San Francisco is in the midst of a class war, and there is perhaps a restaurant no more emblematic of the city’s current state of turmoil than Alta CA. Situated in Mid-Market, New Market, or whatever the latest branding is that has been given to this corridor, it is an area that is in a state of becoming. As such, the grit and grime that is still part of the identity of the neighborhood seem at odds with the high-end pedigree of Alta CA.
In truth, this neighborhood watering hole wasn’t built for the community that is there today, but the one that it hopes will be there in the coming months and years. Within this area in transition along Market Street, there is a sense from businesses that if we build it they will come. And come they have.
Nightly, people flock to Alta to experience Daniel Patterson’s latest concept. In an attempt to not seem overwrought for the neighborhood, the restaurant has gone for a minimalist design and understated elegance. The main focal point is the V-shaped bar that extends through the center of the space. Towering in the background is metal scaffolding that acts as shelves. Even in its effort at casual, it feels anything but.
Despite the pretensions, I like the food and drinks at Alta CA. The cocktail menu is whimsical, and I am particularly partial to the Curious George, which is made with whiskey, dill, lemon and smoked egg whites. At prices ranging from $12-14, you won’t be as tempted to order more than one, which might help keep you on the straight and narrow.
The food can be classified as upscale casual dining, and hits its stride with dishes like the beef tendon puffs. Alta’s take on chicharrones bring a strong umami effect, and their intense beef flavor combined with vinegar lingers on your taste buds even after the crispy puff has dissolved. Another highlight is the playful execution of fritters, which alternate between fried chickpea and oxtail and are served atop of red onions and artichokes. If you are really hungry or sharing with a friend then the dill pickled eggs with crunchy chips on top are a safe bet.
Alta is part of the coming of age of Mid-Market, and right now it is straddling two worlds – the one it currently resides in and the refined world it wants to live in. Restaurants cannot solve the city’s problems, but they might deepen the divisions that exist.
There is no doubt that Alta is a good restaurant and businesses like it will help contribute to Mid-Market’s revitalization. But within this deeply fractured city, what we also need is community. Dining at Alta comes with no small price tag, which seems out of touch with the area and make it yet another place that is only accessible to some.
Visit Alta CA at 1420 Market St., San Francisco