It can be argued that One Market is not just a restaurant, but an homage to San Francisco’s bounty. Housed in the Southern Pacific Building since 1993, the Michelin-starred eatery was an early acolyte of the farm-to-table movement championed by Alice Waters in the 1970s.
“We’re blessed in the Bay Area, in California, to have some of the best wines in the world, the best produce, the best locally-sourced organic meats,” says General Manager-Partner Lorenzo Bouchard, who was hired as dining room manager when One Market opened. “Back in 1993, there were a lot fewer like us, and we wanted to be one of the restaurants that showcased it.”
At the restaurant’s inception, the area around One Market was a little less desirable. The loss of the Embarcadero Freeway to the 1989 earthquake and the slow development of the BART system meant that traffic to Market Street was stymied, and it wasn’t a dining hotspot: there were only two other restaurants in the vicinity. But that didn’t stop Michael Dellar and chef Bradley Ogden — it was Dellar and Ogden’s second restaurant, following the Lark Creek Inn in Larkspur — from envisioning what it could be.
The celebration of local food is reflected in One Market’s menu, which is almost entirely sourced from nearby producers — with the exception of a few eastern seafoods — and the wine list. Bottles are primarily domestic and highlight a variety of local vintners and flavors. (While the restaurant is still temporarily closed due to COVID-19, you can “raid the cellar” and order discounted wine online.)
Among the restaurant’s many draws is its Chef’s Table experience, where up to seven diners receive a seven-course feast with an education. The chef, line cooks, and sous chefs take guests through the preparation process and introduce various ingredients, showcasing the wealth of local food and the creative ways their flavors can be harnessed. Guests will even get to participate in the cooking: they don chef’s garb to put together one of the dishes.
“It really gets to the nitty-gritty. People just love it,” says Bouchard.
The evening includes a tour of the restaurant where guests can learn about the history of the restaurant and the building.
“It ends in the wine room, where the sommelier [20-year food industry veteran Tonya Pitts] picks the wine and talks about what she’s looking for, and how she pairs. That’s the highlight of the tour and the evening for a lot of people,” says Bouchard.
Though dining may look different as San Francisco restaurants continue to reopen following COVID-19 shut-downs, the Chef’s Table experience likely will not. Sequestered in the back of the kitchen with a small group of people, Bouchard describes it as the most socially distanced table at One Market.
But some things have changed. Situated in the financial district, the neighborhood around One Market emptied out as shutdowns began, and though 5,000 people used to come through the building on a typical day, One Market is now greeted by empty streets. Business travelers had also been frequent diners. For many restaurants who served them, it’s uncertain when they may return. However, perhaps harder than figuring out how to adapt to this loss is facing what closing meant. Staff were laid off. Unemployment became a dire reality.
“They are family, employees who have been with us since 1993,” says Bouchard. “We made ourselves available to assist them with filing for unemployment benefits. That was important to us. We’re anxious to get them back. We stay in touch with them. They mean a lot to us.”
With plans to reopen in the coming weeks, One Market is currently offering delivery and takeout. Every Wednesday through Friday, diners can order a prime rib or a cedar plank-grilled wild king salmon dinner, which both include appetizers, sides and desserts. A different dish each week, in addition to the prime rib and salmon, may soon be added to the to-go menu, Bouchard hints.
One Market is also selling gift cards, as well as wine and caviar online, to help support its staff until the settings are in place, the ovens heated, and the drinks poured once again.