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Dining Talk 2002


jordyn
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I'm going to be in San Francisco 5/10-5/12, and am seeking some recommendations of where to eat.

For dinner Friday and Saturday nights, I'm having a tough time choosing two of Masa's, Aqua, La Folie and possibly Elisabeth Daniel (not sure if I can get reservations there yet).  I ate at Masa's right after they re-opened in February 2001, and liked it a lot.  Am I going to do better at one of these other places?  Is there somewhere that I should be thinking about that I'm not?

For lunch on Saturday, we were thinking of doing something Chinese or Vietnamese.  I've always liked House of Nanking, but either their standards have been slipping, or it's just not fun without a big enough party to tell Peter to just bring out whatever is good.  I've not been to Slanted Door or Ana Mandara, and don't expect anyone to resolve the differences between the two for me, but any insight into good places that I don't know because I live far away would be helpful.

Finally, we were thinking about brunch on Sunday.  Only it's mother's day.  Originally, we were going to try the Crown Room, just for fun, but I think that would be a disaster even if we could get in.  Any thoughts on places that are good but not very Mommy-friendly?  I'm vaguely considering heading out to Napa so I can try to secure my elusive French Laundry reservation by visiting them in person--if so, is there somewhere that I should think about for brunch out that way?

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Masa has a new chef: Ron Siegel  ( who won the iron chef in Japan!!!)

I read some very good thing about this place and their new chef.

You should also take a look at Fifth Floor, whit their new chef: Laurent Gras, formerly of Peacock Alley in NYC ( Laurent has been chef de cuisine for Alain Ducasse...)

Elisabeth Daniel seems also like an interesting choice.

Patrice Demers

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Patrice, thanks for the advice.  I think that last time I ate at Masa's was at the start of the Ron Siegel era, although he had probably not had much time to settle into the kitchen yet.

I was thinking about Fifth Floor, but people seem to have some pretty uneven experiences there, particularly on the service side, based on what I've read elsewhere.

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I think Fleur de Lys is still closed due to a fire last year.

While I enjoyed my meal at Farollon, I felt like other places I've eaten in the area (notably Masa's, Charles Nob Hill, and Chez Pannise) were a notch higher in terms of food.  I think I'd rather do Aqua this time if I go the fishy route.

People on Citysearch (yeah, I know, not the greatest source of gastronomic insight, but what do you do when the California board here is so sparsely populated here) seemed to feel like the Fifth Floor had less than stellar service since Gras started, although opinions of the food everywhere seem to be reasonably high.  Also, the Chronicle review seemed to indicate that everything was not quite right yet at Fifth Floor; once again while acknowledging a lot of potential with Gras in the kitchen.  I'd love to hear what you think of the place if you end up going, though.  It looks interesting, no doubt.

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When i was in San Francisisco about 2 months ago I ate dinner with some friends at The Fifth Floor. I made reservations 2 weeks in advance and we still had to wait over an hour to be seated -- However, once we were we had some of the most HEAVENLY haute cuisine that you could have, New York and Paris included. Very inventive chef who clearly knows what he's doing, as it shows from his 5 years at Alain Ducasse. They have an incredible wine list, with over 1400 items on it including a Rare Reisling selection with such things as a 1937 Spatslese from the Rheingau. You dont wanna know what it costs.

To compensate us for our huge wait, they comped us with the ENTIRE dessert menu. Like over 100 bucks worth of desserts. For free. Unbeleivable Klc-worthy stuff.

Now thats a class act.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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We try to get to San Fransisco/Napa at least 4 to 5 times a year. I don't have any tasting notes (I don't do extensive note-taking in the States as I do in France) yet I have had some of my most memorable meals here. However,since discovering e-gullet, I just may have to start making notes in the U.S.

We ate at Masa's about 2 months ago. Ron Siegel worked at French Laundry and you can definitely see the influence of Thomas Keller in his cuisine. We devised our own tasting menu and each dish was carefully prepared and beautifully presented. However, he is strongest in the vegetable, poultry, fish category than he is in meats.

George Marrone has just opened Redwood Park in the Transamerica building. He was the chef at the Fifth Floor and before that the opening chef at Aqua and Michael Mina's (current chef at Aqua) boss. In a switch, Michael Mina is now George's boss. However, George is given free reign to do what he likes. George made a superb meal that was refined and restrained. George is also increasing the use of table-side service which puts quite a bit of strain on the wait staff, but has proved in the last couple of months very successful. It is interesting to note that George makes at least two trips to France every year to see what are the culinary currents. He says that it keeps him from chef burn-out as well as inspiring him to try new things.

In terms of clientele, I was surprised that the diners at Redwood Park seemed more knowledgeable about food and wine than at Masa's. Masa seemed to attract more tourists. This might be because of the "iron chef" connection.

Speaking of Michael Mina at Aqua, it really is a wonderful fish restaurant. The dining room is not as calming as at Masa's so we generally go for lunch.

I have not eaten at the Fifth Floor since Laurent Gras has become the chef.

We have only been to Charles Nob Hill once since Ron Siegel left. Again, I have no notes, but we did have a well-conceived tasting menu. The group that owns Aqua and Redwood Park also owns Charles Nob Hill.

I am not a big fan of La Folie. I find his food too much, too over-the-top.

Hubert Keller at Fleurs de Lys is Alsatian and what he can do with a vegetable is extraordinary. He had just remodeled the restaurant and put in a brand new kitchen, when yes there was a fire in the kitchen. They are in the process of again remodeling and hope to open in June. (it has taken much longer than usual because they had to go with the new codes re wheelchair access). This is a must restaurant when it reopens.

I have not eaten at Ana Mandara, but always go to the Slanted Door for lunch everytime we are in San Fransisco. They are going to close down their restaurant in the Mission district, but will relocate to the Embarcedero during the remodel. This is a real favorite.

For a very different experience try Swan Oyster depot. This is a long lunch counter with about 20 stools. If you are not there early, you wait outside in line. The guys behind the counter are very funny - every year they do the "cold swim" in the bay. This is a funky place for great oysters.

Usually on Sunday, we avoid the big deal brunch places like the Ritz and go to Zuni Cafe - great hamburgers, oysters, roast chicken - a local hang-out crowd.

Up north, my all-time favorite, probably in the US, is the French laundry. It is definitely worth "sitting" on the phone and getting a reservation. Try calling that day for a same day reservation, sometimes there are cancellations. I do have notes on some of my meals but will save that for another post, if you would like a recap.

Other favorites are the Martini House which just opened with Todd Humphrey's as the chef and Bistro Jeanty, as close to a Parisian bistro as you can get. I don't like Auberge du Soleil, bad service, stuffy and very iffy food.

Steve, as to your comment about the Chronicle not liking ex New Yorkers in San Fransisco, I don't think this is the case. The Dining Room at the Ritz gets consistently good reviews - the chef is Sylvain Portay (Le Cirque.) Also Laurent Manrique at Campton Place (after a shaky start) did get good reviews. Campton Place is now closed for a remodel. Michael Bauer, however, is not one of my favorite reviewers. (see compromised food critics under General Topics).

Hope this helps

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I think that Lizziee has given an excellent summary of the places to eat in SFO.

While I find Fifth Floor and Gary Danko interesting, they both suffer from the 'overworking food syndrome'.

For those of us who hanker after 'real' food with vibrant flavours then Zuni Cafe is the perfect place for a Sunday lunch. This is where we always head for when we land in San Francisco. The food is unpretentious and packed with flavour.

On our most recent visit we were seated near the open kitchen and were delighted to see the full cycle of our chicken being prepared in front of us, then being placed in the wood-fired oven and then finally being extracted and brought to the table. The flavours just sang!

We also very much enjoy the Slanted Door, Chez Panisse and French Laundry.

Roger McShane

Foodtourist.com

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We were just talking about Zuni yesterday, wishing we were there in late afternoon when the light hits the bar just right...If I could import one restaurant to my neighborhood (and time zone!), it would be this one.

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  • 1 month later...
  • 1 month later...
I have not eaten at the Fifth Floor since Laurent Gras has become the chef.

As lizziee mentioned, Laurent Gras is now the chef at Fifth Floor. For other members who may not be familiar with Gras, this chef is pedigreed:

"Chef de Cuisine at [three-Michelin-starred since Gras' departure] Restaurant **Guy Savoy** in Paris for two years. Next, he spent five years as Chef de Cuisine Alain Ducasse at Restaurant Alain Ducasse and Hotel de Paris [?] where he achieved three Michelin stars. In 1997, Gras decided to strike out on his own and headed for New York and the Executive Chef position at the Waldorf Astoria's Peacock Alley. He quickly earned three stars from the New York Times where critic Ruth Reichl began her review, 'The three best meals I have eaten this year have all been at the same restaurant: Peacock Alley.'"

http://fifthfloor.citysearch.com/3.html

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So Jordyn - where'd ya go, what'd ya eat, did you drink, was it special?

Oh, I just saw this. Absentminded me.

On the trip relating to these questions, I ended up eating at Masa's and Aqua. I found Masa's to be very good, but was disappointed by Aqua. If people are intested in longer write-ups, I think I still have ntoes from both places.

More recently, I returned for a trip to the French Laundry. While in Napa, I also ate at Bistro Jeanty, and got a chance to try Gary Danko while passing through San Francisco. My notes on the French Laundry and Gary Danko have already been posted.

Incidentally, the one time I went to Boulevard, I was extremely underwhelmed. Not very interesting food, and not even particularly fabulous versions of the dishes that they offer.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Besides Fifth Floor and Chez Panisse in Berkeley, where should I consider going? I will be in SF from Sept. 27 to October 2. Not interested in Chinese or Japanese food this time around. Also not a wine or beer drinker, so please keep that in mind. I'm looking to spend about $100 to $120 per meal, tops.

Is there any place that I should book in advance, besides Chez Panisse?

Danke,

SA

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SA-

Have you considered Gary Danko? 74 dollars for a five course, and their menu is exceptionally flexible in what they can allow you to order. you would have to get a reservation in advance as they're usually booked up pretty well. www.garydanko.com

I also just got back from La Folie a couple nights ago. I don't know how much food you eat, but for 85 dollars you can get a five course menu. He serves generous portions which is why I included the warning about your appetite.

Are you interested in non french food? Is it just chinese and japanese you're not looking for? How about greek food? I've heard lots of good things about kokkari estiatorio.

mike

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Not interested in Chinese or Japanese food this time around. Also not a wine or beer drinker, so please keep that in mind. I'm looking to spend about $100 to $120 per meal, tops.

Mikeczyz (or others),

Per my first post, I believe these were my preferences. Any help would be appreciated, thanks. :smile: Thanks for the kokkari rec. Any other non-Chinese or Japanese recs?

When I have the time, I'll check out SF-related threads. I visit SF about once or twice a year, but don't usually keep up on the dining scene thereabouts.

As for my eating habits, Gary Danko should not present too much of a problem. That said, I'm more interested in food quality, presentation, composition, and overall experience, than prodigious quantities (this is not to say that Gary D's food amounts to that, but just as an indirect way of answering your query).

Thanks again in advance.

SA

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SA

Do you like mexican food?

When I was at GD in December, I found the food to be tasty and nicely presented, but it was the service that left my jaw on the floor. The servers are the ultimate professionals. If you can't get a rec, you can always eat at the bar. THe full menu is available there. I don't have much else to say, as my dining experiences in SF are limited, but I hope i've been helpful. Have fun.

Mike

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I'll continue to suggest the same three restaurants that I have every time this question pops up:

I'd probably go with Masa's or Charles Nob Hill, with Gary Danko as another good option. Are you going to be eating by yourself or with other people?

Edited to add: I think the service is weird at Gary Danko. Professional yes, good yes, but also weird yes. It's sort of robotic and overly scripted.

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Thanks for the Mexican rec. Is it true Mexican (use of moles/huitlacoche (sp)/authentic spicing) or just plain Tex-Mex? If the latter, I think I'll pass.

Jordyn -- I may be dining solo, but plan on being with other people. Depends on availability of my friends.

Thanks again,

SA

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