When Chef Michael Tusk and his wife Lindsay opened Quince in 2003, critics and diners raved about the elegant atmosphere, the flawless service, and, most of all, Tusk’s beautifully executed French-Italian cuisine. While the couple could have stuck with their original concept and continued to attract crowds, they chose a path of evolution and innovation that has earned Quince three Michelin stars and the devotion of San Francisco restaurant-goers.
Quince was first located in the city’s Pacific Heights neighborhood but in 2009 the Tusks moved the restaurant to a larger, even-lovelier space in Jackson Square, bathed in soft light from gorgeous Murano chandeliers. The following year, they opened the more casual Cotogna (“quince,” in Italian) next door, which features rustic Italian fare.
Having two restaurants adjacent to each other called for differentiation, so Chef Tusk—a veteran of Stars restaurant in San Francisco (now closed) as well as Chez Panisse and Oliveto in the East Bay—moved toward a more modern approach at Quince which combines Italian flavor profiles with a refined, French-style dining experience.
Quince’s multi-course tasting menu is a showcase for seasonal ingredients from Northern California, including produce grown in collaboration with Marin County’s Fresh Run Farm. “The inspiration for creating any dish is nature and getting outside,” Tusk says. “I’ll go out and jot down a list of everything that I find to be special in that particular season.”
The nightly changing tasting menu may include delicacies such as canapés topped with caviar, avocado, and Sicilian pistachios; black cod with Monterey Bay squid and saffron; or tortelli pasta with celeriac, artichoke, and black truffle. The meal always ends with an unforgettable selection of tiny pastries and sweets from the mignardises cart.
While Quince is celebrated for its artful presentations and creative use of ingredients, Tusk is careful to avoid unnecessary manipulation. “Flavor is the No. 1 factor, before any of the innovation comes in,” he says. “This has provided a kind of spark for the cuisine that has allowed us to tell more of a story.”
Given its three-Michelin-star status, Quince is deservedly one of San Francisco’s hottest special-occasion tables, so it pays to plan ahead. Reservations can be made up to three months in advance for the Main Dining Room as well as the Salon, which offers a smaller, five-course version of the daily tasting menu.