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tkrongold

Weekend Trip to SF

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NJ eGulleter planning trip to SF in April for 4 days. Has anyone eaten at Chez Panisse recently? I've had this on my "list" for a long time, but some recent press has been disappointing.

Would love recommendations for restaurants we should not miss while we are there. Gary Danko? Zuni Cafe? Michael Mina? Any spots in North Beach?

Thanks!


www.cookstour.netMy Blog

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Went to Danko. I can see why it got 1 star according to michelin. The dishes were mostly good. Some were really good, but all werent up to that level. The service was phenomenal though.

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I went to Chez Panisse Cafe (upstairs) a few months ago and thought it was fine, but not mind blowing. I have never been to the Chez Panisse Restaurant (downstairs). If you reserve, make sure you reserve it as soon as they allow you to do so (I think one month out). I got to this task a day late and was not able to make reservations at the restaurant. When we went, the braised octopus was the best dish we tried at the cafe.

If you have time and access to your own transportation, it might be worth your while to head north to Calistoga or other parts of Napa Valley. I liked Sol Bar (one Michelin star) and loved JoLe. I heard a lot about Ubuntu (raves all around from both vegetarians and avowed carnivores), but didn't get a chance to go.

I did visit Ame in SF. Maybe it was an off night or maybe I ordered poorly, but I did not think the meal I had measured up to many similar restaurants in NYC.

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Some finer dining favorite of mine are Coi, Quince, Prospect and the Dining Room at the Ritz.

As for North Beach, my favorite casual place is Tony's Pizza Napoletana. I haven't been, but he added a new take out place next door that lots of people have raved about.

I have to say that Gary Danko did not impress. Had the truffle menu earlier this year and was just underwhelm, especially for the price. Maybe we would have liked it more if we went with the regular menu.

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Kuleto near the Powell St station is a great lunch spot. Several hole in the wall places in Chinatown---just poke your head inside and go where the Chinese go.

Boulevard down by the Embarcadero. Fleur de Lis if you have a bunch of cash burning a hole in your pocket.

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Of the places I've been to, at the moment, my favorite restaurants are: Commonwealth, Bar Tartine, Bar Jules, and Ragazza/Gialina. I also really like Mission Chinese Food.

Not really into super upscale dining, these restaurants are more intimate and comfortable.

Just a note, the Michael Mina restaurant in the Westin closed and has been replaced by another branch of his Bourbon Steak restaurant.


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Just a note, the Michael Mina restaurant in the Westin closed and has been replaced by another branch of his Bourbon Steak restaurant.

That's true, but Michael Mina has reopened in the old Aqua apace.

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My guess is that you'll probably stop by the Ferry Building. If you do, check out Il Cane Rosso (same owner as Coi). The breakfast is wonderful. Haven't the chance to try but heard great things about lunch and dinner as well. We're having lunch at Plum (another place by the same owner) this week. I'll let you know if it's worth going over to Oakland for.

Oh yeah, Incanto is great, especially if you like the odd cuts.

A few more places that I like around the city: Bisou (French bistro), La Mar (Peruvian/seafood), Waterbar (seafood - great patio and view), Lafitte (menu changes daily and is small, so check the day of to see if it's something you like before making reservations), Farina (Italian).


Edited by annachan (log)

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I have been to Gary Danko and Chez Panisse and both are great, but I always find myself wishing I had gone to my old standby Jackson Fillmore. JF is my favorite place in San Francisco with zucchini carpaccio, tricolore salade, great pasta and meat dishes in a small neighborhood place. On Fillmore near Jackson. Hard to beat for quality and price. Great wine list too.

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Hi, everybody. Thanks so much for the great recommendations. I will ck out the ones I am not familiar with (such as Jackson Fillmore). If you come up with other suggestions, please let me know. Thanks!


www.cookstour.netMy Blog

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I had lunch at Chez Panisse Cafe (upstairs) a couple weeks ago. I thought the food was as good as ever. What was revolutionary 30 years ago is now classic. My friends who are restaurant mavens and chefs roll their eyes when I say I eat at Chez Panisse. They want what's new. Perhaps that attitude explains some of the negative press .

I suggest that you not overlook simple items on the Chez Panisse menu. The restaurant has built an incredible network of suppliers over the decades, and simple dishes show off these great ingredients. For my lunch I ate sweetwater oysters, handcut bucatini all'amatriciana, and persimmon pudding. The persimmon pudding was the best I've ever eaten. When you visit in April, though, the menu will be entirely different--it changes with the seasons, whatever ingredients are at their peak then.

I've also dined a few times at Zuni in the past couple months. (BTW, I'm not a frequent restaurant goer. Because of the holidays, I've been out and about more with friends.) A dinner of brined, grilled quail with grilled radicchio & frisee, fresh figs & balsamic was especially good. For one lunch, along with a grilled fish main course, I ate a starter of house-cured anchovies with slivered celery & pecorino romano, and a dessert of gateau victoire--both were superb. Whenever I eat at Zuni, I check out any house-cured items, like the anchovies, or fresh sardines. I like the coffee granita for dessert, too.

I read in your blog that you are a baker by avocation. If you are spending any time in Berkeley, I suggest visiting the Crixa bakery, across the street from the fabled Berkeley Bowl market. The Crixa bakery has some of the most unusual and imaginative baked goods around, always done well. I've recommended this bakery to many friends, who love it. http://www.crixacakes.com/ I also recommend the Cheese Board, across the street from Chez Panisse, for its sourdough crust pizzas & hearty breads, muffins, and scones. The Acme bakery, with its great breads, especially the sourdough (pain au levain), has an outlet in the SF Ferry Building, not to be missed, as well as a bakery on San Pablo Ave in Berkeley.

have fun on your trip!

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Speaking of bakeries:

PIQ in Berkeley, relatively new, is making some amazing breads. I love the mushroom bread, there are also tomato, zucchini and other vegetable bread. The calzones are amazing.

Cheeseboard in Berkeley is also a favorite. However, if you are not planning to leave San Francisco, you can go to the sister bakery, Arizmendi.

My favorite bakery for pastries and such is Patisserie Philippe (SF). I have yet to have an item I didn't love from there.

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Given what you've posted, here's my take in several categories. If you see any particular categories that you want to focus on, I can try to get more specific:

"Old School Bay Area":

Chez Panisse - Despite recently losing its Michelin star, if you've never been, I'd still very much recommend a visit. You definitely get a sense of time and place dining here, and can feel an unbroken philosophy in the food.

Tadich Grill - Classic San Francisco Seafood spot...

Barbara's Fish Trap - Half Moon Bay. A fun side trip out to Half Moon Bay is always a good idea and this simple seafood shack is always a nice casual spot for fried goodies, cioppino or whatever's on special.

Swan Oyster Depot - old school raw bar. Great for breakfast...if you're into oysters and chilled crab cocktails.

Mitchell's Ice Cream - has been making tasty exotic ice cream flavors for forever...

"Fine Dining"

Gary Danko, populist favorite, with the menu and service to match. I'd liken it to The Manor in West Orange...just in a completely different format. If you like pomp, they've got it in spades.

Michael Mina - recently reopened in a new space...so I haven't had a chance to see what's going on over there. However, you can get some of his "classics" (lobster pot pie)at the bourbon steak location in the Westin. If you're a fan of his food...then it would be worth checking out, but if you're totally new to SF bay area dining, I might make other suggestions.

Spruce - Contemporary, elegant dining room, but with classic preparations and flavor combinations. Great charcuterie and soups. Also, if you just want to do things more casually, grab a burger at the bar.

Dining Room at Ritz Carlton - Ron Seigal's food has always been delicious to me, and the dining room is an interesting mix of old school with touches of new. To me it's one of the last venues of old school fine dining, but with food that doesn't make you feel like it needs the dust blown off of it. Mostly underrated as SFers have a weird bias against hotel restaurants, but that just means that a reservation is easy to get.

Meadowood Napa - Probably the most picturesque and elegant place to dine in the Bay Area at the moment. Kostow's food tends to be highly refined and constructed, but with whispers of ethnic aromatics. They seem to be more on-point than TFL of late, but they're such different restaurants, I'd say that the comparison only exists because they're the only two in the *** clubhouse.

Cyrus - Douglas Keane's Japanese inspired fine dining is delicious and the way Nick runs the front of the house makes you feel like a VIP every time. Sure, the up-sell on caviar, truffles, and champagne may come off a little strong, but the food's still worth it. For a more relaxed experience, sit in the bar area and dine a la carte. Definitely have a house cocktail.

The French Laundry - Like Chez Panisse, people may be finding chinks in the armor of late, but few other places give as distinctive a sense of place like TFL. Plates and service are all highly choreographed, refined, and exacting. A love letter to old-school French fine dining, American purveyors and food memories, and the metier of being a cook.

Manresa Los Gatos - Personally, I'd say that this is the restaurant that is most exciting cuisine-wise. David Kinch has been cooking with a very distinctive voice for quite some time, and his menus reflect both a desire to tell a particular story as well as show a true love for his ingredients. You can taste the fun and excitement in each plate. Uses savory notes to great effect. People tend to talk about Alice Waters and Thomas Keller when talking about Northern California cuisine...I'd say that David Kinch may be most responsible for shaping the cuisine going forward.

Coi - The most often used descriptors of Coi are "cerebral" and "intellectual," which are apt considering Daniel Patterson's milieu. A reverence for vegetables that is different from Chef Kinch's approach. Patterson focuses on the utilization of aroma to complete highly constructed dishes.

"New School Fine Dining" I'll leave the descriptions brief here since they all tend to be very specialized and different, so a recommendation really depends on what kind cuisine interests you.

Frances - San Francisco - Melissa Perillo's view of American cuisine.

Commis - Oakland - James Syhabout's very personal cuisine. Breaks from many fine dining conventions.

Plum - Oakland. Changing since Chef Charlie Parker just got started.

Ubuntu - Napa - Started under Jeremy Fox and continuing under Aaron London, fine dining vegetable cuisine, but at casual prices and setting.

Wakuriya - San Mateo - Husband and wife team cooking kaiseki cuisine right in front of you.

Sons & Daughters - San Francisco. My favorite of the most recently opened SF restaurants. Very intimate setting...Service needs work, but you can feel that they're trying to cook with their own voice.

Benu - San Francisco - Corey Lee

ad hoc - okay, so maybe not fine dining in form...just in kitchen operations. David Cruz's cuisine is the best of rustic understatement. Casual, family-friendly, always on point. Whenever I eat there, I feel like I'm over at a good friends house...and I am.

"Cheap/Ethnic Eats"

Old Mandarin Islamic - Great place for off cuts and food that's about as far away from standard saucy restaurant Cantonese food as it gets.

China First - my favorite, super-cheap, standard saucy Cantonese Restaurant

Kingdom of Dumpling - XLB and boiled dumplings in a classic hole in the wall

Halu - Family run, Beatles-themed (Dad's in a band), japanese restaurant. Feels like home cooked japanese foods...maybe not as obsessive as more focused yakitori-ya, but great place for grilled skewers, rice bowls, and ramen. Always check the specials board

Ler Ros Thai - Thai food with a good number of wild game dishes. Very different from most thai joints.

El Farolito - South San Francisco. Far better than its Mission district sister restaurants. Great tortas and tacos. Solid agua frescas.

Super Popular local restaurants:

Nopa, Pizzeria Delfina, Little Star, Commonwealth, Dottie's, Wayfare Tavern, Perbacco, Flour + Water, Bi-Rite Ice Cream, Tartine Bakery, Burma Superstar, San Tung, Alexander's (Cupertino), Ike's Sandwiches, Foreign Cinema, Slanted Door, Absinthe, Town Hall

Ice Cream and Bakeries (Since you're a baker, I had to include this!):

Tartine Bakery - I mentioned it above...there's always a line, but their Levain is awesome along with the pastries

Sandbox Bakery - Japanese bakery making great breakfast goods...good curry-pan, rice burgers, etc

Humphry Slocombe - unique if often challenging flavors...

Scream Sorbet - Oakland/various farmers markets. Unique take on sorbets, nut-based ones are wholly original and worth seeking out. Don't know anyone else making sorbet like they do.

The Penny Ice Creamery - Santa Cruz. My favorite ice cream shop. They pasteurize their own milk, often grow their own fruits, and have awesome a la minute ice cream desserts.

Schubert's Bakery - old school European bakery but with chinese leanings. light and classic cakes.

Downtown Bakery - Healdsburg, great breakfast breads. Available at the Sat Ferry Plaza market if you don't want to drive all the way to Healdsburg

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Wow! Incredible responses - thank you! I love the bakery recommendations (thank you for reading my blog!). Our friends who live in SF also recommended Arizmendi so I'm sure I will get there (along with Tartine and Crixa). I am definitely keeping Chez Panisse on my list -- I think if I didn't go I would regret it later. So we will have two more opportunities for dinners in the SF area and I will review all the recommendations very carefully. I have been to the Slanted Door (which I loved)& Boulevard.

Renn: it's funny you mention The Manor in West Orange -- we live about 5 minutes from there. Although we haven't been there for their a la carte dining, we have been many times for weddings, events, etc. However, we have been to dinner several times at their sister restaurant, The Highlawn Pavillion, which is wonderful.

Again, thank you!


www.cookstour.netMy Blog

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Just came back from a two week foodie trip to SF (and Napa and Healdsburg) and had many very memorable nights, some highlights (often for very different reasons and sometimes it is hard to compare the restaurants) were French Laundry, La Folie, Incanto, Aziza, Scopa, Barndiva, Chez Panisse, Oenotri. Some of the disappointments were Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton and Cyrus

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Hello all,

I will be visiting San Francisco for 6 nights in February. I have so far managed to make reservations at Michael Mina for lunch, Commonwealth and Frances for dinner.

I am a little unsure about the Michael Mina reservation, service in the bar only; it seems quite expensive to not be sat in the restaurant. I did eat in Aqua a few years ago and the packed dining room was part of the fun. Has anyone been, is it worth the $ and is the bar a nice space to eat in?

I am also struggling to decide between Coi and Benu for dinner. Does anyone have any thoughts? Reservations are available for both at the moment. Also does anyone know what the price is for the poularde in two services at Benu. I am open to suggestions and alternatives if there is somewhere else you recommend.

Finally, for now, I am quite interested in Manresa or Meadowood. I have had a bit of a look and it seems very difficult to get to either place without a car or an overnight stay. Is it possible to use public transport / taxi etc to get to and from downtown San Francisco, and what would the likely cost be?

Thanks


Martin

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An interesting roundup of San Francisco's best new restaurants, according to our local paper:

2010's top new Bay Area restaurants

(Ooops, just noticed that the article isn't available online until Monday.)

The restaurants listed are: Frances, Marlowe, Oenotri, Saison, Prospect, Bar Agricole, Ippuku, Commonwealth, Benu, Plum, and Michael Mina.

RE: Manresa and Meadowood

My preference would be for Manresa, but I haven't been to Meadowood.

When we dined at Manresa, we stayed overnight at a nearby hotel.

It is possible to use public transit to get to Manresa, though it would involve at least 4 forms of public transport and an investment of approximately 3-4 hours. Depending on when you eat and stay, it may not be possible to get back to SF.

The public transport option on google maps or transit 511 should be useful.

Meadowood is about 50 miles from SF, with no public transport option. I don't know what your idea of "reasonable" is, but that would be a significant cab ride to say the least and it would be difficult to find one to take you home. You may be able to rent a limo or book a driver, I think these sorts of things work out better for wine country travel.


Edited by eje (log)

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Thanks for the info.

I think it is a little too difficult to organise a trip out of town. I will give it some thought.

While I am thinking of out of town places, is Murray Circle worth the trip?


Martin

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Cab ride to Manresa and Meadowwood - haven't tried it but judging by the distance, you're looking at over $100 (maybe way over) each way. I've taken a cab from SF to Oakland airport, with no traffic, and it cost like $70 and that was maybe 7 or 8 years ago. Your best bet is to rent a car.

I personally love Coi, haven't been to Benu yet. For some reason, Benu's current menu isn't catching my attention. But that's all personal.

Have had a few days of feasting and had some really great food. Loved sitting at the chef's counter (walk-in) at Wayfare Tavern. The food is more rustic and robust, but it was well executed. Those popovers are so good. We also enjoyed dinner at Marlowe. Again, more of a casual place but the food was good. The only disappointment was that the famous Marlowe burger wasn't that great. The rest of the food was though. And last night, we celebrated the new year with dinner at Morimoto (Napa). The food was just fantastic.

A few more recent hits and misses:

*Hits

Plum (Oakland) - had a good lunch there. But I do prefer his other casual restaurant, Il Cane Rosso in SF.

Evvia (Palo Alto) - another good dinner, even sat at the table next to Steve Jobs! Just solid Greek/Mediterranean food. If you want to stay in SF, you can get the same food at the sister restaurant, Kokkari.

*Misses

Burma Superstar(Oakland) - this is one of those places that are extremely popular, and I have no idea why. Mango chicken, sesame chicken, fiery chicken and crispy chicken? Come on, that menu reads like it can be from many generic Asian restaurants. The food tasted like that, too, except it was way more expensive and the portions small. If you want some real Burmese food, go over to Little Yangon in Daly City.

Alexander Steakhouse (Cupertino) - I know 5A5 in SF is supposed to be a knockoff of Alexander. However, my meal at Alexander was not better than 5A5, it was worse. The tomahawk steak was way too fatty and didn't have much flavor. Part of the meat was quite chewy as well. Nothing stood out as being great. Oh, if you want a cup of coffee with dessert, the cheapest cup is $22. Sorry, but the food just wasn't worth the heavy price tag.

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I am considering hiring a car. I was thinking a drive down the coast towards Carmel, perhaps.

I could possibly head back to Manresa and stop ovrnight nearby. It all a little expensive up in wine country for B&B.

I like the look of happy hour in Prospect too.


Martin

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Manresa shouldn't be too much of an ordeal for public transit. From SF you could take the Cal Train to San Jose, and a cab to Los Gatos. Unless you're traveling alone though, it may be cheaper, and more entertaining (very scenic, and many nice wineries between SC and LG), to rent a car for the day. You could drive down the coast to Santa Cruz, loop up to Los Gatos for dinner, and drive more directly via the freeway to San Francisco in under an hour.

LG is a nice town to visit, and I'm sure that you would enjoy your time checking out the shops. It's a great walking town. (I used to live there)


I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food.

- W. C. Fields

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Carmel is really nice, but I think that you'd feel very time pressured to manage it all in one day. It's easily 2-1/2 hours from SF by freeway to Carmel, and even longer following the coast. You could drive down to Carmel by freeway, spend the day, drive up the coast to Santa Cruz, and from there follow another freeway directly into Los Gatos for dinner, and then more freeway back to SF. It would be a long day, but doable.


Edited by MRE (log)

I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food.

- W. C. Fields

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Very interesting MRE. Thanks.

I did intend to drive the coast road but I have no real idea how long it takes to get around.

There seems to be a motor inn or similar that is low cost in Los Gatos - I may give a try.


Martin

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There are several places in town to stay. The Garden Inn is just a few blocks from both Manressa, and a nice breakfast spot, The Southern Kitchen, across the street. The motel is nice, clean, and it's rates are reasonable for the area ($100-$150). You may even be able to get the Marilyn Monroe room. She and Joe honeymooned there. A friend of mine rents the room every year in order to see the Los Gatos Children's Christmas Parade and host a party for friends and family. The Toll House is another popular place to stay in town, visiting celebrities often stay there, but I don't know it as well. I think that you'd be fine with any of the places in town.


I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food.

- W. C. Fields

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