I am always a little wary when someone tells me to “order the chicken.” I mean really, who makes plans for a meal out only to eat the most humble and ordinary of birds? One which I believe is best prepared in the kitchens of mom-cooks everywhere. But as a ‘Frisco establishment (it’s been around since the 70s), we felt that we should at least give Zuni Cafe (and it’s famed roast chicken) a try. 

And Oh LORDIE was it ever a good decision. A big thank you to J who pointed me in the direction of this beeeoootiful sun-washed space, filled with good people and greater food.

First up, I am such a fan of the decor. If I ever have the pleasure of owning my own restaurant, I hope it looks just like this! It’s all warm and wood, and bright and light, the copper accents add a rustic feel, and the service is first class. Floor-to-(2-story high)-ceiling windows let in a lot of light, which is great for food photography and makes everything that lands on the table look incredible (the first sighting of a salad had me salivating as it waltzed by in a waiter’s hands). You’re greeted by the hostess and a view of the long bar that runs the length of the first room: They’ve got an excellent selection of drinks, get one, and if you do, may I suggest the St. Germain & champagne cocktail?

It’s made up of all my favourite things: gin, elderflower liquor, champagne and a splash of lemon juice. It’s refreshing, zesty, and bright, this is the holy grail of champagne cocktails for me and I can’t wait to make it at my next house party (if I can secure some liquor).

Next up, order the oysters, I beseech thee. The list is extensive, they are very fresh, they are very very delicious, and they come from all along the Pacific coast. If you’ve never had an oyster tasting, Zuni’s actually a great place to try it out because their staff actually know what they’re talking about (vs. the crap waitstaff normally try to pull when you ask them to recommend an oyster). Trust them when they say it’s sweet/salty/refreshing/crisp/
creamy/meaty/mineral. Between us, we had the Effingham inlets, Marin miyagis, Sand isle kumamotos, Hog island atlantics, Chelsea gems and Drake’s bays; and we could taste the distinct differences in each oyster, based on where it was from! Having eaten oysters for years and never truly appreciated the differences, this was a refreshing change. I also have a theory, and I would like for someone to tell me if its true or not, but little oysters tend to pack more of a flavour punch yes? The flavours get lost in the big meaty ones? Yay? Nay?

Oh, backtrack a wee bit, before you order the oysters, in fact, before you’re even seated, please let the hostess know you’ll be having the roast chicken! It takes an hour to prepare but let me assure you, it’s well worth the wait. Though to be honest you won’t even realize you’re waiting as there will be lots of delicious distractions to keep you occupied.

Okay so now, the chicken. Let me start with this, I have decently high standards for roasted poultry and I consider myself quite the accomplished roaster of birds – my annual thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys are well loved by all, and I’ve got my roast chicken recipe down and dusted. So as you can imagine, I view the humble chicken as neither a challenge nor a particularly interesting item on a menu. I would never order roast chicken in a restaurant because it’s like, been there done that, can’t you entice me with something more sophisticated?

Well, I was wrong. I ate humble pie in the form of magnificent chicken that day.

This chicken of theirs, it’s really splendid. It’s juicy, it’s plump, it’s crisp, it’s jam packed with flavour and there’s not a dry piece of white meat in sight. The skin is a beautiful warm mahogany colour and lightly crisp, the meat is tender and every bite has your tastebuds singing hallelujah. Still not convinced?

Let’s put it this way, you never eat chicken for the meat, it’s always all about the skin. You’ll never find someone raving about how good the chicken meat is, in fact, chicken without the skin is boring, healthy food. Not so at Zuni. At Zuni, even the meat of the chicken has praises sung about it, and the skin? The skin probably has entire anthologies waxing lyrical about it’s amazingness.

What I’m trying to say is this: it’s a damn good chicken.

Zuni Cafe
1658 Market Street
between Page St & 12th St
(415) 552-2522

Reservations via OpenTable