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Aug 12, 2001 11:38 PM

Best SF restaurant for my birthday dinner?

  • j

I feel like a tourist asking this question but although I know where to get the best ethnic meals I am out of touch with the "fancy" Bay area restaurants. I've narrowed it down to the following and would love to hear your input:
1. Aqua
2. Chez Panisse (downstairs)
3. French Laundry (makes me crazy to think about trying to get reservation)
4. Ritz Carlton (haven't been since Danko left)
5. Farallon
6. Rivoli
7. Bay Wolf
8. Acquerello
9. Fringale
10. Jardiniere
11. Postrio
12. Boulevard
13. Hawthorne Lane
14. Jardiniere
15. Gary Danko
16. Fifth Floor

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  1. french laundry gets my vote hands down. following in order would be:

    1. hawthorne lane

    2. boulevard

    3. chez panisse

    4. gary danko

    5. aqua

    6. jardiniere

    1. My mother had a nervous breakdown trying to get reservations for French Laundry for my 40th -- but then we were aiming for a weekend and that was two years ago at the height of the boom. I think it's worth a shot.

      I recently made a pitch for the Ritz-Carlton on another thread -- I think if you really want to feel special, pampered and cosseted, that's the place.

      In the last few months, the only top-tier restaurant that I've never seen anything critical about -- food, service or atmosphere -- on this list is Hawthorne Lane. It's tops on my wish list right now.

      I like Rivoli and Fringale, but both of them are the kind of place you can afford to have dinner at on less special occasions. Besides, I've always been disappointed in the desserts at Fringale.

      I think all of the places you listed have good food, so the other factor is what kind of an atmosphere do you want to spend the evening in. I believe both Jardinere and Hawthorne Lane have live music, for example. Do you want traditional design or modern? Do you want an older crowd or younger, etc. I'd hold out for a place that will really feel "special" to you.

      1. French Laundry. Is your birthday at least two months away? Best meal I have had in CA.

        1. No Fleur de Lys or Masa's??? Both great destination dinners in SF proper. In fact, I would choose them after French Laundry and Chez Panisse with Danko on a par with Masa's and FdL just a cut below.

          5 Replies
          1. re: srf1
            Jennifer Fish Wilson

            The only reason Fleur de Lys did not make the list is we've been there several times (and loved it) but how did I forget Masa's?
            Thanks to everyone for their input. Obviously I should try French Laundry first and you've given me lots of good back up suggestions.

            1. re: Jennifer Fish Wilson
              Kirsten Armstrong

              I would recommend doing a search and reading the French Laundry threads for the last 6 months. While many swear by the best meal of their lives (and mine did start out as that) - the prices are astronomical and a number of chowhounders have felt truly burned by bad experiences there (myself among that number).

              I would love to go back and form a second opinion - but for $230 a person, it will have to be on someone's expense account.

              One thing I didn't mention in my write-up of French Laundry is that I'm only 22. The friend I took with me is 25. I couldn't help but wonder if the negligent service (warm white whine, a forgotten dish, stale brioche, and unapologetic service) had anything to do with our age.

              1. re: Kirsten Armstrong

                If they treated you badly 'cuz you're young, they'd have to be INSANE. You have many, many years of loyal eating ahead of you. Your age group is a highly desirable clientele for any restaurant.

                That is, of course, assuming you don't show up in torn "Bare Naked Ladies" t-shirts, order shooters, and try to eke out a meal from crackers, ketchup, and salt. Build towers from toothpicks and play tabletop soccer with leftover lamb chop bones. Etc, etc.

                1. re: Jim Leff
                  Caitlin McGrath

                  Unfortunately, however, it happens. If the restaurant has a latent or active snoot factor, it tends to come out when people in theior early 20s show up. Perhaps they assume that younger patrons don't have a lot to spend (not that one has a choice at FL), or don't know or care enough to spend on wine, or whatever. Happily, I only had such an experience once, but it was enough to make me never return there. The captain turned up his nose as soon as we walked in (dressed appropriately and on time), sat us next to the kitchen, and did not even bring a wine list with the menus. I was 25. Now I'd ask for corrections (now I'm not so young, of course), but I didn't then; I did ignore the line on the charge slip for a captain's tip, though.

            2. re: srf1

              I have say I was underwhelmed by Fleur de Lys the only time I ate there. The appetizer I had was superb (the best prawns I've ever eaten -- one of those moments of epiphany when it's as if you are tasting a food for the first time), but the main course was literally unmemorable. And having to argue (futilely!) with the waiter to get my tea brewed the way I wanted it really spoiled the ending of the meal.

              I'm not going to claim it isn't a good restaurant ... I suspect that it was more of a situation where for one reason or another my dining experience just didn't gel. But I'm not in a hurry to go back, either, not with so many other restaurants in the city of similar caliber (although I have to wonder how many three-star+ restaurants in this City serve tea only in bag form and would humiliate a customer rather than take the bag back to the kitchen and pour boiling water over it).

            3. j

              I know you're all dying to know where I ended up for my birthday. Would you believe East Coast West Deli? I blame Andrew Raskin. His description of the deli sounded so good and we needed a place for lunch after seeing the Ansel Adams exhibit @ SFMOMA and then I wasn't hungry for dinner!

              5 Replies
              1. re: JenniferFishWilson

                That's ok - I went to Doyle Street Cafe in Emeryville for my birthday lunch! Not a bad grilled albacore tuna sandwich with homefries and lemonade. And to think I'm walking distance to Chez Panisse!

                1. re: Celery
                  Caitlin McGrath

                  For chowhounds, great b-day meals are about the chow and enjoying ourselves, regardless of the food's provenance and cost, right?

                  1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                    That's right! I guess I'm a true Chowhound now.
                    Hey, Caitlin--you are coming to our picnic, aren't you?

                    1. re: JenniferFishWilson
                      Caitlin McGrath

                      Alas, no--but I'm mighty unhappy to miss it! I'm always envious when I read about the Bay Area get-togethers and the great food--especially now that I know how good the company is.

                      There's a chance I may be out for a long weekend at the end of October to attend a friend's wedding. If we make it west, I'd sure love to be at another Bay Area chowhound meal.

                      1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                        If you come, we'll build it! Just let us know your preference and we'll organize it for you.