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Postcard From Tom: San Francisco

Sunday, March 5, 2006

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema's monthly report from the road.

Season in and season out, San Francisco reigns as this food lover's favorite domestic dining destination. These three young restaurants help explain why.

AME (689 Mission St., 415-284-4040)

Chef Hiro Sono of the celebrated Terra in Napa Valley continues his fine work in the city with an East-meets-West menu in the St. Regis Hotel. From the sashimi bar stream such pleasures as a salad of sea urchin, quail egg and cuttlefish sliced to look like noodles. And from the semi-open kitchen come a fricasee of oysters and mushrooms in a delicate buerre blanc; silken black cod paired with shrimp dumplings; and risotto glammed up with eel and foie gras. The package -- chocolate-colored walls, mesquite floors, sheer curtains -- proves every bit as sensual as the cooking. Entrees $19.50-$34.

HOG ISLAND OYSTER CO. (One Ferry Building Plaza, 415-391- 7117)

Freshly-harvested oysters from mostly local waters are the reason to visit, and you can ask for the bivalves raw, baked or served in a glorious stew, rich with butter and sweet with oyster liquor. But the charms of this gleaming seafood joint with a U-shaped raw bar extend to more than well-tended food. A view of boats on the bay and choice wines turn lunch or dinner into a memorable indoor picnic on the waterfront. Entrees $11-$15.

RANGE (842 Valencia St., 415-282-8283)

A cocoon of comfort in the Mission District, Range takes ingredients we love and puts them in scrumptious situations. Pears team with celery root and feta cheese, dewy slices of raw scallop get a kick from tangerine broth, roast chicken is brightened with a lemon vinaigrette and dates meet up with walnuts in a fine tart. Prime perches in this sleek-yet-rustic hot spot: near the convivial bar up front, or at a banquette in the wood-beamed rear. Entrees $16-$20.

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