In the corner, I noticed a group of men in their 20s perhaps all colleagues from a tech office. Next to us was a young couple recently married and on a date.
For a Michelin-starred restaurant, Aster’s menu is rather affordable: a four-course menu was priced at $75 per person.
My friend had the Parusso Langhe Bianco Sauvignon Blanc, 2016 ($14) from Italy.
I had a non-alcoholic Kimono Sparkling Yuzu imported from Japan ($8). I love citrusy drinks and really enjoyed the strong yuzu flavour. The drink features freshly squeezed Yuzu juice from hand-picked fruits, sparkling water from Aichi prefecture and a hint of organic sugar. Apparently, Kimono drinks are only available in two US cities: SF and LA.
I had the Dry Aged Beef with umeboshi (Japanese salt plums), brown rice crisp, and kimchi furikake. The beef was more like a tartare; very flavourful, juicy and tender. The umeboshi imparted some salty and tart tastes to the dish. The brown rice crisp was beautifully delicate yet crispy; it went well with the beef.
My friend had the Heirloom Carrots with smoked honey miso, turnip, and caramelized yogurt.
My next dish was the asparagus with seaweed, oyster mushroom, douglas fir, and lime. I love asparagus myself and thought this dish would be right up my alley. Crispy, tender and very delicous. The oyster mushrooms lent a sweet, earthy taste to the dish.
My friend had the soft-cooked egg with nori, puffed rice, bacon and smoked trout roe. I sampled her dish and found it to a simple, comforting dish with smoky and salty flavours. Lots of fun textural contrasts from the gooey raw egg to the juicy bursts of the trout roe.
Next up was the duck with tatsoi rabe, green garlic and vadouvan. The duck was wonderfully tender and had just the right amount of fat content. The tatsoi rabe had spinach-like flavours with a bit of sharpness.
My friend had trout with black garlic mole, chard and oro blanco. She had commented that the skin was ultra crispy and I could literally hear that sound of crispiness when she bit into it.
For the finale, I had the lemongrass custard with blood orange, kiwi and cocoa nib. I was in love. The creamy, smooth lemongrass custard was a contrast to the strong, aromatic blood orange. The cocoa nibs added a fun texture to the dish.
My friend had the smoked caramel with bitter chocolate, bergamot and vanilla. The presentation was rather interesting with the dollops of caramel, vanilla and smoked caramel on top of the dark chocolate. I sampled a bit and found it pretty good!
The service was very friendly and attentive. Our server was very knowledgable and did not rush us at all. The dishes also came out at a good pace.
Aster was the first Michelin restaurant that I had ever visited and it was an overall, very positive and delicious experience. I appreciated their healthy, light Californian cuisine using quality ingredients. Simple dishes but well-executed. The casual vibe also suited my tastes. Aster is definitely a restaurant I would recommend for a casual, Michelin dining experience. Rating: 4.5/5
Address: 1001 Guerrero St, San Francisco, CA