California is a breadbasket for much of the country, growing a bounty of the most delicious vegetables in the world. There’s a second bounty along the 800 miles of coastline, a cache of fresh seafood that’s exponentially more sustainable than beef.
San Francisco has dozens of fantastic places to eat seafood, ranging from divey oyster counters to omakase sushi experiences. Located in the heart of the Mission, Ancora’s certainly closer to the latter, an upscale restaurant with a special occasion atmosphere. What sets it apart from its peers is that the restaurant is a direct partnership between a chef and seafood purveyor, ensuring that there may literally be no fresher fish being served in the city.
When Delfina’s Roman offshoot Locanda closed in March of 2020, local seafood supplier Water2Table began running a meal delivery service out of the kitchen. That eventually led them to turn the space into a proper restaurant, Ancora, which translates to anchor in Italian. Ancora pairs Water2Table’s bounty from the Bay with the fine dining pedigree of its chef, Nick Anichini, who spent five years in the chef de cuisine position at Atelier Crenn, the three Michelin-starred San Francisco institution helmed by chef Dominique Crenn.
Plenty of San Francisco restaurants cut out the middle man in order to more effectively support local farms, but it’s rare for a purveyor to actually become a co-owner.
Since it was launched in 2011, Water2Table has supplied many of the best restaurants in the city, including recent Edition favorite Anchovy Bar, but this is the first time they’re true partners in a restaurant. That means chef Anichini has an unparalleled level of access to W2T’s catch, which arrives daily at Pier 45 in San Francisco.
Some of Water2Table’s catch on display at Ancora include halibut caught along the Marin Coast, black cod from the deep waters of the California coast (a particularly sustainable fish, given that 50% of their yield makes it into a fillet), and California yellowtail caught by a fisherman near the Channel Islands.
Ancora offers two styles of dining: a la carte and a $125 prix fixe menu, comprised of canape, Crudo, roe, and grand grill courses, as well as an amuse and dessert. On my visit, I chose a la carte, with guidance from an attentive server with an attitude that felt just a bit too formal for the late Monday night dinner.
I started with an order of the SF Anchovy ($14), served atop pan con tomate, an example of Ancora’s Spanish influence. The pure saltiness of the anchovy — one of the most sustainable fish in the sea — cut through the sweet acidity of the tomato-drenched bread. Served in four bites, it’s best shared with the table, as is the case for most everything on the menu.
Next came the Celery Caesar ($19) topped with more of those local anchovies and shavings of Parmesan-Reggiano. The thick coat of dressing enveloped each bite of crisp celery. The portion was massive, making the salad a nice addition to the meal, especially given that many of the other dishes are on the smaller side. The Grilled Oyster ($5 each) was served sizzling hot, topped with rich harissa butter and perfectly toasted breadcrumbs. Despite just being one oyster, it felt like a hearty course, and the complex flavor of the harissa gave the bite a long and enjoyable tail.
The Planktok Tagliolini (29), which has also appeared on the prix fixe menu, was topped with white sturgeon caviar, a leek fondue, and orange crinkles of bottarga roe. This course was an umami bomb, a thin ribbon pasta dish that matched an earthy sauce with the sharp roe flavors. The Littleneck Clams ($24) served with chorizo and piquillo peppers called back to the anchovy dish, invoking a similar Spanish flavor profile. Although the broth was excellent, the taste of the clams got a little lost.
Overall it was a fantastic meal, albeit one that felt accompanied by more fine dining pomp and circumstance than necessary, and not a fantastic value. Most of the dishes that I tried all felt maximalist, with sauces often stealing attention from the fish, although next time, I’ll be sure to try the presumably subtler SF Halibut Crudo.
Ancora is open every day of the week from 5:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., making it an excellent option for a later weekday special occasion meal. A small number of tables are saved for walk-ins, and bar seating is available, but reservations are recommended.
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