It was big news in the haute cuisine scene when it was announced that Chef Rogelio Garcia was taking over the kitchen at top spot Luce. It was a very rare instance of a Latino chef being tapped to run a lauded restaurant, working his way up from dishwasher after he came here from his native Mexico. He came up under superstar chefs Traci Des Jardins, Michael Mina, and Thomas Keller, so he was a perfect choice to helm the restaurant—located in the the InterContinental San Francisco—which Dominique Crenn launched in 2010, and which maintained a Michelin star rating for the next 10 years under Daniel Corey.
That’s an extra-stellar resume and restaurant provenance. Garcia found himself immediately navigating some choppy waters, however, as the restaurant was closed for both the pandemic and then a drawn-out remodel. Now Luce is back, tremendously, from the looks and taste of things. I was invited to cruise though the epic nine course chef’s tasting menu with wine pairings, a four-hour journey on the rainiest night of the year. Since it happened to also be our anniversary, I took my Hunky Beau along for some apocalyptic-weather romance.
There’s some awesome food porn in the slideshow above, but here are some notes. The food was excellently done with no hint of pretentiousness or overreach—Chef Rogelio even came out and shaved the truffles himself. (OK, that was a bit precious). I was truly surprised by the wine selection: Luce is billed as a “wine restaurant,” which steels you for some deep and wild global cuts, but what you get are extraordinarily simple, even familiar wines from within 100 miles. That allowed the dishes to shine brighter, while grounding the experience, thoughtfully, in the here and now. Other simple, homey gestures included use of ingredients like pearl onions, buckwheat, and Calrose rice, which also kept the plates relatable.
Speaking of plates, the dishware was a real show-stopper here, with stunning pottery from the chef’s personal collection giving each presentation a hip showcase vibe. I asked where he sourced it, but he was giving up no secrets that night. The restaurant remodel itself, handsomely wooded and casually lit, plays with the international hotel vibe while not feeling too commercial. You don’t have to splurge on the whole tasting menu, and there’s a sweet cocktail bar right outside the restaurant as well if you want to check everything out.