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Aug 25, 2000 09:47 AM

Virgin visit

  • h

In mid-September I am going on a much anticipated and long-awaited Big-Birthday trip to CA. Our journey will begin with stays in Santa Barbara (I KNOW where I'm eating there!), Big Sur, Napa and San Francisco. I have many ideas on casual dining for S.F. (that Spanish place Wonki touted sounds amazing, for one and Ton Kiang), and that is really how we would prefer to eat since Napa will provide the "gourmet" experience with French Laundry. But I think I would like to try one special place in S.F. and have no clue.We like pretty much everything but I think French Laundry will just about do my husband's tolerance for precious and legnthy meals. I'm familiar with Aqua, Chez Panisse and have heard of the newish Danko. Any help? I'm pretty much lost here. Also when my husband lived there years ago he remembers fondly a Chinese place called the Potsticker on an alley called Waverly Ln. Is it still around and if so, any good? Thank you all so much. Heidi

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  1. Hello Heidi
    I hope you have a great time on your trip. It sounds like a chowhounds dream. I hope you already have your reservation to the French Laundry. Everyone coming to the valley for vactions says that this is where they're going. More often than not they're disappointed. You have to get a reso 2 months in advance. There is also a waiting list. You will be here during the "the crush". This is the season when the grape harvest occurs. Mucho tourism. Many of the most highly touted spots here (I grew up in Napa) are all but impossible to get into, especialy on those coveted weekends. If you need any suggestions post a reply or email me.

    My fiance had a very bad experiance with the staff at "The Laundry" I wouldn't eat there for free. They were pompous, rude, and dishonest.

    I truly hope your experience is eons better. Go to the home page and do a search for this restaraunt. A review a fellow hound wrote echos my take on the reservation process.


    9 Replies
    1. re: Brandon

      Brandon, thanks for the warning. The French Laundry is the only reservation we have at all any where save our hotel/Inn accomodations. We are lucky enough to have a very sound connection to the French Laundry through a dear friend who was a chief collaborator on Thomas Keller's
      stellar cookbook. Keller also held a Cleveland booksigning at our restaurant and was totally kind and gracious(I cherish my signed copy). So, hopefully our experience will be wonderful as I just really want to have a great evening, especially for my husband who does not enjoy sitting for l-o-n-g meals. This is definitely "for me" and I am optimistically inclined. That said, our friend still told us we must call and re-confirm our res 48 hrs. in advance. As I mentioned, we haven't made any other solid meal plans since we like to be very casual when away and prefer not to schedule our days. Often we'll just stop somewhere and sit at the bar to eat instead of the whole dining room routine where my husband inherently feels like he's still working. The bar area is usually more conducive to friendly chat with others and we pick up great tips from locals and employees. Perhaps this is foolish considering the season and I would appreciate any helpful suggestions.

      1. re: Heidi


        So far so good. You took care of all the right things. I do have a suggestion or two though.

        Wine tasting... avoid Highway 29. If you are going up valley take Silverado Trail. It's a pretty drive, plenty of wineries, and less tourist traffic. The other option is a closely guarded secret...Carneros. Go to places like Domaine Carneros, Carneros Creek, and Artesia (used to be Cordonui). There are some great sparkling wines be had in this area, as well as great Chardonay, and Pinot Noir.

        Eating at the bar? Bistro Jeannty comes recomended. Its down the street from the French Laundry. Have a ball!

        1. re: Brandon

          Thanks, Brandon. I will heed your advice. The Carneros area sounds inviting, I guess it's not such a secret now! I've heard favorable things about Bistro Jeanty as well. Isn't that another Keller endeavor as well? I think his brother runs that operation or something.

          What I still lack is some guidance in San Francisco. Anyone out there tried Danko yet?

          1. re: Heidi

            Heidi, try doing a search for Gary Danko using the search function on the upper righthand corner of the home page. It has been discussed here, and a search will lead you to those threads.

            1. re: Caitlin

              Thanks Caitlin, I had checked and couldn't find a word regarding meals; just that it's a hot ticket and some stuff regarding the ambience and dress. I was looking for a bit more insight into the food served, like what type? Obviously someone here has dined there, what did ya have?!

              1. re: Heidi
                judy leibovitch

                No one else has posted, so I'm going to try to help you out: Had oysters on the half shell (malpeques?),
                seared foie gros in a balsamic vinegar reduction, and perfectly cooked lobster. I'm sorry if the details are sketchy. JB and I enjoyed the meal several months ago, but it didn't have the "wow" effect that French Laundry or Aqua had on me. It was definitely a more impressive impression than Boulevard was on us; maybe more on par w/ Chez Panisse (polished, perfectly executed, very high quality)? I hope you find this useful.

            2. re: Heidi


              Bistro Jeantty is Phillipe Jeannty's place. This follow spent about 20 years in the kitchen at Domaine Chandon. It's a low key homey kind of vibe.

              The place you are thinking of is Bouchon. All three of the restaraunts we've discussed are on Washington St. in Yountville.

              Also if you want low key check out the Foothill Cafe. I have never been anything less than pleased with this little place. Always good and gracious.


              1. re: Brandon

                Would you recommend the Cantinetta for a casual outdoor lunch and lot of wine by the glass?

                1. re: Brandon


                  I'll be direct. Who borrowed my name? I didn't post the last message. Did someone make a little boo boo? I talk to myself all the time, but never have I posted a message to me. I'm not that crazy yet.

                  The cantina reminds me of Chevy's. With all of the great mexican food in these parts I don't often go there. The only feature I enjoy about this place is the outdoor seating, and the summertime party vibe. Wine by the glass? I don't know their list. When I'm there, or at the Red Hen (again touristy, Cal-Mex, Great outdoor seating) I drink tequilla and beer. The wine lists at these places are often limited to Sutter Home or Mondavi Coastal in the forms of white zin, chardonay, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon. Boring.

                  For about the same price you can sit on the patio at Pearl in downtown Napa, enjoy much better food, and more interesting wine.


      2. j
        Jefferson Scher

        It's really impossible for me to recommend one special place. There are many great places to suit every taste, but it's tough to be sure that on any given evening...

        That said, I had an excellent meal at the Helmand, which serves Afghani cuisine. Unfortunately, we did have a long wait in the lobby. Despite the scheduled seatings, a large party decided to linger for another 30 minutes, which really backed things up. Definitely get the pumpkin appetizer (with or without the meat sauce). There were some other posts about the Helmand further down the board. (North Beach is a traffic nightmare, so allow plenty of time and maybe take a cab.)

        Many years ago I ate at South Park Cafe (South of Market), which offers French food with French attitude. As the area has been overrun with dot coms, I don't know if it's still the same. But it was a fun place with good food.

        If your husband's taste runs to brew pubs, there's a tapas place called Thirsty Bear (also South of Market) that does a good job with the food, too. Very loud. My advice on the beer: it can seems a bit strong or bitter for sipping, but pairs well with the food. For dessert, slip around the corner to Hawthorne Lane. You could eat here too, if you're looking for fancy food, but just hanging out in the bar over a chocolate creme brulee and a cosmopolitan might give you a good enough look. (If you do eat here, the black cod appetizer is dynamite.)

        For a unique brunch experience, try Tita's in the Castro. They serve hawaiian breakfasts with a twist, such as shiitake mushroom gravy on the loco moco, and passionfruit in the hollandaise on the eggs benedict. And who can resist macadamia pancakes?

        I haven't tried LuLu or Caffe Sport, but my friends love them for both food and atmosphere.

        If you want to get out of SF proper, the East Bay has a number of good restaurants.

        Chez Panisse is really good, and quite informal. If you don't want to take a chance on the prix fixe menu downstairs, they have a cafe upstairs that used to not accept any reservations. Allow at least 90 minutes during evening traffic; parking is terrible in that neighborhood. Cesar, the tapas place next door is tasty but pricey. Cha Am, the Thai place on the other side is good, but I wouldn't come all the way to Berkeley for it. If you like Indian food, you'll love Ajanta on Solano Avenue. The tandoori sea bass rules, and the whole menu is fresh-tasting and distinctive. (However, if you would be offended by a large mural featuring topless women, then it might be better to skip it.)

        Oakland Chinatown features some excellent Vietnamese restaurants, including small, unpretentious Vi's and cavernous Le Cheval. At Vi's I nearly always order the steamed roll appetizer and the pork chop. The duck soup also is amazing. At Le Cheval, the crab and simmer-fried eggplant are stand-outs; don't expect much service (although the food arrives quickly).

        IMHO, none of these places will feel magical. That's not my area, as there's little call in my life for candle light and perfect service. For that, there are lots of bistros (probably all listed in Zagat) that you could try.

        Have fun!

        5 Replies
        1. re: Jefferson Scher

          Thanks for all the suggestions. I had forgotten about LuLu. Ajanta sounds mighty good, and no offense would be taken at the artwork (?!). I will also keep in mind the Asian choices for Oakalnd Chinatown. I didn't necessarily mean "special " in a candlelight and flowers context. Just to see what is considered somewhat upscale in San Francisco and preferably something without pretense. There are so many incredible chowhoundy experiences we aren't privy to in Cleveland that I might just blow off the whole idea anyway.

          1. re: Heidi

            Food is good at LuLu but it is one of the LOUDEST restaurants in the City - when I'm alone, I escape to a seat at the bar to avoid going deaf. The same management has opened Azie recently to rave reviews which has more Asian influence in the food - high on my list to try next.

            I had a lovely dinner tonight at Jardiniere - service was really excellent which is not an easy task for a table of 10, including a 6-year-old (who ate every bit of his cream of mushroom soup and the seared ahi tuna appetizer), and managing 5 different wines. I liked the tables for 2 around the edge of the mezzanine rails - could be cozy with the right person. Four of the people in our group had been to Danko's last night - they said portions are huge and they were still stuffed from their 3 courses (about $50, 4-courses about $60). They did say more French influenced in prep and wine selection than they expected.

            I'll echo the recommendation for Hawthorne Lane, wonderful execution all round. One of the times I was there, Sf resident Sharon Stone was snuggling with her hubby.

            The chef at Thirsty Bear has left to start up B44, a Catalan restaurant. Two blocks awawy from TB is Ché, a nuova latino restaurant that you might like better. Lively, casual and you can sit at the counter.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              So many wonderful choices, so little time. Thanks for all the help. Heidi

              1. re: Heidi
                Melanie Wong

                Be sure to report back!

          2. re: Jefferson Scher

            If you haven't been to South Park Cafe for a while, you'll be pleasantly surprised, as was I when I returned. The food is still very French bistro (down to the parisian waiter who waited on us) and even more detailed and better than before. The daube was fantastic, grilled squid superb, love the atmosphere, nice wine list with good selections by the glass. Prices are still reasonable, entrees under $20.

          3. Heidi, This may not be news to you, but I heard on the news this morning that a fairly hefty earthquake was centered around Napa and Yountville, Ca. The report may have distorted the severity, but my first thought was
            Yikes!French Laundry! Heidi! I think my priorities have become skewed. pat

            4 Replies
            1. re: pat hammond
              Melanie Wong

              Here's the AP story. From this magnitude, there shouldn't be any major property damage, only some broken glass and objects.

              I'm down in Salinas w/my parents for the weekend, so don't have a personal report.


              1. re: pat hammond
                Melanie Wong

                Watching the local news coverage tonight, looks like the damage is a bit more than would be expected for that magnitude of quake. Apparently a pretty sharp jolt, enough to break some water and gas mains, besides knocking things off shelves.

                1. re: pat hammond

                  Yes! I was just watching the clean up on the Today show and having same selfish thoughts as you of the French Laundry. Also expecting many after shocks, what can possibly ensue from those?
                  Off the natural disaster topic if I may: Pat, I've been enjoying your posts for a long time now; you are the Ambassador(dress?) of Good Will at Chowhound - always strokes of encouragement for newcomers.

                  1. re: Heidi

                    Thanks for those sweet words!

                    Melanie's report sounds encouraging, don't you think? And I'd bet for a pro like Keller, it will be business as usual. Can't wait for for a full report after you return.pat