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Affordable yet worthy and near the opera house?

w
Wendy Lai Aug 14, 2001 08:16 PM

It's easy to find excellent food when the price is no object. But we need to be more conservative now days. Does anybody have any suggestions on good restaurants near the Civic Center area? A good meal really puts us in the festive mood before we attend the opera or other cultural events. I would say something around the price range of $20-$30 a person without alcoholic beverages?

  1. m
    Melanie Wong Aug 17, 2001 05:05 AM

    How about Thepin Thai? Steve Drucker reported favorably not too long ago. I've enjoyed Citizen Cake for lunch - they offer a pre-theatre menu. Nice choice of wines by the glass.

    Haven't been to Suppenkuche or Canto do Brasil which should hit your price point but maybe someone else can say.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Melanie Wong
      s
      Syre Aug 18, 2001 08:22 AM

      Suppenkuche can be very good, but it's very German and very porky and beefy. There is always one chicken dish and one vegetarian dish on the menu, but that's not what people go there for. I once had an excellent duck breast there, but never saw it on the menu again after that.

      I can't comment on Canto do Brasil since I haven't eaten there since it moved from its old 18th street location (now occupied by Delfina!). At that time it was ok, but nothing special.

      I like Absinthe a lot, though they've been a little spotty lately. It's not ultra-affordable, but in the same price category as Suppenkuche. I enjoy the food, the lush decor and even like the ersatz "absinthe" (Absente) which contains no wormwood extract but is served with the same ceremony, poured over a cube of sugar. Given a choice between Absinthe and Zuni cafe (both of which are open late), I would not hesitate to pick Absinthe every time, both for food qualtiy and for comfort.

      Caffe Della Stelle is a must to avoid. It used to be a (barely) passable low-priced option, but now has degenerated into the realm of hideousness. Stelline, which has the same ownership, is better, but still not good.

      I find Citizen Cake to be of no interest -- overpriced, overblown and not even a good bakery. And they can be quite snotty to boot!

      The pizza at Vicolo (on Ivy street) is not at all bad, for a really low-priced alternative. And the space and location are interesting.

    2. l
      Limster Aug 18, 2001 04:31 PM

      I don't know if paul K is still around, but I think it could an interesting option - it serves Californian food with Armenian influences. The food is good but not the best I've had in my life, although I think the Armenian twist is interesting enough to sustain a meal. If the lamb riblet appetizer is still on the meal, get it!

      Hayes Street Grill (Patricia Unterman's restaurant) is also in the neighborhood - simple well grilled fish - you pick the fish and the sauce. No fussor fanciness, but very satisfying.

      I second the Suppenkuche suggestion, but I haven't been there in over 2 years. I really enjoyed their beers (good selection of German brews) and their desserts are also excellent (German desserts are actually very good in general). On a related note, I've been somewhat curious about Walzwerk (sp?) on South Van Ness, it's purportedly a East German place. Haven't been there but heard good things about it.

      Absinthe I've always used as a dessert/coffee stop in that neighborhood, but for food, I've always considered them somewhat behind places like Chapeau! and Clementine in terms of price/performance.

      7 Replies
      1. re: Limster
        c
        Celery Aug 18, 2001 05:27 PM

        We did dinner at Walzwerk a few months ago for dinner before a show at the Orpheum (the Mission's not a bad choice for dinner before something at Civic Center - it's only a few minutes on BART from 16th to Civic).

        It was really good. Big portions but not overwhelming - I had potato pancakes (made with mashed potatoes) that were nicely crispy outside and melt in your mouth inside to start. Then had a grilled bratwurst with apple/cabbage salad. My husband had a braised meat with mashed potatoes meal. Small but nice choice of German beers. Would definately recommend it.

        1. re: Celery
          g
          garçon Aug 30, 2001 12:58 PM

          I second that, so do three German friends! Solid German food and friendly atmosphere.

          1. re: Celery
            l
            Limster Sep 1, 2001 02:09 AM

            I was at Walzwerk tonight - it definitely met expectations. The portions I got were formidably German-sized and the atmosphere was pretty cool - unflashy decor with a few slightly whimsical and funky European touches here and there. It's a simple and satisfying place.

            I think the person who took my order (and whom I asked for recommendations) was one of the owners. She's definitely German - gave me a thumbs-up (European symbol for one) to confirm that I asked for a table for one. Of course her subsequent accent was also a dead giveaway. :)

            I ate way too much:

            A decent basic homemade potato salad with chunks of pickles and a sausage

            A super hearty and richly flavored beef and pork goulash that I would strongly recommend. It came with 2 quarter wedges of roasted potato, and their crispy surfaces gave the dish a well deserved textural contrast. Also came with a simple salad on the side.

            Dessert was the only disappointment. The bottom side of the quark tart was pretty much cardboard. A shame, because the accompanying vanilla sauce and the whipped cream showed some care in the making.

            Also had a very nice beer - a dark Köstritzer Schwarzbier - also their recommendation. (Yes - I have a bad habit of asking for recommendations.)

            On the whole it was good, not breathtaking, but good. I'll think of it if I'm ever in the mood for thick hearty food.

            Lastly, I don't think one can directly compare this place to Suppenkuche - it would probably be a case of apples and oranges. Suppenkuche offers a slightly more refined and polished dining experience, whereas Walzwerk just sticks it to you with well made food in easy-going surroundings.

          2. re: Limster
            s
            Syre Aug 19, 2001 07:23 PM

            I haven't been to Clementine, but I have to agree that the food at Absinthe isn't as good as Chapeau!.

            On the other hand, Chapeau! isn't near the opera house, and isn't as beautiful and comfortable nor as genteel.

            I do love the food at Chapeau!, and the service is fine, but it's basically a whole lot of tables packed into a small space with few amenities and a rather high noise level.

            There are times when one wants to relax on plush cushions and sip drinks while eating rather good food in a given part of town, and for that experience I go to Absinthe.

            And again, for late night snacks, comparing Absinthe with Zuni (which I consider to be excessively overrated), it's Absinthe again for me.

            1. re: Syre
              l
              Limster Aug 19, 2001 07:58 PM

              Yes - I like the fact that Absinthe is open late and the rich and cushiony ambience - very comfortable indeed! And I like the fact that they do a great job with desserts - even better than their other courses, IMHO.

              Speaking of decor - I visited a friend in Germany (Bavaria) a while ago, and discovered that Suppenkuche actually looked like the beer halls there, down to the spartan bench-size tables. Since your post, I'm tempted to visit Suppenkuche again as I haven't been there for so long.

              I've never been to Zuni and have been holding off because of many mixed reviews, here and by word of mouth. I suppose I will go there for oysters one of these days, perhaps once the "R" months come again, but it's not high on my list.

              1. re: Limster
                l
                Lucy Gore Aug 19, 2001 10:39 PM

                You know Limster, you should take the dive and head for Zuni. It is the one place we drive down from Napa to eat at in the city on a regular basis, with every sort of foodie type person you could imagine. We always leave with everyone is great moods, totally happy and relaxed. This place is not one of those "compare it too" establishments, in my opinion. It's developed over time, much support and trust in folks that believe in a simple European influenced meal out "California-style". You will enjoy it. Truly.

                1. re: Lucy Gore
                  l
                  Limster Aug 20, 2001 01:50 AM

                  Hmm...Zuni is the one place where some folks claim it's overpriced for very simple but well executed food, while others swear by it. Two extremes.

                  I'm balking mainly because on a graduate student's meagre stipend, I have to strategize a bit more, and can't afford to risk kissing too many frogs just to find the princess, especially when it's pricey. That's why you'll sometimes find me panning a pretty good place because the pleasure per dollar was less than elsewhere.

                  I'll definitely bear your enthusiatic review in mind and bump Zuni up my list - see below. Might just take my parents there when they're here late next month (got a table at Fleur de Lys already!). I'll definitely post about it if I go. What should I not miss at Zuni? And is the roast chicken for two really that good?

                  Incidentally, the current (but always evolving) bunch at the top of my list are Antica Trattoria, Helmand, Barrasa Market's tamales, Da Flora, Good Luck Dim Sum, El Farolito, and a trio of tapas places which I'm hoping to hit in one night on a tapas hopping trip: Mezes, Isa and Alegerias. Also kinda curious about this place called Guilin on 6th Ave, just off Clement, that claims to serve food from the Guilin Region in China. And I want to go back to Sweet Temptations, probably after my monthly trip to Hama-Ko.

          3. l
            Lucy Gore Aug 18, 2001 09:56 PM

            Wendy

            Call a few of the restaurants suggested here & have them fax menu's. It's a great way to see for yourself what the/your possibilities are.
            There is a link alittle ways down about "near Opera House" and places like Bistro Clovis was mentioned. They are a deal! Enjoy!

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