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Jan 24, 2001 10:42 AM

Three days. So many places and so little time

  • s

I am in SF in April for the first time in 5 years.

I have three days and need to plan my chowhounding carefully.

Can anyone give me suggestions in the following

1) Money no object - eg is Fleur De Lys any good?
2) Good Italian - Any Tuscan places particularly
3) Best non Chinatown Chinese
4) Non destinational - of any and all types. I need to know the best snack places, the best pizza places.
5) Brew Pubs/Bars

I will be around Union, but will go to the ends of town for something special

Finally. I will be staying at The Hotel Diva. Any good?

Cheers Chaps

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  1. I stayed there on one of my trips. Good location, friendly service and well-priced---I've recommended it to other friends. I had a corner room so the room was very spacious, but that might not be the case for the regular rooms (the hotel itself is pretty small). Great decorating--everything is packaged beautifully. I love the colors they used. The comforter is this gorgeous cobalt velvet. Even the soaps they give you are pretty (opaque blue and green, plus a silver fortune cookie soap.) My only problem was flagging down a taxi nearby. I had to walk towards the larger hotels around Union Square to get anything.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Jennifer W.

      I love the Hotel Diva and would definately recommend it. Request a room facing the club Ruby Sky to get an eyeful of crazy drunk people. I had a blast watching them from the warmth of my comfy bed. The rooms are very modern with lots of stainless steel. It has a California Pizza Kitchen and a Starbucks in it.

    2. Simon,

      There's been alot of debate at Chowhound about these places, but I cast my votes for Slanted Door (Vietnamese), and Delfina (Italian). They're not far from one another, in the Mission. I also liked MC2, Postrio (Brunch), and Zuni Cafe.

      I stayed at the Diva, last year. I should think that it would suffice. Its kind of "budget." A kitted-out by IKEA-type-of-thing. We spent the first half of the trip at the Miyako, in a Japanese-style suite, so I guess I'd been spoiled. The Diva is convenient to Chinatown and the Square, so that's why we picked it.

      Erik M.

      1. For money no object, I'd go for Chez Panisse. I'm betting that it's easier to find great french food in London than great Californian food.

        For good Italian, I'd give La Villa Poppi (22nd and Mission) a shot. It's artisan cooking (very few items on the menu that changes weekly) with 1 chef and an assistant cooking in a place that seats 20. They charge by the course. As a bonus, it's quiet and dignified. Not 100% authentic Italian - there's definitely a bit of a Californian flair in the cooking. I'd call ahead to find out what's on the menu that week before going. Other alternatives - Albona (Taylor and Francisco) for Istrian food (tastes like a cross between Hungarian and Italian food - get the fried gnocchi), and the cinghiale at Bella (Geary and 3rd).

        For non-Chinatown Chinese, if you're willing to drive, I'd go to Little Sichuan in San Mateo. If not, I'd just stroll down Clement Street in the Richmond on a late Saturday or Sunday morning and grab little bites of dim sum from the various chinese dim sum store.

        Currently, my favorite pizza lives at Arizmendi Bakery in the Sunset, but you can also get them at Berkeley's Cheeseboard on your way to Chez Panisse.

        I'd also recommend Chaz on Fillmore and Chestnut. I've posted about it here a few months ago.

        17 Replies
        1. re: Limster
          Simon Majumdar

          No suprise to me that you have been so helpful. I loved SF last visit ( although why do you never warn people about that bloody freezing fog?? ) and am really excited about this visit. We will also be taking in LA, Las Vegas ( for a big fight in April ) and Death Valley.

          One last Question. I am planning to go to French Laundry. Is it as good as they say? we are planning a lunch visit. would that be the best way to try it?

          Thanks again old chums. Soo much more friendly than your East Coast counterparts:) trouble maker moi?

          1. re: Simon Majumdar
            Caitlin McGrath

            Am I half-friendly because I comment on both coasts?

            Below is a link to a discussion from last year about lunch at French Laundry. A search will also reveal a wealth of opinion (not uniform) about the merits of the place.

            Also, in the Articles & Special Reports section, there's a log by Jim Leff of some eating in the SF Bay Area that includes several places in the Mission District, which I agree would be a good place for easy-on-the-wallet lunch or snacks, and also the East Bay and Napa (not FL).

            If you want to snack your way through the Mission and walk it off at the same time, you could start at the 16th and Mission BART station and head toward the 24th and Mission station (or vice versa), which are a couple km apart; most recommendations you'll get are likely to be nearer to one or the other, with Valencia St. as the central corridor. Lots of good food, both Latin American and other (e.g., Truly Mediterranean on 16th at Valencia).


            1. re: Simon Majumdar

              The fog is our little secret. We can tell the tourists because they are running around in "I Love San Francisco" tee shirts that they bought in Fisherman's Wharf at the moment that their fingers were turning blue. But, Hell, that's August. You should have no trouble in April.

              I'm not quite as sanguine as Caitlin about the train stations in the Mission, especially the 18th. There is some (very understandable) friction about the Yuppification of what has been a traditional Latino working class area of town. I'll spare you the details, but if you come down to Valencia or Mission (which you probably will because lots of the hottest places are there) you will see the graffiti and get the story in about half a block of walking.

              I am delighted that you're coming, and if you want to arrange a (buy your own) drinks party, I'm sure I'm not the only chowhound who'd love to welcome you to the new sod.

              Cheers! Anne Emry

              1. re: Anne Emry
                Simon Majumdar

                Sounds like a good idea. It would be nice to see what other chowhounds look like.

                I think we should suggest to Jim we have a one week window to post a small piccie with a post so I can put faces to the names, Howler, magnolia, Anne, Melanie etc

                I on the other hand would should remain invisible because I have, as we say in the UK a face like a dog chewing a wasp.:)

                1. re: Simon Majumdar

                  Would love to meet you Simon. Don't think I know anyone else who quite fits your description.

                2. re: Anne Emry
                  Caitlin McGrath

                  Anne, I'm actually not *that* sanguine about the Mission stations; I avoid walking on Mission itself around them and definitely don't walk around after dark on my own there, but though you're certainly right about the friction there now, it doesn't feel worse to me than when Mission between 16th and 20th was simply a drug-dealing corridor with its attendant characters; it's a neighborhood to be careful in and where you should be clear about where you're going. I worked for a while near 16th and Valencia, and feel okay about walking on Valencia, which tends to be busy enough with a diverse crowd.

              2. re: Limster

                I will third (or is this fourth) the recommendation for Chez Panisse. I have only eaten there once downstairs in the dining room with the fixed-menu dinner, but I still remember vividly the second course: 2 big wild mushroom raviolis served in consomme. It was so light and simple yet incredibly flavorful and delicious. California cuisine at its best.

                I am not that familiar with the Chinese restaurants in SF. Have eaten at various places off Clement St in the Richmond district with my aunt who lives in Sunset. But one easy place to get to from Union Square would be Harbor Village in the Embarcadero Center (accessible via BART) that has good dim sum and nice atmosphere (not a hole in the wall type place with great food but dismal service).

                1. re: Limster
                  Melanie Wong

                  Saturday morning I found myself perched atop Draeger's in San Mateo in Viognier's Amphora dining room for a wine tasting. Little Sichuan's bright yellow and red sign across the street was in my direct line of sight. By the time the clock rolled past noon, I was longing for some spicy food to clear out the senses.

                  The place was very busy, menu looked great, and we picked a light lunch. I'd appreciate advice from you on your favorites here, as we didn't do that great a job in ordering for ourselves. The onion pancake was average, the xiao long bao were below average with thick bread-like wrapping and dried out filling, but the day was saved by some very good dry fried green beans with just the right amount of char, snappiness and spectrum of hot chilis.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    I'd get dishes there are typically Sichuan - try looking under traditional Sichuan items section on the menu.

                    Go for things like: spicy dumplings, sliced side pork with garlic, spicy combo of beef and tripe, Dong Poa side pork, powdery tender spareribs, sichuan salty pickle fish soup, spicy boiled beef. (Good thing I have the menu right here!) The Xin Jiang lamb that was cumin flavored was also very good.

                    I've heard that the Ma po tofu isn't that fantastic, so I've never had it.

                    They also have fixed priced menus for 4, 6, 8 and 10 people which are very generous and containly fairly good choices. Note: these are only in Chinese on the menu I have - there also also americanized fixed price menus in English, which don't look so appealing. I would probably ask them about these fixed price options.

                    My guess is that just about anything that is hot there will likely to be good, since the Sichuan province is known for really spicy food. And they might all be very hot but are subtly flavored in different ways.

                    1. re: Limster

                      Thanks for the recommendations, Limster! I finally got a chance to try some of your suggestions on Wednesday at Little Sichuan in San Mateo. I owed him dinner, and knowing how much he likes the hot stuff, I thought this was the perfect chance to try a few new things.

                      We ordered right off your list - the soup, powdery spareribs, cumin lamb, and then some mustard greens with garlic. Everything was really good, except the mustard greens which were tough. I recall that the beans I had there before were on the mature side too, as compared to what would be served in a Cantonese restaurant.

                      The soup was delicate and intense at the same time. Just barely poached white fish in a clean-tasting broth with some pickled/salted cabbage that contrasted with sprigs of fresh cilantro. We were especially taken with the layers of flavor in the fire-roasted lamb, and the variety of hotness from the crushed chiles, dried Szechuan red chiles pods, fresh jalapenos and the Szechuan pepper corns. Very aromatic and complex. My brother liked the spareribs a bit more than me, which turned out to be coated with seasoned rice powder and then steamed. The texture was too mushy for me. It reminded him of the mouthfeel of the pork chunks in a long-simmered chile verde. The flavor was very good, but this dish was even hotter, and after about 3 mouthfuls, I had too much heat build-up to go on.

                      Thanks again, now I understand the strong reputation of this kitchen.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        I'm glad you enjoyed your meal there. If you're going to Sam Lok sometime, I'd try the same kinds of dishes. In general I think Little Sichuan is better, but Sam Lok does a decent job.

                        Aren't there are murmurings about another SF chowhound gathering at Sam Lok? I'm tempted to sign up too, but my schedule has been very tight.

                        1. re: Limster

                          I may have finally filled up my heat quota with that meal! I like my food spicier than most, but I still can't touch my brother's level. It's an interesting phenomenon, that he has such a sensitive palate especially to sour and bitter, yet really loves very fiery food. He ate all the slices of raw jalapeƱo on the plate, as is his custom.

                          There have been rumblings of another chowhound gathering. Tida and Nancy have taken the lead, but that doesn't mean that someone else can't organize one too. Since I haven't been to Sam Lok before, I'd really enjoy the counsel of a knowledgeable guide like you to the cuisine/kitchen. If your schedule has been tight, why don't you just pick a date for Sam Lok that works for you to be sure you can be there and we'll see who else is available to join in.

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            I would probably order similar things at Sam Lok, but I feel that Little Sichuan is better overall. As for spiciness, I think Little Sichuan has just about the right level - I go through litres of water and am sweating as I leave the place. I remember eating at a southern Indian banana leaf place in Singapore eons ago and having a drink after each mouthful because the food was so hot.

                            Unfortunately for me, my schedule will be packed for the next couple of months, and while I won't have problems taking off for hours on end, the exact hours I can leave the lab are not so predictable... I'll see if I can make it to the next gathering first and work from there.

                            1. re: Limster

                              If a real Singaporean says that he find the food hot, then I don't feel as wimpy about this anymore. (g) The layers and complexity of hot at Little Sichuan were amazing - one blast at the tip of the tongue, then a warm enveloping of the mid-palate, followed by the afterburn down the gullet.

                              When I used to travel to Singapore for biz, I had asked our country manager to take me to a Thai restaurant. He said I'd have to work up to it. This meant that I had to eat Hunan food on trip, then we went to a Peranakan (sp?) place which had me sweating. He then pronounced that there was no way I could eat Thai food if I found that too hot.

                              I hope you'll be able to come to the next chowhound gathering - would love to finally meet you.

                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                Yes - some of the Thai places back home serve really spicy stuff. My dad's favorite has always been Thanying at the Amara Hotel in Tanjong Pagar; I like that place too and haven't been to a place here that's even close.

                                Do remember that I've been here for a while, and I suspect that I've grown soft (*grin*) from the lack of hot foods, especially good southern indian stuff.

                                1. re: Limster

                                  At a local Thai restaurant that provides seasoning options from 0-5 stars, I asked the owner how Thai people like their food. She said twenty stars.

                                  1. re: ironmom

                                    ironmom wrote:

                                    "At a local Thai restaurant that provides seasoning options from 0-5 stars, I asked the owner how Thai people like their food. She said twenty stars."

                                    That got a chuckle out of me.

                                    Many of the Thai dishes I had in Singapore were flavored with little chilli peppers about 1 inch in length and were loaded with hot stuff. They are hotter than any variety the chilli peppers that are common in here (at least in the Bay Area). We call them "bird" chilli in Singapore, but I don't know what they are called here. I think I've seen them in Chinese supermarkets in SF, but I'm not totally sure if it's the exact same thing as I've not cooked with these chilli peppers.

                2. a
                  Alexandra Eisler

                  I strongly agree with the Chez Panisse recommendation. I prefer the cafe upstairs, which has a full menu, rather than being given no choice downstairs. If you have time, come over to the East Bay in the early evening/late afternoon for a little stroll before dinner. I'm sure others will chime in...

                  Start at the Cheeseboard Collective for their top-notch selection of artisnal cheeses from around the world. Worth a look, and a few tastes of some California cheeses such as Redwood Hill and Cypress Grove. Of course if you're homesick, they were the first stockist in the US to carry Neal's Yard cheeses. (ok, I think Zingerman's was first, but they were probably second).
                  1504 Shattuck Ave Berkeley, CA (510) 549 3183

                  Not food but worth seeing the great bookstore across the street, Black Oak Books.
                  1491 Shattuck Ave Berkeley, CA (510) 486-0698

                  Of course you might want to see the epicenter of the coffee revolution, Peet's on Walnut and Vine, just up the road.

                  Pop in to North Berkeley Wines to see their decent selection of California wines.
                  1505 Shattuck Ave Berkeley, CA (510) 848-8910

                  Left with 30 minutes to go before dinner, how about a cocktail and a small bite at Cesar, next door to Chez Panisse. Full bar and interesting mix of Berklahhh people.
                  1515 Shattuck Ave Berkeley, CA (510) 883-0222

                  Then of course, dinner at Big Al's. What to eat? It's all good, and this is based on 3-4 meals a year for the past (cringe) 15 years. I love, love, love the calzone and ask for even if it's not on the menu. Wonderful salads (try the warm chevre salad). Lovely fish. Niman Ranch beef. Delicious pasta.
                  1517 Shattuck Ave Berkeley, CA (510) 548-5525

                  A few months ago Melanie Wong posted a full day zinfandel tasting itinerary that you must search out if interested in a wine adventure. Lots to see in the Napa, Sonoma and Alexander Valleys up north. Oakland Chinatown has wonderful food. Good lord, you'll have to stay at least a week, Simon, to see and eat everything!

                  And remember, if you lose your passport whilst in town, HMG is here to help. ;) Cheers-Alex

                  1. Wow, a visitation to our fair City from The Simon!

                    The Tuscan sensibility is alive and well at Oliveto in Oakland. You can easily take BART there from where you're staying. Open for lunch and dinner.

                    For best nonChinatown Chinese, if you have a car, drive south of the airport to the town of Millbrae and other points south of SF.

                    As a note so you don't get messed up with cab drivers, your hotel is near Union SQUARE. Union STREET is another popular destination if you want to see Victorian architecture, boutiques, trendy bars and young people with money than sense.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Melanie Wong
                      Caitlin McGrath

                      When Melanie says you can easily take BART to Oliveto, she's not kidding; it's across the street from the Rockridge station. Great place.

                      1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                        Thanks for the added emphasis, Caitlin. It is easier and cheaper to get to Oliveto from Union Square than to many points within SF's borders.

                        Also, the food shops and Rockridge neighborhood are a delight for any chowhound. Last weekend I helped organize a port and madeira tasting at a private home nearby. Most of the noshes people brought came from the Pasta Shop in Market Hall - we ate very well with no muss or fuss.