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May 26, 2003 01:26 PM


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Is it just me and almost everyone that I know, or do others feel the same? - The ZUNI Cafe is the most overrated restaurant in San Francisco. I've yet to have a memorable meal there. I've had their "wonderful" hamburger - You can only get it for lunch. Too bad, because it's better than most of what you can get for dinner but it was far from knocking my socks off; very far. The chicken. Well, I'm not that big on chicken anyway.... These are the two dishes that this place is known for! Chicken and hamburger? I just don't get it. On the times that I have been there I have also been annoyed that you can not sit at their bar to have a drink. Stools are not provided; you must stand. That's a sure way to ensure that no one will linger there for long - Yet another reason to dislike the place. Have I just been unlucky every time that I have been there? Is there something wonderful that I am missing? Who do the owners of this place know to continue to get rave reveiws? Ahhhh, it feels good to get this off my chest.

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  1. You are correct--- it is just you.....seriously, no place that has managed to be so successful for so long and who's mover and shaker has become so famous can possibly meet the expectations those three factors inevitably set. The fact that it has remained a very good, medium-priced, casual restaurant for so long is amazing and if you don't like chicken and don't like burgers why did you go there in the first place given so many choices. The French Laundry it is not, and has never claimed to be...

    2 Replies
    1. re: Jimbo

      I've had many good meals at Zuni. I remember some ricotta gnocci that hovered above the plate, they were so light. Never enough time to have the chicken though. Zuni Cafe cookbook just out and getting good press. In fact, Judy Rogers received two of the top national James Beard awards (to be presented on A&E on Jun 28th), one for the restaurant, the other for the book.

      1. re: Jimbo

        I suspect the operators of Zuni would--and certainly should--be appalled at the advice you offer!

        Hamburger and chicken represent what--10%--of a given day's menu?

        We've had far more disappointing than wonderful meals there, everything from friendly and competent service to surly, incompetent.

        I believe one thing above all others when it comes to (serious) restaurants, in any price range, of any culinary style: The kitchen should take pride in and pay total attention to every morsel served. Nothing should be on the menu if it can't meet that standard. My image of a restaurant diner is a couple who have hired a babysitter, paid for transportation or parking, and are looking forward to a rare night out that's been budgeted for carefully. They deserve to feel welcome, get competent and helpful service, and fresh, properly prepared, delicious food at a fair price, as well as a decent choice of modest-priced wines.

        Why have we returned to Zuni over the years? Mostly because we always eat out after performances and periodically Zuni comes up as one of the declining number of spots available for later-evening dining; it's got a certain urban charm; and, I guess, hope springs eternal--we always want it to live up to the best memories we have (which definitely include those ricotta ravioli).

        I recently posted on the Calif. board about a chicken dish at Stoke's in Monterey that lived up to the expectations I've always had when ordering Zuni's.

        We did have such a bad experience the last time we were there, it's been a couple of years since and we haven't been back. All this inspires me to give it another go sometime soon.

        Sure hope Rogers reads this board.

      2. the only reason I go there now is to have an afternoon oyster feast with a fine bottle of wine- one of the very best places in the city for it.

        over the years I've had too many hit and miss meals to go for dinner anymore and the service is usually indifferent or worse. I know lots of people who feel the same as you and lots that still love it.

        yea it's been around for a long time and winning awards recently, etc...which speaks to the wide and differing range of what people expect and experience in mainstays like zuni.

        awards and press often misrepresent restaurants these days...

        1. I'm with you. I've had several mediocre and overpriced meals there and have come to the conclusion that it's one of those places with a somewhat inflated reputation and a "see and be seen scene" that is probably fun for others but I just don't get it.

          1. j
            Judith Hurley

            I've griped about Zuni at length on this board, but I have to say that I had brunch there this past Sunday and it was lovely. It's admittedly wildly expensive. For the price, I was hoping my poached Aracuana eggs might have something to do with a nearly extinct ostrich-like bird from an exotic locale, but apparently they came from a mere chicken, albeit a chicken with interesting plumage (for the money, I hoped I'd at least get to meet her). But we had a gorgeous window seat, great service, excellent bread. The cheese desserts paired with dried fruits or honey are always a great choice, and the wine and aperitif list is a treat.

            The main thing, I think, is that over time, Zuni isn't reliable. You can have a wonderful experience . . . or not. We've been burned there in the past, most especially on service. And there's no predicting. Given the restaurant's reputation and the cost, you would hope that it would be really good for most people most of the time.

            5 Replies
            1. re: Judith Hurley

              Reliability or consistency seems to be a problem practically everywhere in SF..I know we've discused this strange anomaly here on the board before...It's getting to the point that when someone asks for a restaurant suggestion, I couch it by saying "if you go on a good day!" or "usually it's good..but you never know" It is frustrating...I don't remember having to say this when I lived other places...perhaps now that I 'm a "Hound" I'm more aware of quality and have loftier expectations!

              1. re: derek


                I totally agree. We went to Chez Panisse Cafe last night and the service was adequate, but our waiter never checked with us if it wasn't absolutely manadatory. And the pacing was quite slow (which was especially problematic due to the lack of check-ins). The food was delicious but not mind-blowing.

                My BF and I rarely go out to eat for budgetary reasons--last night was a special occasion. When we're going to splurge we really want it to be perfect. But we were saying to each other, after our CP experience, that it's always such a gamble whether service will ruin the meal (or if the food will even be that great) that it's really not worth it. Fortunately, I love to cook and am pretty decent at it. More often than not, I end up wishing I'd busted the paycheck on delights from the farmers market and butcher/fishmonger than having gone out.

                I've never been to Zuni, mostly because of the experiences I've read on this board. Now that I have the cookbook, I really want to eat there, but I just feel I can't risk the rare expense of a (only potentially) good meal to bad service.

                Excellent service definitely can make a mediocre meal taste a lot better. The converse is painfully true as well. ARGGHH!


                1. re: Missy P.
                  Stanley Stephan

                  I guess I've been lucky since I've never had bad service at Zuni. Don't know why as I hear many complaints about it.

                  With Zuni, I would stick with the things they are noted for like the chicken and the ceasar salad. I never tried the hamburger as I believe it doesn't qualify as a hamburger unless it is on a hamburger bun. Even a sourdough roll has me foaming at the mouth in rage. So the hamburger at Zuni never appealed to me.

                  I had a salad at Zuni once that was memorably disappointing. It was a pink lady apple that had four slices of apple so thin you could see through them. They added no taste to the salad at all and at $8, I felt robbed. However other than that I've had good food experiances there.

                  1. re: Stanley Stephan

                    i disagree almost wholeheartedly; what's amazing about Zuni are the non-'signature' items.

                    the kitchen's way w/ingredients is mindboggling. had a simple dish of bitter greens, topped w/mustard vinaigrette, sieved egg, and breadcrumbs. it was one of the best things i've ever eaten in my life.

                    that's not to say the chicken/caesar road's a bad one. i just think it'd be foolish to stick to solely those items.

                2. re: derek

                  yes I'm sure it has been discussed here before but good point derek.

                  I often find myself, when dining out at a new place I've read about thinking that- if this was place was in nyc it wouldn't last six months.

                  I love sf and lots of food we have here but there is a big difference in what diners in this city will accept, hype, and patronize than in nyc for example.

                  not trying to start a discussion on sf / nyc as I know it's been discussed on this board before too- but it seems to be getting worse here so I had to mention it.

              2. amen! I read with amazement any time Zuni is mentioned as a great restaurant. I've eaten there twice, once about 2 months ago. Except for the fact that it served relatively late there were no other redeeming features. As far as "moderate price" is concerned, Zuni is not in that category. I spend quite a bit on places more expensive, but this is not some casual bistro with Luna Park pricing. Instead it's a casual bistro with Julia pricing.