"Merging modern with the classic and familiar," is how celebrity chef, Elizabeth Faulkner described her style to me when we met to dish on one of San Francisco's most talked-about restaurants ... her very own, Orson.
Is it fate or just circumstance that her new house of food lives on the border of old San Francisco and the ever-so-fresh-SOMA hood? You decide.
Like its next-door neighbor, the Utah Saloon, the Orson building is pushing a century. Faulkner and Sabrina Riddle, Faulkner's life and business partner, made a key design decision, during renovation, to leave its metal guts intact. Huge beams and a dangling crane that seems big enough to pluck the Tran America right out of its foundation serve as evidence that this chic, bi-level eatery was once the scene of a productive industrial business in the 1920s.
The feel is very NYC Meatpacking District. Very cool.
Orson's interior is true to Faulkner's signature style. Murals (painted by Faulkner's father) and sleek couches splashed with colorful throw pillows made me feel so comfy, like I was at a friend's loft apartment but one look at the innovative menu, the 30-seat bar and the massive digital wall showcasing media from Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and I remembered where I was.
Faulker walked out with a big smile to greet me, as I was scoping out each of the differently-styled seating areas, trying to decide which vignette would be best suited for martinis and apps after work.
We sat on a white leather minimalist-style couch that was way softer than it looked and chatted it up about all kinds of stuff.
Faulkner told me about the challenges of opening a new business in this tough economy, how she fell in love with desserts while baking with her mom and grandma ... she told me about her favorite meal of the day (dinner) and about how playing around with various spices from various regions is exciting to her, like "cracking a code."
We talked about pretty much everything that she has on her plate (pun intended) right now. The only thing we didn't discuss is how she manages to hide her go-go-gadget arms under a black T-shirt. I'm sorry, but between Orson, Citizen Cake, her book "Demolition Desserts," and frequent television appearances on "Iron Chef America," "Top Chef," "Sugar Rush," "Tyler's Ultimate," "Rachael Ray" and Martha Stewart Living, there's just no way that Faulkner doesn't have some sort of bionic super power.
I found out about Orson's most popular dishes -- the ones people come back for over and over again ... wood-fired oysters, short ribs with gnudi and the Explosive Caesar Salad which Faulkner described as "highly addictive."
A quick Internet search this morning revealed a whole bunch of Explosive Caesar junkies who all seemed to agree that the Pop Rocks and spicy dressing spheres are to-die-for.
When I asked Faulkner where these wild, edible ideas come from, she replied, "I'm always looking for new things, I'm looking for next year's model."
I'm officially one of the many looking forward to what she'll create next.
Go ahead and scribble Orson on your must-see, must-taste list. It's a hot one.
Also, keep an eye out for the three-course cocktail dinner pairings that change up every month and if you've got a party to plan, there are a ton of options for hosting private events.
You can see Elizabeth Faulkner on Top Chef Masters, airing on Bravo in June.
One more thing ... Faulkner might have mentioned to me something about another book that might be in the works, and it might be about late night food. (wink)