Marlena, the Bernal Heights restaurant that won over Michelin inspectors after making a mid-pandemic debut in the summer of 2020, has just reopened after closing earlier this year for a remodel.
It was early April when the husband-and-wife chef team of David Fisher and Serena Chow Fisher made the surprising decision to close their not-quite-two-year-old restaurant temporarily for a remodel. They then popped up over the summer at the Hotel Zeppelin, doing a summer camp-themed pop-up that took the place of the seemingly defunct Rambler restaurant.
And now, as planned, they have returned to their remodeled, original digs at 300 Precita Avenue — a space that some may remember from its days as Hillside Supper Club. The Fishers, who previously worked in fine dining in New York (David at Pearl & Ash, and Serena at Eleven Madison Park), moved in and opened Marlena at the height of the early pandemic, starting with takeout-only picnic boxes and then doing a $49 prix fixe for Bernal denizens in their two parklets, which later became a $65, four-course menu — still a steal in SF by any stretch.
After only getting to do one, lone day of indoor service in November 2020 before the next lockdown arrived, the Fishers regrouped in 2021, earned a Michelin star and a special "New Discovery" distinction, and became what Eater deemed last fall a "rare new restaurant success story." (Serena also was named “Pastry Chef of the Year" by Esquire.)
Now, as of Monday night, Marlena has reopened, after the couple was finally able to transform "the interior of the restaurant into a more compelling backdrop for their culinary vision," according to a release.
"Our objective was to create an environment that would melt away, allowing the diner’s focus to fall naturally on the food,” says M. Chad Kellogg of design studio AMLGM, which handled the remodel.
The design includes curved vertical elements, such as casework and shelves, that were fabricated by Emeryville design studio Skiff, as well as saturated cool tones and plant accents.
"We always wanted our guests to feel like they were stepping into our home when they dined with us at Marlena," adds Serena Chow Fisher. "The redesign is meant to keep that essential warmth and welcome, while also providing a backdrop that is more in line with the type of food we serve."
The restaurant returns with its $65 prix fixe, and highlights will include a hamachi crudo garnished with apple vinegar, green peppercorns, and sour gherkins; raviolini with smoked rosa bianca eggplant, Early Girl tomatoes, and baby leeks; grilled beef cheeks with beef sausage, honey nut squash, and broccoli di ciccio; and a kabocha squash “cheesecake” for dessert, with a chocolate shortbread crust, dark chocolate cremeux, and candied pepitas.
There is also now a new selection of supplements dubbed "snax," inspired by some of the picnic items they made when the restaurant first launched two years ago. These include a "fig newton" made with duck liver mousse, osetra caviar croustade, and a feuille de brick with mushroom duxelles; and an aged Liberty duck breast with local honey lacquer, legumes, and sunchokes.
The parklets remain, giving the restaurant 34 seats indoors and another two dozen outdoors. And Marlena will be open seven days a week for dinner, starting today. The hours are Sunday to Thursday from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m., and Friday to Saturday from 5:00 to 10:00 p.m.