The Blue Mermaid Restaurant manages to cut through the proverbial, faceless fray of SF’s foremost tourist-centric area with an unforgettable tasting menu.
Sentences that include “Fisherman’s Wharf” inevitably conjure up images of selfie-stick-wielding tourists and San Francisco’s only In-and-Out. The neighborhood — a cornerstone of the metro’s guise as a destination city, rich with Golden Gate Bridge knick-knacks and family-friendly activities — perpetually vyes to become a common destination amongst San Franciscans.
(Francisco Park, which debuted last year with breathtaking views of the Bay and surrounding cityscape, has lured people to walk two blocks down from its 4.5-acre summit, putting them in the seasonal bustle of Fisherman’s Wharf.)
Restaurants around the waterfront area either dissolve into mediocrity, disappearing into the cultural zeitgeist in a cloud of ambivalence, or cement themselves as stable institutions that can weather a global pandemic. (Case in point: Buena Vista Cafe.)
At the Blue Mermaid Restaurant, located inside the magnetic, storied Argonaut Hotel, echoes of that aforesaid iconoclasm reverberates off the restored building’s lovingly imperfect brick mortar interior. Especially now after the eatery’s resident Chef Amod Singh introduced his new Indian-influenced California, which features a tasting menu fit for a waterside splurge.
Moreover: It’s a multi-course meal that will actually leave you satiated and not, say, meander over to a nearby fast-food joint for a burger.
Seated at the 495 Jefferson Street eatery is to take a stationary journey through San Francisco history. Built in 1907, various parts of the Haslett Warehouse have since been remodeled to fit the Argonaut Hotel and its on-site restaurant, the Blue Mermaid. Beams, darkened by over a century of passing sands, line the impossibly high ceiling; they sit above a gorgeous bar and expansive seating section; if you’re fortunate enough, your table might saddle brick walls that exude the building’s Gold Rush-era elucidated chronology.
On a cool summer evening earlier this month, I found myself relishing in such serendipity when I was invited to taste the six-course tasting menu crafted by Singh — a longtime San Francisco resident whose relationship with local producers spans the gamut of culinary excellence.
Fitting with the summertime weather outside (that mind you, is chillier than usual this year), a cold soup, pedestalling beets and quinoa, offered a vivid splash of color to the otherwise beige tablescape. Its color palette, punctuated by verdant microgreens, proved to be a foreshadowing of the bright tastes that washed over my tongue.
But as tasteful as the pleasantly viscous soup was, it paled in comparison to the second course — aptly called the “flavor bomb.”
Now well over a week removed from that dinner, I still find myself thinking about the dish. How it included citrus balanced out fatty curried yogurt; the way puffed wheat spheres gave way to the ceviche emulsion; in a dazzling display of taste and craft, I scrapped the bowl virtually clean without apology.
A tasting menu alongside Fisherman’s Wharf wouldn’t be complete without well-seared proteins and sweet seafood. The Blue Mermaid’s butter-poached Maine lobster — an entree that’s vulnerable to banality — was made unforgettable by the addition of a coconut jus. Pan-seared branzino was illuminated by a Meyer lemon sauce; locally scoured micro-greens made a more prominent appearance in the raised chicken breast, perfumed by a saffron and pepper glaze.
Dessert came the way of a celebration of mango, a silky gelato paired with a buttery filo and mousse. I, too, took this opportunity to try the second dessert — a chocolate cremeux, featuring a spice sabayon — and sip one last hand-crafted cocktail.
After the better part of two hours, the passing of time exemplified by the setting sun out the tall window to my right, a welcomingly strange feeling came over me: I was full, well satiated. Oftentimes, tasting menus at upscale eateries revel in craft and artisanship at the cost of portion sizes. (I vividly remember one hours-long tasting menu that ended with me immediately driving through McDonald’s, because I contain multitudes.)
As I left the restaurant, passing through the long, snaking seating area that puts you in the way of historically-soaked beauty, my objective disdain toward Fisherman’s Wharf washed away in a rip tide of pleasure. To enjoy such a memorable, delightful meal at the Bluer Mermaid now makes me want to come back and open my eyes a bit more to what the neighborhood has to offer in yet-explored corners.
Sans selfie sticks, mind you.
// The Blue Mermaid Restaurant is located at 471 Jefferson Street and is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Sunday; there’s a happy hour from 3:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Monday through Thursday at Blue Mermaid; for more information on the eatery, including how to make a reservation, visit argonauthotel.com/fishermans-wharf-restaurants.
Feature image: The “Flavor Bomb” at Blue Mermaid (Photo: Courtesy of Blue Mermaid)