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Monterey to San Francisco


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L& I are going to be travelling from Southern Ontario to the Monterey Penninsula and San Francisco for 10 days at the end of September and I'm hoping to refine our eating itinerary with your help. As you will see, our existing plans are already heavily influenced by my reading on this board.

We're stationed in Moss Landing for the first several days. I've made a dinner reservation at Passionfish in Pacific Grove and we're thinking about the Moss Landing Cafe and Sea Harvest for more casual and convenient eats. Can anyone tell me what sand dabs are like?

Tuesday is Manresa and we'll stay in Los Gatos. I figure that we'll be too stuffed to consider travelling any distance.

In the city Aziza, Zuni and, of course, Chez Panisse are on the list. Does anyone have comments on the Cafe vs the Dining Room at Chez Panisse?

I've set Saturday morning aside for the market - I'm planning to buy a whole bunch of Rancho Gordo's beans to pack home with me.

TIA

Kathy

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Can anyone tell me what sand dabs are like?

Sorry that I can't be of much help with the recommendations, but I can fill you in on sand dabs.

They are, simply, the most wonderful fish there is, at least IMO. They are a small, flat fish, and best prepared simply floured and sauteed. Delicate, sweet, wonderful when they are pristinely fresh and simply prepared. Probably the closest comparison I can make is to really good, fresh sole fillets, although I think dabs are much superior.

If you can find them, have them. :wub:

--Roberta--

"Let's slip out of these wet clothes, and into a dry Martini" - Robert Benchley

Pierogi's eG Foodblog

My *outside* blog, "A Pound Of Yeast"

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Where are you dining in San Francisco?

Some recs there:

Boulevard, Incanto, A16, Slanted Door, Postrio, Fifth Floor, Fleur De Lys

"A man's got to believe in something...I believe I'll have another drink." -W.C. Fields

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Where are you dining in San Francisco?

Some recs there:

Boulevard, Incanto, A16, Slanted Door, Postrio, Fifth Floor, Fleur De Lys

I keep getting beat up on Chowhound as I am one of the Boulevard detractors, having eaten there half-a-dozen times, I have yet to be blown away. Fifth Floor is sketchy as they lost their chef some time ago and no one has provided any exceptional reports for some time (also, the hotel and restaurant are currently up for sale).

My current favorites:

Myth

Incanto

Aziza

Campton Place

Ame

Bix

For Sand Dabs, however, Tadish Grill is a MUST - it is the oldest restaurant in San Francisco and an absolute institution. I think some of the waiters have worked there 80+ years. It is along the lines of Original Joe's and Swan Oyster Bar for history.

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Where are you dining in San Francisco?

Some recs there:

Boulevard, Incanto, A16, Slanted Door, Postrio, Fifth Floor, Fleur De Lys

I keep getting beat up on Chowhound as I am one of the Boulevard detractors, having eaten there half-a-dozen times, I have yet to be blown away. Fifth Floor is sketchy as they lost their chef some time ago and no one has provided any exceptional reports for some time (also, the hotel and restaurant are currently up for sale).

My current favorites:

Myth

Incanto

Aziza

Campton Place

Ame

Bix

For Sand Dabs, however, Tadish Grill is a MUST - it is the oldest restaurant in San Francisco and an absolute institution. I think some of the waiters have worked there 80+ years. It is along the lines of Original Joe's and Swan Oyster Bar for history.

Interesting. Well I would say Boulevard is nothing revolutionary but overall the one meal there I had I found to be very delicious.

I also meant to suggest Myth, rather than Fifth Floor, my mistake. I had a great meal there.

Didn't someone on this board recently review FF?

Michael Mina is generally considered to be one of the city's top tables but if I recall correctly no one on here thought it was anything special. I have not eaten there but at Michael Mina's restaurant in Orange County, which I found to be excellent.

I am also a fan of Townhall, Rex Cafe, and Yuet Lee.

The Ferry Building is a must do as well.

"A man's got to believe in something...I believe I'll have another drink." -W.C. Fields

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Michael Mina is generally considered to be one of the city's top tables but if I recall correctly no one on here thought it was anything special.  I have not eaten there but at Michael Mina's restaurant in Orange County, which I found to be excellent.

I have not been to the Mina property in San Francisco, but based on my Orange County experience, am in no rush as I was underwhelmed to the point of regretful.

Edited by Carolyn Tillie (log)
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Thanks, everyone, for the replies so far.

Carolyn - it's acutually your mini-blog that put me on to Aziza. It doesn't sound like anything that we'd be able to experience elsewhere. I've been following your food adventures with much interest (and envy). It sounds like SF has endless possibilities for the food obsessed.

Zuni is on our list for late lunch/early dinner on our first day in the city after Manresa - I thought that we'd need some simpler food after Los Gatos. Alas, we are no longer up to consecutive tasting menus from either a digestive or budgetary point of view. Or would Tadish Grill fall into that category?- good food, simply prepared.

It's hard for me to imagine missing Chez Panisse if we're in the vicinity - it's as much a pilgrimmage as anything else. I'm leaning towards the Cafe as it's a bit more casual in nature.

I'm curious, too, to know if anyone who has eaten at Manresa has also eaten at Eleven Madison Park. We were fortunate enough to eat there earlier this summer and Daniel Humm's cuisine seemed quite "west coast" to us. It was a wonderful dining experience in every way. We'll be thrilled if Manresa can deliver a like experience.

Incanto and Ame also tempt, but it's a case of too many meals, too little time - unless someone can convince me to skip one of the choices above.

I've got the whole of Saturday morning set aside for the Ferry Market and I intend to arrive pre 9am - is there any point in arriving earlier? Poor L. does have to attend at least some of his conference (our excuse for the trip in the first place) so will miss out. I might bring him back a few treats, though.

Cheers,

Kathy

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... Aziza, Zuni and, of course, Chez Panisse are on the list. Does anyone have comments on the Cafe vs the Dining Room at Chez Panisse?

General background on Panisse. Some of this used to be common knowledge locally but has been been diluted by newer residents and newcomer journalists posting on the subject. (I was around when the place opened in 1971, knew senior people there, recently reviewed details with a very authoritative source.)

- Restaurant (downstairs, and older) and Café (upstairs, originally a coffee lounge and some occasional private rooms) are almost independent businesses. Separate personnel and decisions, sharing mainly some ingredient sources and the fact that Café personnel use some downstairs space for prep work, mornings and afternoons.

- When food historians or knowledgeable journalists cite "Chez Panisse" -- its impact, its many spin-offs, origins of "California Cuisine" -- they mean the restaurant. (That writing began before the Café existed.) When it had a status like French Laundry today -- "Impossible to get into," people camping on phones -- that was the restaurant. If you want to find out what the name is about, you want to visit the restaurant. (However, both venues are appealing, and frankly I can't imagine only knowing one of them.) Just don't go to the Café exclusively, then post lengthily about "Chez Panisse" -- that looks naive to longtime locals and customers. (As does mischaracterizing Alice Waters as "Chef" -- a longtime faux-pas by journalists who didn't actually know the place.)

- Restaurant and Café each have had two chefs for some time. Alternating on three-day schedules upstairs, six-month schedules in the restaurant.

- Downstairs "fireplace" does grilling and rotisserie. Upstairs Café has a wood grill and the wood-fired oven, always used for pizza, sometimes other things. Café menu might include two grillades and a couple sauté dishes. Though menus vary over time, Café was built around higher-temperature cooking and à-la-carte, day and night brasserie-type fare, originally walk-in dining only. Restaurant was more formal, dinner only, single menu for everyone, showcasing ingredients in often more "exposed" form. Also, lately Mondays the restaurant offers lower-priced menus and can be easier to get into on short notice. (More on the Web site.)

Edited to add: This is too long already (I apologize) but SF restaurant-critic-laureate Patricia Unterman put it this way in her book 20 years ago: There are two restaurants at that address. Chez Panisse and Chez Panisse Café.

Edited by MaxH (log)
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I'm curious, too, to know if anyone who has eaten at Manresa has also eaten at Eleven Madison Park. We were fortunate enough to eat there earlier this summer and Daniel Humm's cuisine seemed quite "west coast" to us. It was a wonderful dining experience in every way. We'll be thrilled if Manresa can deliver a like experience.

I'll gladly jump on that one. I'd agree with you that Humm's cuisine does have a bit of that "west coast" feel to it. Makes sense, considering that he earned a good share of praise for his cooking at Campton Place in San Francisco before Danny Meyer lured him over to NYC. I only managed to eat at EMP once after Humm had arrived, but the meal (in late April) was flat-out fantastic. The Vermont Farm Suckling Pig. The Scottish Salmon "Mi-Cuit". I could go on... He is undoubtedly one of the best, if not the single best, young chefs operating in NYC right now. He has singlehandedly transformed EMP into quite frankly one of the best restaurants in the city, and I say that with the perspective of one who's been to essentially all of that upper tier with which EMP keeps company.

I've also been lucky enough to go to Manresa twice. Each time I had the "Grand Tasting Menu" (priced at $130, and then $140), comprising around 30 courses. I can sum up my thoughts thusly: It is my favorite restaurant in the world. Period. No question about it. Chef David Kinch is nothing short of brilliant. He's got a wonderful biodynamic farm from which much of his produce comes. I feel like his restaurant also has just such a beautiful sense of place. I'll be going back in a few weeks myself, and I must say, once you go, you'll understand how I am already looking forward to a meal that is more than 2 weeks away...

Go. Enjoy. Get the Grand Tasting Menu. And report back! :raz:

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Does anyone have comments on the Cafe vs the Dining Room at Chez Panisse?

MaxH certainly laid out all the details you need to know above, but I'll add my two cents.

Having been to both, I'd say over time my preference between the two has become the Cafe. To me, the level of sophistication of the food (and I know people will scoff at this, as these are NOT places one goes for fussy or complicated dishes) is essentially the same in both places.

It is unfortunate to be so pragmatic about it, perhaps, but sometime you just have to let your budget do the thinking for you. You certainly aren't paying extra for the technical competence of the cooks with your $65 (or $85 of $55 depending on the night) for the fixed menu in the restaurant downstairs. You are paying partially, as with all famous restaurants, for a name. For a philosophy. For something that was revolutionary back before you or I had even heard of the place. And, beneath it all, you're paying someone to shop for you.

The ingredients in both the Cafe and the Dining Room are fabulous. No question about it. They have relationships with purveyors and farmers that you or I could only dream of. You will eat well at either one.

Sorry to be so long-winded in my answer, but I suppose my summary would be: First time, the restaurant. Second visit, the Cafe (and lunch is so much more relaxed there than dinner). After that, frequent either (or neither) to your heart's content!

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Another point on Panisse, rarely mentioned in online fora. More philosphical than practical.

The restaurant was conceived to capture the quality, local-ingredient-driven cuisine of provincial restaurants its founder had experienced in France. As opposed to a grand-palace or "destination" restaurant. This has sometimes caused letdowns for people who arrive from, say, New York having often heard the name Chez Panisse, yet surprised to experience a low-key, country-inn presentation. More so if they were folks who liked to go to famous high-profile places, spend a lot of money, be fussed over, and boast about it. A small secondary body of online commentary has developed over the years from this phenomenon.

You certainly aren't paying extra for the technical competence of the cooks with your $65 (or $85 of $55 depending on the night) for the fixed menu in the restaurant downstairs.  You are paying partially, as with all famous restaurants, for a name.
Not to distract from tupac's good advice, and without getting into subject matter more properly private, I'll mention that Chez Panisse (the restaurant) has a history of keeping the prix-fixe as low as possible consistent with good wages for the employees. It is not known as a high-profit-margin restaurant. Therefore you might be paying a little for a name, but unlike some restaurants you are paying chiefly for costs.
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Thanks to all for your help so far. I've come to the conclusion that we just don't have enough days to eat everywhere that we want to. What a surprise, eh?

Now L has proudly announced that we have tickets for the San Francisco Opera on Saturday night. Being Wagner it's going to be a marathon session starting at 7 o'clock. That means we're going to have a very late lunch/very early dinner and it can't be so heavy as to set me snoring before the first intermission. What would be recommended within an easy walk of the opera?

TIA,

Kathy

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Thanks to all for your help so far. I've come to the conclusion that we just don't have enough days to eat everywhere that we want to. What a surprise, eh?

Now L has proudly announced that we have tickets for the San Francisco Opera on Saturday night. Being Wagner it's going to be a marathon session starting at 7 o'clock.  That means we're going to have a very late lunch/very early dinner and it can't be so heavy as to set me snoring before the first intermission. What would be recommended within an easy walk of the opera?

TIA,

Kathy

Jardinière

300 Grove Street

(415) 861-5555

It is practically the only restaurant within walking distance of the opera that is of any worth. Max's Opera Cafe is nearby and is basically a diner. Jardinière is truly excellent. It might be too late for you to get reservations as they are currently closed for renovations but are re-opening on the 13th to expand their more easily-obtained bar eating seats.

BTW, the SF Opera is doing kick-ass stuff this year! Can't wait for the new Philip Glass premiere!

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 3 weeks later...

updates, anyone?

heading down in a few days (Wed-Sun) beginning w/ Napa. We will have a car, and wondered about heading to Monterey for the weekend.

This is a budget trip, so probably no stop at Panisse, nor TFL. But still, we'd like good food, and maybe music. Jazz or blues.

Karen Dar Woon

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updates, anyone?

heading down in a few days (Wed-Sun) beginning w/ Napa. We will have a car, and wondered about heading to Monterey for the weekend.

This is a budget trip, so probably no stop at Panisse, nor TFL. But still, we'd like good food, and maybe music. Jazz or blues.

If your whole trip is only Wednesday through Sunday, than bear in mind that traveling from Napa to Monterey will eat up at least half-a-day -- and that is if you take the "fast" route which has little in the way of exciting eating en route.

The Monterey Jazz Festival is over so I don't know what is left but if you care to head into San Francisco instead (a one hour trip, tops), there are a number of great jazz clubs including Jazz at the Pearl, Biscuit and Blues, Rassela's, AND the beginning of the San Francisco Jazz Festival.

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Thanks for your reply, Carolyn. Unfortunately, I didn't have a chance to check back before we left.

We decided to take the "slow" route south, with stops in Bodega Bay and Santa Cruz. Notable eateries included:

Hurley's for lunch in Yountville. Such a lovely way to stop for the mid-day meal. A warm and comfortable room; wonderful fish soup as part of the 2-course set lunch with crab & saffron risotto. The staff were professional and efficient, without being stuffy.

Soif, the new-ish wine bar in Santa Cruz. The "flight" of the week was Australian Reds, which DH took to immediately (after 2 days of Napa). Best bar food I've had in a long time. I really enjoy the CA custom of the Tasting Portion, which allowed me to sample wines to pair w/ the tapas we chose.

Phil's Fish Market in Moss Landing, for the sheer freshness! Oysters were sweet, juicy and tender, blue points, I think. Crab salad with Louis dressing...mmmm.

Of course there will be repeat visits.

Karen Dar Woon

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I find Monterey area a bit of a dining challenge, despite all the money floating around. I have grown to love Fifi's, in Pacific Grove. Unpretentious French, and the lady proprietress and awesome and flamboyant. She gave us her rabbit in mustard recipe written in French, on a doily (my husband is French, so that was the correct language choice.)

"Gourmandise is not unbecoming to women: it suits the delicacy of their organs and recompenses them for some pleasures they cannot enjoy, and for some evils to which they are doomed." Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

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