San Francisco is a melting pot of global cuisine, but authentic Greek restaurants have always been rare here. Estiatorio Ornos, a Michael Mina eatery at 252 California Street, now fills that niche, and it’s the next iteration for the iconic space of Minas ’restaurant group, which formerly housed Aqua, where Mina began, and later his with a Michelin -Star award-winning namesake restaurant, which was officially closed in August. The new restaurant opened over the weekend and also helps introduce San Francisco to the work of a “fish sommelier”.
Named after Ornos Beach, a small crescent-shaped beach along the Greek coast, the restaurant with 76 seats offers an unmistakably Mediterranean atmosphere. The decor plays gently with warm white and pastel accents, especially in and around the 12-seater bar; modern restaurant tropes give way to rounded lines and maximalistic decor; large open windows are veiled by high, flowing curtains – this underlines the beach atmosphere that evokes the menu at Estiatorio Ornos.
The restaurant’s evening menu may feel unnecessarily long when leafing through. As I looked at the more than three dozen listings I got dizzy with the number of choices available. Nonetheless, the references to glorious white fish (served with a caviar sauce) and roasted lemon chicken provided the energy needed to move forward.
And so I did, and sat down on a king salmon fillet poached in olive oil ($ 39) saddled by a pillow of couscous; I really wanted to take advantage of the fish market selection that is flown in daily from the Mediterranean and elsewhere. This is where the aforementioned fish sommeliers come in – they scour local and national resources to source phenomenal fish and shellfish for guests. You can even go so far as to ask them for recommendations and details about the exact fish on the menu, including their origin, ecological footprint, taste profile, etc.
Chef Mina designed the Estiatorio Ornos as “slices of the Greek island here in San Francisco”, which I found layered with elegance in my perfectly fried salmon fillet. My chosen cocktail, a Fragosyko – made from fermented cactus pear, plum, cucumber, basil, honeydew, borage, thyme, lime, blanc de Chambery – offered a light, sweet break from the umami-forward fish.
The Estiatorio Ornos also serves a range of raw food products (think upscale caviar, sea urchins, oysters, etc.), a variety of fresh starters, and a few Greek side dishes that focus on seasonal vegetables.
After drinking every milliliter of my $ 16 cocktail – a price that’s getting all too common in town – and scraping my laugh plate clean, I felt a bit transported to a sun-drenched Aegean island.
And we all could use any kind of vacation feeling we can muster these days, so it will do.
// Estiatorio Ornos (252 California Street) is open Wednesday through Sunday from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. There is currently no takeaway menu available. A vaccination card and face mask are required indoors. Reservations can be made either online or by calling (415) 417-3969.