Eating Out

Affordable Indulgence at Michelin-starred Marlena in Bernal Heights, San Francisco

I revisited Marlena recently to celebrate the birthday of a dear friend. Coincidentally, the last time I dined at Marlena back in 2021 was also for a birthday. That fall of 2021, Marlena had just received their first Michelin star – no small feat, given that they were only open for a year and established during the pandemic.

Led by the experienced husband-and-wife team of chef David Fisher (former CdC at Bird Dog, Sorrel) and pastry chef Serena Chow Fisher (Eleven Madison Park, Bird Dog, Backhaus), this Bernal Heights spot has been highly adaptable to the times, starting with takeout picnic boxes and outdoor-only dining. They even did a “summer camp” pop-up at Hotel Zeppelin while undergoing renovations.

Throughout the changes, their vision of affordable and upscale prix fixe dining has remained consistent. In my three visits, the price of the four-course menu has remained shockingly reasonable for San Francisco – $55, $65, and now $75. The concise menu has two options for each course, with optional supplements for the table.

Marlena features seasonal, California cuisine that highlights vegetables, pasta, and seafood. On my last visit, we did find the starters to be forgettable, but the mains and supplements were a hit among the table. The grilled sakura pork collar was satisfyingly succulent, and a tender roasted lamb loin was accompanied by morels and black garlic sauce. The spaghettoni featured creamy little neck clam beurre blanc and a generous amount of osetra caviar and trout roe.

Pastry chef Serena’s soft milk bread with cultured butter is a must add. And her creative desserts are a joy to experience! I was enamored with a shiso mint chocolate chip ice cream, which should be a staple flavor found in grocery stores. And a rhubarb funfetti cake and brown butter ice cream situation was icing on the cake (couldn’t resist this cliché!). 

Service was great all around as well. And while I selfishly want to see Marlena remain at a rare sub-$100* price point for upscale dining in SF, I do hope the team will expand their vision and perhaps offer longer tasting menus in the future!

*Other prix fixe options that come to mind are Mijoté, Ernest, Commis Bar, and Turntable (occasionally under $100)

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