Top of the Mark San Francisco rises above the lounge scene
When you walk into the Top of the Mark lounge on the 19th floor of the InterContinental Mark Hopkins hotel, the menu may not be top of mind. The floor-to-ceiling windows lure you to witness San Francisco from the Bay Bridge to the Golden Gate, Nob Hill to the Embarcadero, a dramatic, 360-degree glimpse of the city.
Top of the Mark is a destination urban bar and lounge. Since the pandemic re-opening in late spring 2021, the food and drink options are full of delicious surprises including exceptional pairings.
Consider the revamped food menu. You can order out-of-this-world, anise and apricot glazed short rib sliders, beetroot hummus, and crudités, or a simple warm pretzel with gourmet cheese sauce. These plates are shareable and crave-able.
But check out the menu’s sparkling star: Champagne and caviar pairing for $155. A special meal for two or a snack for more, a choice of caviar is presented at the heart of the platter encircled by eight perfect blinis, crème Fraiche, capers, chopped onions, egg white, smoked salmon, egg yolk, and chives.
After gawking at the setting sun views, I arrived at my table, both hungry and curious about the menu. Though I planned to sample several items on the menu, I did justice to the caviar paired with Moët & Chandon rosé. At the pairing I experienced, The Caviar Co. sustainably farmed Kaluga hybrid sturgeon was smooth and exotic, and the large, silky pearls were not overly salted. Astrea Kaluga Hybrid caviar is also available on the menu. All the accompaniments around the starring fish roe were fresh and additive to the overall gustatory experience.
I must confess that the server recommended piling the caviar et. al. on the house-made, ranch potato chips with the goods. and I immediately loaded the chip. A divine reincarnation of the classic caviar and blini tradition.
The tuna tataki tacos were also a revelation. The taco base is a fried wonton shell. The crispy, crunchy wonton contrasted beautifully with the fresh, raw tuna swirled with sriracha aioli, cilantro, and red pepper. The trio of tuna tataki tacos is a generous portion. I promised myself to forgo hard corn tacos and seek wonton shells like these.
During a pause between courses, I eyed the signature cocktail list which included The InterContinental 75, a local style of the classic French 75 with The Botanist Islay dry gin, lemon juice, house-made lavender honey, bee pollen, and Piper-Heidsieck champagne. The list also features Hanson of Sonoma signature vodka cocktails. The Hopkins Kickin’ Rita with the Hanson Organic Habanero vodka, lime juice, agave with a salt rim of Joel Gott Cabernet Salt caught my attention.
I wished that I had booked a room at the InterContinental Mark Hopkins and could thereby try out the cocktails or the wines on the well-curated list.
Originally opened as the Mark Hopkins, the Top of the Mark has delighted locals, tourists, and business guests for 82 years. In 1939, then-owner George D. Smith renovated the Mark Hopkins penthouse suite into the Top of the Mark lounge. Long regarded as a San Francisco must-see venue, traditions endure. During World War II, servicemen visited the lounge before departure for the Pacific and bought a bottle and left it with the bartender for the next person in his squadron to enjoy a “Squadron Shot”—as long as they bought another bottle if the current one went dry. Veterans and servicepersons with an ID continue the tradition.
I also honored my history while waiting for my next course at the Top of the Mark. On my first visit to San Francisco, a special friend and I shared memorable views, cocktails, and snacks. But I know that anise and apricot short rib sliders cilantro jalapeño slaw and garlic aioli were not on the menu, or I would have remembered them. At $26, the sliders were the most expensive item on the menu besides the caviar.
By this point in my meal, I recognized that Executive Chef Brian Sepulveda was well-prepared to run a 380-room hotel culinary program. With his team of 51 cooks and stewards, Sepulveda oversees Top of the Mark, the farm-to-table restaurant Nob Hill Club and numerous catering and banquet services.
While I enjoyed the fork-tender sliders spiced up with the slaw, I noticed several tables munching on pretzels. So I tried them, too, taking the majority home after one delicious dip into the warm, Drakes IPA-infused whole grain mustard cheese sauce. As a side plate, I ordered the beetroot hummus with lavash chip and crudité vegetables. The fresh, creamy hummus was accompanied by the most delicious, fried rosemary-inflected lavash sticks and crunchy crudité selection.
I walked around the room again to admire the city lights as the sky darkened, and then dessert beckoned. The crème brulée cheesecake with Grand Marnier spoke blueberries and gianduja shortbread with dried stone fruit came highly recommended—but I decided to try them next time.
This stoic response was triggered by my earlier glance at the dessert menu which highlighted the “Tableside Experience of Hanson Vodka and Chocolate Pairing.” You can choose pairings of Hanson of Sonoma vodka expressions with Kollar chocolate truffles made with the vodka. I sampled the Hanson Habanero with the spiked chocolate and Hanson Meyer Lemon with a lemony truffle. Both pairings were balanced and avoided being overly spiced or overly sweet.
The Intercontinental Mark Hopkins hotel atop Nob Hill is a festive experience year-round and especially during the holidays. After another special Top of the Mark experience, I reluctantly left to catch the train to take home.
Featured photo: Top of the Mark Champagne and caviar with view Credit-Deborah Grossman