Chef Melissa Perello's new hit spot
The flavors of California are dazzling diners in San Francisco with award-winning Chef Melissa Perello’s new hotspot, Octavia, serving up delightful dishes that represent the bounty of Northern California’s rich agricultural history. The 55-seat neighborhood restaurant, previously occupied by SF greats like Quince, Baker & Banker, and Meetinghouse makes the perfect spot for Perello’s follow up to the wildly successful Frances.
In the early evening, the restaurant is aglow with the bay’s golden light, complementing the gorgeous and understated decor designed by Michael Baushke of Apparatus Architecture with a palette of beiges, charcoals, and eggshell-inspired schemes. Sophisticated with every detail, from the art sculptures by Rebekah Northway of The Petaler to the enviable ceramics used to compliment the dishes by Heath Ceramics, of course. “I didn’t want to recreate the wheel with Octavia. My style is creating quaint neighborhood restaurants, and over the years we have perfected that niche at Frances. Octavia is in many ways an expansion of that,” explains Perello.
After working with chefs like Michael Minna and Ron Siegel, as well as a number of culinary awards in the early 2000s, Perello took a hiatus from the restaurant business in San Francisco and traveled around the world to refocus on food with the goal of opening a restaurant of her own and making her mark in the global food scene. She certainly accomplished that at Frances in 2009, quickly earning a well-deserved Michelin Star. Octavia, from the first bite to the last, tastes like another win for the wonderful team at Perello’s new kitchen.
All of the accolades and praises do not even begin to explain the experience of what it is like to taste the flavors that Perello puts forth in her dishes. I started with the deviled egg, which is not what you would ever expect. The re-invention of the classic is full of texture, vibrance, and a sensational blending of flavors and simplicity. The soft-boiled egg adorned with Fresno Chile Relish, Marash Pepper, and spice, plated oh-so beautifully, just makes one’s mouth water. The first bite is a surprise, with a kick of spice and the warm fresh flavor of egg yolk. One order is hardly enough, because you’ll want that feeling to last forever. How does one concoct such an original take on a classic? For Perello all it takes is inspiration through farmers. “The egg itself inspired me… The eggs we get from Eat Well Farms are consistently amazing–delicious golden yolk—and I have always wanted to create a fixed home for them. This “devil spice” blend was a fun one to concoct and melded great with the eggs as a blanket of spice.”
Another small plate, which is indeed very small but packs all the deliciousness a dish needs, is the chilled squid ink noodles, with cortez bottarga, fennel, and lemon oil. Each strand of noodle is to be savored and yes, you might be tempted to order several, but don’t do it, for the delight of a meal at Octavia lies in all the flavors the kitchen has to offer. Sadly for you, our readers, stone fruit season will be long over when you read this, because you will miss out on what is simply the most delectable duck breast ever plated. Perfectly seasoned and expertly cooked, this dish tops the list! Don’t fret, for we are sure Chef Perello’s ever evolving menu will improve upon each dish with available seasonal fare that will take your hunger away and replace it with adoration. Ever tasted a steak topped with avocados? Probably not! It doesn’t sound like it would be good but, once again, the best ingredients make a dish. Melissa and her fiancé Robert grilled a ribeye with fried potatoes, spice peppers, and avocados one late night after work, and she’s been wanting to find a place for the amazing avocados from Will Brokaw (Amazing Avocado Purveyor) in the menu… and from there the avocados found a place in Octavia’s offerings.
Every dish is a hit and all of the pastas rival the best tasting creations available at many great spots in SF. All that plus a wonderfully-stylish, relaxed atmosphere, coupled with what is probably the most knowledgeable, friendly, and unpretentious staff you’ll find at any of the many critically-acclaimed restaurants in town, and you’ve got the best San Francisco has to offer in every facet of taste and flavor. Needless to say, Perello and her staff have a recipe for success. Octavia’s seasonal menu will keep you wanting more, thanks to her amazing relationships with farmers and vendors and, of course, her magical ability of bringing out flavors using the simplest ingredients.
Comfortable sophistication sums up the place with every dish, every glass of wine, every piece of decor, and the service you’ll have at Octavia. You’ll find yourself dreaming about coming back even before your dining experience is over. Lucky for us who live in SF, we can come back as often as we can afford. Next time, try sitting at the open kitchen’s Chef’s table for an interactive experience. (Available only with the multi-course tasting menu).
My favorite part of Octavia is that it won’t cost you an arm and a leg to experience the brilliance that honors the bounty that is available here in the Bay. I almost forgot to talk about the dessert, which is something you’ll sadly have little room for after indulging in the menu’s tantalizing temptations. Do try to make room, as there’s a nectarine and cream float that is to die for, and an eye-closingly good warm chocolate souffle tart with the most delicious salted caramel ice cream ever churned. Stop reading and plot your reservation.