Berber Is SF’s Most Exciting New Dining Destination

A performance at Berber

Photo Credit: Allen Lin

There is no restaurant in San Francisco quite like Berber. Considering that there are over 4,000 restaurants in the city’s seven by seven miles, that’s a pretty lofty declaration. However, after dining at the new hot spot on Saturday night, I can confirm that it’s 100 percent unique. Where else can you enjoy a five-course meal of North African cuisine paired with a robust Palestinian red while watching a live acrobat perform? Nowhere else.

A spread of North African cuisine

Photo Credit: Berber

Berber, which opened last December, is the brainchild of Tony Garnicki and Borhen Hammami. Garnicki’s background is in real estate while Hammami spent years managing restaurants before the duo came together with the vision of creating a new type of dining experience that featured delicious food and a lively performance.

The bar

Photo Credit: Berber

Shows take place on Friday and Saturday nights at 7 p.m. and feature a variety of cirque performers—belly dancers, aerialists, clowns, acrobats, etc. However, unlike a show at Cirque de Soleil, everything takes place on a relatively small stage at the center of a circular dining room. Diners are so close to the act that they could practically be a part of it. It’s not a continuous show, which is nice, the acts are between courses—this ensures that diners have time to focus on the food and one another.

The dining room

Photo Credit: Berber

Garnicki and Hammami understand how seriously San Franciscans take their food, so they tapped chef Nick Balla (formerly of Duna and Bar Tartine) to oversee the creation of the menu. The first course—creamy labneh seasoned with flavorful za’atar comes with soft pillowy kesra semolina bread—sets the pace for what’s to come: a decadent and perfectly executed feast of hearty Moroccan, Algerian, and Tunisian fare.

Tagine

Photo Credit: Berber

Zaalouk smoked eggplant with tahini and pine nuts is so scrumptious that I devoured the entire dish before realizing it was eggplant. Vegetable bestilla with butternut squash and shard is fragrant and filling. With rich melt-in-your-mouth lamb and winter veggies with warm spices, the tagine is to die for. Dessert, which can often be an afterthought, is the icing on the cake: an assortment of tasty treats including sticky baklava, pistachio ice cream, and chocolate olive oil cake.

Another view of the bar

Photo Credit: Berber

I highly recommend the wine pairings—it’s a great way to sample lesser-known varietals from far away regions. Berber has an impressive list that includes local favorites like Flowers Chardonnay but also has old world French and Italian labels along with a few oddballs—like a red from Tunisia—thrown in for good measure.

A performance at Berber

Photo Credit: Allen Lin

Berbers are the indigenous people native to North Africa, and Garnicki and Hammami commissioned real Berber artisans to craft the textiles and fixtures featured throughout the restaurant’s decor. The color palette brings to mind sandy desserts, and there is a tantalizing exotic atmosphere that permeates from the space—proving that Berber indeed is a unique dining destination. 

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