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High End in San Francisco


robyn
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Had to cancel our trip to Japan (husband has a bad back and a bad knee and although surgery isn't in the cards right now - a month on the road was too much at this point - hope to reschedule for next spring). In the meantime - I couldn't let the second week in September (anniversary and birthday week) pass without doing *something*. So I decided on a 5 day trip to San Francisco. I'm almost ashamed to say how long it's been since we've been there - probably 20+ years. So I am obviously totally ignorant of what's going on.

An aniversary and a birthday call for at least a few big deal restaurants. And I'd like your help in choosing. My #1 choice is Michael Mina. I know the writeups here were luke warm to negative - but there weren't many of them - they're almost a year old - and they were written about the time the place opened. Has anyone eaten there lately? What did you think? It got a good review in the San Francisco chronicle - and we loved Aqua at the Bellagio (about 4 years ago).

And I'd really like other suggestions. We'll be staying near Union Square - and I'd like to stay in that general area (i.e., downtown) as opposed to taking 30 minute or longer cab rides. Will be asking for lower end suggestions too a bit down the road. At this point - I'd like to nail down the big deal places (and reservations). Robyn

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Had to cancel our trip to Japan (husband has a bad back and a bad knee and although surgery isn't in the cards right now - a month on the road was too much at this point - hope to reschedule for next spring).  In the meantime - I couldn't let the second week in September (anniversary and birthday week) pass without doing *something*.  So I decided on a 5 day trip to San Francisco.  I'm almost ashamed to say how long it's been since we've been there - probably 20+ years.  So I am obviously totally ignorant of what's going on.

An aniversary and a birthday call for at least a few big deal restaurants.  And I'd like your help in choosing.  My #1 choice is Michael Mina.  I know the writeups here were luke warm to negative - but there weren't many of them - they're almost a year old - and they were written about the time the place opened.  Has anyone eaten there lately?  What did you think?  It got a good review in the San Francisco chronicle - and we loved Aqua at the Bellagio (about 4 years ago).

Robyn,

Sorry to hear you had to change your plans. Below are just a few of my recommendations for "high-end" places.

My short list:

Gary Danko

Masa's

Fifth Floor (Melissa Perello is getting raves at her new post here)

La Folie

Jardiniere

Michael Mina

I'll be going to Michael Mina this weekend, so I'l send a report your way. I believe all but Danko are on opentable.com

Others worth the trek:

- Manresa

- French Laundry (obviously)

Best of luck, and enjoy your stay!

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If you like Michael Mina's cooking then you'll likely enjoy the restaurant that bares his name. I prefer high-end food outside SF to what is available in SF. You’ve got plenty of options for high-end restaurants in SF – Michael Mina, Gary Danko, Campton Place, the Fifth Floor, Dining room at the Ritz, and a handful of others. I think you’d be better off at many of the restaurants in the city that offer more simple fare focusing on the great local produce available here.

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Welcome! Back!

I'll put a plug in for La Folie (there's an active thread if you care to read it). It's an intimate sort of restaurant and, in my opinion, more enjoyable therefore. Very consistent, very warm, very FILLING. :biggrin: The squab stuffed with foie gras is bliss, as is the roasted sea bass. Go for the 5-course option, you won't regret it.

My fantasy? Easy -- the Simpsons versus the Flanders on Hell's Kitchen.

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Welcome!  Back!

I'll put a plug in for La Folie (there's an active thread if you care to read it).  It's an intimate sort of restaurant and, in my opinion, more enjoyable therefore.  Very consistent, very warm, very FILLING.  :biggrin:  The squab stuffed with foie gras is bliss, as is the roasted sea bass.  Go for the 5-course option, you won't regret it.

I took a look at the La Folie website - and it looked terrific. Made a reservation. Haven't looked at the other websites yet. Five nights might not be enough :smile: .

By the way - I noticed that there is some kind of "Opera in the Park" festival that weekend. Have any of you been? Is it merely crowded (which is kind of the norm for city festivals) - or ridiculously crowded (I once went to a street festival in Montreal where the streets were so crowded that it was dangerous). Robyn

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If you like Michael Mina's cooking then you'll likely enjoy the restaurant that bares his name.  I prefer high-end food outside SF to what is available in SF.  You’ve got plenty of options for high-end restaurants in SF – Michael Mina, Gary Danko, Campton Place, the Fifth Floor, Dining room at the Ritz, and a handful of others.  I think you’d be better off at many of the restaurants in the city that offer more simple fare focusing on the great local produce available here.

This post could not be more accurate. The BEST food available in SF right now is not offered in the high end establishments, much better in the places that the locals frequent.

But, if I were to suggest an aniversary spot, it would be at the Fifth Floor in the Hotel Palimar, if for no other reason than that Melissa Perello deserves an opportunity to show you what she can do.

http://www.hotelpalomar.com/5thFloorDining.html

http://www.fifthfloor.citysearch.com/

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If you like Michael Mina's cooking then you'll likely enjoy the restaurant that bares his name.  I prefer high-end food outside SF to what is available in SF.  You’ve got plenty of options for high-end restaurants in SF – Michael Mina, Gary Danko, Campton Place, the Fifth Floor, Dining room at the Ritz, and a handful of others.  I think you’d be better off at many of the restaurants in the city that offer more simple fare focusing on the great local produce available here.

This post could not be more accurate. The BEST food available in SF right now is not offered in the high end establishments, much better in the places that the locals frequent.

But, if I were to suggest an aniversary spot, it would be at the Fifth Floor in the Hotel Palimar, if for no other reason than that Melissa Perello deserves an opportunity to show you what she can do.

http://www.hotelpalomar.com/5thFloorDining.html

http://www.fifthfloor.citysearch.com/

Which places do all of you like that fall into the category of "simple fare" "local produce" that "the locals frequent"? To make things easier - I'll limit things to certain areas in the city proper. Don't know everywhere we'll be as of today - and I don't know the names of various neighborhoods - but I know the hotel is near Union Square - I want to see a design store called Limn which is on Townsend near SBC Park (as well as other local design stores) - and we'll be spending at least a little time at the food market. Robyn

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I'll also stump for Delfina, Quince and Zuni for medium-priced, very good food.

I also like Gerald Hirigoyen's Basque restaurant: Piperade.

Here's a link to the menu on their website: http://www.piperade.com/site/menu.html

My absolute favorite of the four is Zuni--but they are all top choices for me. Zuni and Piperade you can also do for lunch.

edited to add: Zuni has a great and unique interior which might excite your interests in design. My two favorite areas are upstairs in the mezzanine overlooking the bar and near Market Street or downstairs in the main room within view of the wood-fired oven.

And--if they fit in with all with your meal, add a side order of their frites to share; they're great.

Edited by ludja (log)

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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I'd recommend Incanto, Delfina, Zuni, 1550 Hyde, and Mochica.

OMG, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, and Yes!

I'd also add A16 for local ingredients prepared to re-create the authentic cuisine of Campagnia. Terrific wine selections, too.

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I'll also stump for Delfina, Quince and Zuni for medium-priced, very good food. 

I also like Gerald Hirigoyen's Basque restaurant: Piperade.

Here's a link to the menu on their website: http://www.piperade.com/site/menu.html

My absolute favorite of the four is Zuni--but they are all top choices for me.  Zuni and Piperade you can also do for lunch.

I'll note that high end doesn't mean high-priced in my opinion. It's the quality of the food - not the amount of the bill - that counts. Lunch options are great (I don't eat breakfast and am always up for a terrific lunch). Robyn

P.S. I love contemporary design - and San Francisco is one of the design meccas in the US. If any of you have some local places to recommend - and you can work them into a food thread :smile: - I'd appreciate the suggestions. Robyn

Edited by robyn (log)
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Some starting points for design in SF...

Visit Limn Gallery of course (and you can grab some moule frites at South Park).

Spend the day at SFMoMa of course (followed perhaps by dinner at 5th Floor).

Go out to Valencia Corridor and check out some of the used modernist furniture stores (brilliant) and while you're out there you have the choice of places like Ritual Coffee (best in town), Panchitas #4 (my favorite Salvadoran place in town), Taqueria Cancun (my favorite burritos), La Taqueria (my favorite tacos), Delfina, Bi-Rite (wonderful market) and Pakwan (yummy Naan).

Go to the Clift Hotel and ogle the weird Philippe Starck-ness of it all - be sure to check out the elevators (while there you can run up the street to Cortez for desserts).

Walk down to the new fuseproject offices and be awed by the insanity (have lunch at Town Hall).

Do the walk through Hayes Valley and look into the various galleries and boutiques (in particular the shoe stores) and afterwards refresh yourself with a stop into either Hayes and Vine for a wine flight or at the Blue Bottle Coffee stand.

Go to William Stout Books and waste a huge amount of your life and your money but be glad you did so (wander through Chinatown checking out the markets but don't eat anywhere near here).

Just my $0.02 worth.

fanatic...

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Here's a post of mine from not too long ago, have a great time! Write back with your impressions and experiences in SF.

Having just returned from a celebratory weekend in SF, I thought I would share my impressions here. Since we go there only once a year, I do a little prior planning using Bauer’s top 100 lists. Knowing that my husband loves roast chicken, Zuni was on the top of the list. I made reservations for Friday night. For the most part, we were not disappointed. Our table looked down on the open kitchen, though the seating was somewhat cramped, it was fun to observe the operation from a bird's eye view. The most memorable dish was the spaghetti carbonera- farro pasta with English peas and smoked bacon in a glorious olive oil, the flavors sang in this simply prepared dish. The oysters from the seafood bar, which we observed as well, were exquisite! We also enjoyed a lovely white burgundy. Our service was off to a great start until Lucy Liu showed up and our server disappeared for the evening. His back up did a suitable job to help us through the meal. Ironically, we didn’t order the roast chicken.

Saturday was a walk from Union Square to the Ferry Building- a beautiful day, and a lovely experience. Artisans on the plaza with their wares, local farms (honey, vegetables, olive oils, etc.) along the Embarcadero in front of the building. Inside was a glorious sunlit corridor of boutique food shops, (Cowgirl Creamery, an organic market, a mushroom purveyor, a wine bar that sat out on the promenade.) Outdoors, behind the building were more glorious organic farmers with their many colored carrots, beets, chards, etc. and food stands with choices like crepes, tamales in banana leaves, and barbeque. We sat out there and enjoyed creamed spinach crepes and watched the ferries come and go.

I left the evening unplanned, as I wasn't sure what we would feel like doing. Michael Mina crossed my mind, but we really wanted something more high energy. We went to Kuleto's for a cocktail around 8:00 and decided on Bix, grabbed a cab and showed with no reservation. We were seated at the bar, which was happening. The bar is beautifully backlit and well staffed by enough bartenders to take care of everyone quickly and easily. As we sipped our drinks, a jazz trio kept the place hopping. Our table was going to be a long wait so we opted for appetizers at the bar. More glorious oysters, and a chorizo wrapped scallop plate, which for us was the most memorable dish that we ordered. Later our table was available, where we enjoyed our entrees. They ran out of the Kobe beef so my husband had the New York strip, he loved it. I had a good little shrimp entree. Glad we had the appetizers, as the portion on the shrimp was quite small, but enough with appetizers. The Paso Robles Pinot Noir was excellent. As was the service, the restaurant manager is doing a great job. He spoke to us twice during the evening and kept the floor smooth and in order.

Back to Michael Mina. We were staying at the Westin St. Francis, as we love the history and feel of the property (we also love the heavenly bed!). It has been a while since we have stayed there and we were disappointed with the changes that have been made to accommodate Mina. As we walked around the hotel, we couldn’t help but be offended by the obtrusiveness of Mina's place. I have only read great things about the restaurant, so I was surprised that no one has written about how out of place his decor is with the rest of the hotel. His gray and maple color scheme bleeds into the lobby, with modern corner banquettes, set up to be a cocktail lounge. Really, every time we walked through the lobby, we were reminded of a bus stop. Rarely did we see a cocktail being enjoyed. Mostly it was folks sleeping with their luggage. The walls of the restaurant are imposing, maple with Mina's name blazed across them. Upon further inspection, the wall on the left opens up to allow for disabled access. There is a narrow, center staircase that leads you to the seating podium. Inside is quite beautiful and one could easily forget the old world décor of the St. Francis while dining inside. We have traditionally patronized the former bar, the Compass Rose for afternoon cocktails and evening nightcaps. We were unsure if we could have a cocktail there, since the bar is so inaccessible from outside the restaurant. The warm welcome that the Compass Rose provided is gone, and replaced with an elitist, walled in, “members only” sort of feeling. The Westin has obviously decided that now, it is all about Michael Mina. I am still interested in trying Mina’s food, but I am saddened that the design concept failed to mesh with the history and spirit of the St. Francis. The 35-year hotel employee who checked us out echoed our sentiment. Two days and one thousand dollars later ($44 a day to park), we decided that next time, we would look at another property. I would love to see the Chronicle do a 100/50 best hotel properties feature.

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I'll also stump for Delfina, Quince and Zuni for medium-priced, very good food. 

I also like Gerald Hirigoyen's Basque restaurant: Piperade.

Here's a link to the menu on their website: http://www.piperade.com/site/menu.html

My absolute favorite of the four is Zuni--but they are all top choices for me.  Zuni and Piperade you can also do for lunch.

I'll note that high end doesn't mean high-priced in my opinion. It's the quality of the food - not the amount of the bill - that counts. Lunch options are great (I don't eat breakfast and am always up for a terrific lunch). Robyn

...

I agree completely--only mentioned "medium priced" to distinguish these restaurants from the responses you got earlier up thread re: "high end" places which are more formal and more expensive. The food at Delfina, Zuni, Quince, etc is very high in quality.

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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I would love to see the Chronicle do a 100/50 best hotel properties feature.

For what it's worth... I love the Hotel Vitale. Great location, nice rooms, good design.

fanatic...

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Tirgoddess, I totally agree with your opinion of the design of the Mina restaurant. I was horrified by the photos when it opened and complained on here. Somehow, I don't think they are going to listen to either of us.

Robyn, I swore I wouldn't do this again, but I'm going to once again recommend Acquerello. We have celebrated several anniversaries there, and it remains IMHO the best, and only upscale, Italian restaurant in the City. The setting is quiet and romantic, the food is outstanding, the Italian wine list is unsurpassed, and the service is as good as it gets. I am a long-time admirer of La Folie, however. Maybe you can fit both in. So many good choices and so little time.

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Speaking of small local places...

Has anyone been to Canteen yet?

My wife read the recent review in the Chronicle and has been intruiged since. Might have to be our next destination.

Erik

---

Erik Ellestad

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

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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I went to Canteen a week or two ago. I've only been once, but I thought it was nice. The four of us shared most of the menu, some dishes were excellent some were just good. I'll go back, but I'm not in any hurry. The staff is great and I like the space, I just wish the dishes were a little more consistent.

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Some starting points for design in SF...

Visit Limn Gallery of course (and you can grab some moule frites at South Park).

Spend the day at SFMoMa of course (followed perhaps by dinner at 5th Floor).

Go out to Valencia Corridor and check out some of the used modernist furniture stores (brilliant) and while you're out there you have the choice of places like Ritual Coffee (best in town), Panchitas #4 (my favorite Salvadoran place in town), Taqueria Cancun (my favorite burritos), La Taqueria (my favorite tacos), Delfina, Bi-Rite (wonderful market) and Pakwan (yummy Naan).

Go to the Clift Hotel and ogle the weird Philippe Starck-ness of it all - be sure to check out the elevators (while there you can run up the street to Cortez for desserts).

Walk down to the new fuseproject offices and be awed by the insanity (have lunch at Town Hall).

Do the walk through Hayes Valley and look into the various galleries and boutiques (in particular the shoe stores) and afterwards refresh yourself with a stop into either Hayes and Vine for a wine flight or at the Blue Bottle Coffee stand.

Go to William Stout Books and waste a huge amount of your life and your money but be glad you did so (wander through Chinatown checking out the markets but don't eat anywhere near here).

Just my $0.02 worth.

Thanks a lot for this artful combination of food and design :smile: . I'll have to sit down with a map and start mapping out where these places are - what other things are close to them - and which restaurants are nearby. I bought a Zagat's today. I don't trust the reviews in general - but I love the way it organizes restaurants by neighborhood. Have had many a good lunch as a result of carrying Zagat's around. Without it - I wouldn't necessarily know that a good place was just 2 blocks away from a museum/store etc.

By the way - is there any area of town that has a concentration of design stores - like Wilshire Boulverad in LA - or the street near the water (forget the name) in Seattle? Or are they just scattered here and there?

I take it from your comment about Chinatown that it has gone downhill. Aren't there even any good dim sum places left ? Or are they somewhere else - like in the suburbs - which is what has happened to a lot of "Chinatowns" in other cities as the Chinese population has grown more prosperous? Robyn

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Regarding hotels - I had read good things about the Barbara Barry design of the Michael Mina space at the St. Francis. I will probably at least have to drop in to see what the space looks like.

And I am starting to have second thoughts about Michael Mina. The situation with hotel restaurants is kind of complicated these days. On the one hand - a lot of hotels are spending huge amounts of money on "high end chef" restaurants. I'm not sure why - because a lot of the restaurants are clearly loss leaders for the hotels. And - when the places are good - like the Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton in Buckhead (at least under Bruno Menard - who just left) - or L'Escalier at the Breakers in Palm Beach - they are very very good. But when the chef is just a name - as opposed to a presence in the kitchen - like Norman's at the Ritz Carlton in Orlando - well the results are a lot less predictable (and frequently inferior). I know that I prefer to have restaurants where the named chef is in the kitchen - or where the executive chef is so well-trained in the ways of the named chef that it doesn't make a difference. So I wonder what category Michael Mina falls into.

By the way - Hotel Vitale is run by a group called Joie de Vive Hospitality - which has a lot of properties in San Francisco. The couple I looked at seemed similar to the W chain (in terms of concept and the age group it was trying to attract - which isn't my age group :smile: ). Clearly worth investigating if you're a planning a trip.

I was looking at the higher end properties - and - frankly - a lot of the write-ups were extremely disappointing. Perhaps it's a result of the tech bust - but I kept running across phrases like "tired" - "needs renovations" - etc. Finally settled on the Four Seasons - which is one of the newest properties (and perhaps the only new supposedly luxury hotel). It's relatively new (2001) - decent location - and seems to have a nice health club (which my husband appreciates). I'll let you know how it goes. For those of you planning a trip to San Francisco (or anywhere else for that matter) - Four Seasons is running a buy 2 nights - stay 1 night free until Labor Day Weekend at a lot of its properties - including San Francisco and Miami (we're going to Miami next month). Good deal in my opinion (and in Miami - there's even a stay 1 weekend night - get 1 weekend night free option). I also found it pretty easy to get FF air tickets on Delta (main flight is from Atlanta to SFO). I keep hearing about how this summer is supposed to be a bang-up travel season - and I'm not so sure I evidence of those predictions yet. Robyn

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Michael Mina at the Westin is his flagship and the quality is in no way diluted because it is a hotel restaurant.

Michael Mina runs a very tight ship and quality in his absence is not a problem I have observed.

I have been to his outposts in Las Vegas and the food and service are very competitive with the San Francisco store. Even the more casual Sea Blue at the MGM Grand features excellent execution of his food. I expected that at the Aqua in Las Vegas(I believe now also known as Michael Mina), but I didn't expect it sitting at the bar at Sea Blue (which I highly recommend. It was a busy night and there was no tasting menu on the menu. But the excellent bartender had no problem serving one and he even paired wine and/or cocktails with each course).

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Hi again. Glad to hear about your res at La Folie. Yum!

It's funny -- I live here and never go to Chinatown. I'd recommend thrree neighborhoods outside downtown to do some strolling and eating for very little money.

Inner Richmond:

Clement Street from around 2nd Avenue through 7th or so. Too many restaurants to pick from! My personal faves are the ginger salad and tea salad at Burma Super Star (btwn 4th and 5th); the hot and sour soup with prawns and noodle bowl with bbq pork and imperial roll at Minh's Garden (Vietnamese btwn 3rd and 4th); steamed dumplings of any kind at Taiwan Restaurant (at 6th); and in a different part of the cuisine world, anything at Clementine (stellar French value btwn 2nd and 3rd). My non-food pick of attractions is Green Apple Books btwn 6th and 7th.

Inner Sunset:

Go to intersection of 9th Ave and Irving St. Arizmendi Bakery is on 9th btwn Irving and Judah has incredible breakfast breads and muffins, plus a cornmeal crust pizza of the day avbl after 11 am or so. Park Chow on 9th btwn Irving and Lincoln is one of the best casual restaurants I know -- simple, fresh produce, seasonal menu. The entrance to the Arboretum in Golden Gate Park is right there at 9th and Lincoln -- go for a walk, it's beautiful. There's also Ebisu (sushi) and Marnee Thai on 9th Ave btwn Irving and Lincoln.

Deeper in the Sunset:

Irving St between 19th and 26th Ave is nonstop restaurants and groceries. Oddly, it's closest to where I live but not where I go out to eat! But well worth a visit. Pho Hiep #2 and Yum Yum Fish are known to be darn good.

Just for the record, I'm hungry now.

My fantasy? Easy -- the Simpsons versus the Flanders on Hell's Kitchen.

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The Four Seasons in SF is quite nice - the rooms are very large and well-appointed, and the staff helpful and professional. When I stayed there a couple of years ago, they offered complimentary transportation from the hotel around town (pretty limited radius, if I remember correctly, so might be of limited use since it probably won't be raining in September).

allison

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