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L.A. Chowhounder here -- don't shoot me, but need recs for upcoming vaca

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I know, this is gonna be really general, but hubby and I are going to San Francisco and Santa Rosa (also Napa&Sonoma) for about a week. Haven't been in town for a few years and would love to get some meal recs -- we'll have a few upscale meals, but also would like moderate choices. We love non-touristy/off-beaten path type of places. We're staying near Union Square and then onto Santa Rosa (we'll have a car and will be traveling all over wine country -- any winery suggetions would also be appreciated).

Not huge fans of Thai or Indian. We dine on lots of sushi here so probably no on Japanese food.

Love Italian, Chinese, Mex, "Calif cuisine." Oh, we also love a good bowl of chowder, but never know where to go. Many thanks in advance and if you're ever in L.A., (or Silverlake/Los Feliz) will return the favor in spades! Thanks!

  1. Another LA hound here, with an upcoming trip to S.F. We usually stay in the East Bay because my brother and his family live in San Leandro, and trips into S.F. have been rare since my niece was born 6 years ago. This time, we'll be staying in S.F. close to Union Square and brother will be out of town, as vacation timing would have it. I love my family but I'm happy to have some adult time in the city.

    Scanned the S.F. board a few times and decided on Delfina, Aziza and Zuni for our three S.F dinners. Already have the first two reserved and am counting the days until this Saturday when I can make my Zuni reservation the requisite one month in advance. Seemed like those three would be a good representation of what S.F. has to offer these days, and they won't break the bank. Lunches will be ad hoc but will definitely involve at least one trip to the Ferry Building. I am reading my handy Chowhound's Guide to S.F. also.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Debbie W

      Excellent choices, Debbie. Please report back and let us know what you think!

    2. Hello from Los Feliz! While there's lots of good Chinese food in the Bay Area, Chinese food in the L.A. area is as a whole better, cheaper and more varied. Consequently, you probably wouldn't want to use up one of your San Francisco meals on Chinese food. However, if you want to spend more on dim sum than you could ever dream about paying in Los Angeles, then Yank Sing is your place.

      16 Replies
      1. re: Chandavkl

        A better place is Koi Palace but go early. Be one of the first customer because the wait is a joke

        1. re: yoyo

          Agreed wholeheartedly that Koi Palace is outstanding, but being in Daly City it might be a little out of the way for somebody doing the San Francisco tourist scene.

        2. re: Chandavkl

          I completely disagree with you. The chinese I've eaten in Los Angeles, while good, is comparable to New York. While Los Angeles has better Hong Kong style chinese, the Bay Area trumps LA for Shanghai, Hakka, Szechwan, Islamic Uigur, and (arguably) Cantonese. Although LA takes the cake for Japanese, Korean, Middle-Eastern, and Armenian food, I may proudly claim Chinese as being superior in the Bay Area.

          A few suggestions for San Francisco city limits:

          Shanghai Dumpling King (Shanghai) --> Balboa & 34th $
          Ton Kiang (Hakka) --> Geary & 22nd $$$$
          Mayflower (seafood) --> Geary & 26th $$$
          Mandarin Islamic (Islamic Chinese) --> Taraval & 40s [Outer Sunse] t $$
          Good Luck Dim Sum (dim sum) --> Clement & 7th cents
          Yuet Lee (seafood) --> Broadway & Stockton $$$
          Jai Yun (Szechwan inflected Cantonese) --> Pacific & Stockton $$$$ [prix fixe]
          Spices 1 (Szechwan) --> 6th & Clement $$
          Spices 2 (Szechwan --> 5th & Clement $$

          Regards,
          Z

          1. re: zwilliams

            Totally disagree. LA Chinese is way way better than New York. It is also better and more varied than SF. One of the main reason is that LA Chinese is concentrated, whereas in SF you have to go all over the bay area to get comparable qualities. I esp. disagree that SF Islamic Chinese is superior to LA Islamic Chinese. And price-wise LA Chinese is way less expensive than SF Chinese. And by the way, Hong Kong style Chinese is Cantonese.

            1. re: PeterL

              Very reasonable response. First off, I know Hong Kong style is a constituent of Cantonese style; I see Hong Kong Style as being Cantonese Seafood restaurants, that's all. Secondly, maybe I've written off as I haven't spent a great deal of time in LA. I will continue to look into LA chinese.

              Thanks,
              Z

            2. re: zwilliams

              Having eaten at 500 Bay Area Chinese restaurants and over 1,000 in the L. A. area, I will say that while numerically and quality wise Bay Area Chinese food is very very good, and I would be very happy eating only at Bay Area Chinese restaurants, Los Angeles is the Chinese food capital of the United States. Quite simply there is no large geographic area in the Bay Area that is so heavily Chinese influenced as the San Gabriel valley, which is basically one gigantic suburban Chinatown encompassing the cities of Monterey Park, Alahambra, San Gabriel and Rosemead, plus Arcadia, Temple City, Hacienda Heights and Rowland Heights. I'll concede there is no Hakka food in Los Angeles, but there is Shanghai, Szechwan, and Islamic cuisine as good or better here in Los Angeles than in the Bay Area, and there are other commonly found regional cuisines in the San Gabriel Valley (e.g., Taiwanese cafe style, Shenyang) that you won't find in the Bay Area. Every other poster on this board who has compared Los Angeles and San Francisco area Chinese food has opted for Los Angeles, so this is not just my personal bias.

              1. re: Chandavkl

                I agree with Chandavkl. LA trumps SF for pretty much all regional Chinese cuisines and Taiwanese cuisine. The only exception is high end cantonese which SF wins based on the strength of Koi Palace alone.

              2. re: zwilliams

                20 or 25 years ago San Francisco Chinese food was better than Los Angeles and New York was better than San Francisco. However, the order has clearly reversed to LA/SF/NY. Of course Vancouver leaves all of them in the dust.

                1. re: zwilliams

                  "... the Bay Area trumps LA for ... Islamic Uigur ..."

                  Where have you found Uighur cuisine?

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    I was referring to Islamic Chinese with emphasis on hot (warm?) pot and lamb. Perhaps it's not Uighur. Regardless, I was referring to Islamic-style Chinese.

                    1. re: zwilliams

                      Where is there lamb/hotpot in the Bay Area? There are a couple of chains (Little Sheep, Monland Hot Pot) doing this in the San Gabriel Valley. Thanks.

                      1. re: zwilliams

                        Old Mandarin Islamic's specialty is Peking-style hot pot.

                        Darda in Milpitas is a better bet for other Muslim Chinese dishes. They also have three Xinjiang dishes, see this thread (Fremont location has since closed):

                        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                        1. re: zwilliams

                          To Chandavkl - the lamb hotpot chains are cropping up here too . . . San Mateo, Milpitas, Fremont.

                      2. re: zwilliams

                        Z, note that Jai Yun is principally Nanjing/Shanghai with a few Sichuan dishes thrown in. Can't think of any Cantonese influences, unless you want to give Guangzhou credit for the abalone and eggwhites, though I wouldn't.

                        Spices 1 and 2 are heavily Taiwanese-influenced in the style of Sichuan served.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          Thanks Melanie,

                          This is good to know. I'm not especially knowledgeable of Chinese cuisine and I've made a good deal of mistakes in my postings regarding the topic. I guess I need to keep eating.

                          Regards from Paris,
                          Z

                          1. re: zwilliams

                            Eating well is your best tutor!

                    2. Where do you buy the Chowhound's Guide? I did a search and couldn't find anything --

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Silverlaker

                        Nevermind, I just purchased it on amazon --

                      2. Koi Palace: Go for dinner or dim sum or both. I grew up on Monterey Park/SGV/Roland Heights chinese and this tops them all. Try the live king crab 2 ways.

                        Canteen: go for dinner or brunch and have renowned chef Dennis Leary cook you up some refined comfort food. For dinner, I recommend any of his soups, and have seconds on the brioche rolls. For brunch, I recommend the beef hash. It's also within walking distance of Union Square.

                        Redd (in Yountville): another star chef who's actually cooking in the kitchen. Great cal-cuisine with wine pairings from local wineries.

                        Oliveto/Chez Panisse/Zuni: one of these for more cal cuisine.

                        Santa Ramen (San Mateo): my favorite for ramen up here. I'd say it's a tie with Santouka in Torrance.

                        and most definitely The Ferry Building on Saturday. Go at 10 or so, grab some eggs a Rosie's, coffee at Blue Bottle, and sample the huge array of fresh fruits, cheese, bread, produce. It's more impressive than the Hollywood Farmer's Market.

                        1. Hey Debbie, can you tell me a little about the restaurants you mentioned (Delfina, Aziza and Zuni)& why you chose them. Is Delfina suppose to be really good for Italian? Thanks.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: Silverlaker

                            As to Zuni, I am truly embarassed to have never eaten there before, given how many times I've been to S.F. including when I lived in Berkeley in the 1980's. It's a classic, and I felt it was time to give it a try. Plus I love the cookbook.

                            As to Aziza, it is different than anything here in L.A., the menu looks exceeding intriguing, I like that it's out in the Richmond, we can do a tasting menu for a reasonable cost, and the cocktail list looks utterly amazing.

                            As to Delfina, I don't really have any great reasons other than it gets consistent good notices on this board (well, that's a great reason) and the menu looks really interesting and different than what we usually eat at home. Plus it's in the Mission so that's another neighborhood we get to sample and the Mission has certainly changed a lot since I lived up there.

                            I actually spent a lot less time obsessing on where to eat than usual.

                            For you S.F. folks, since we are trying for Zuni specifically on August 15th, I can try for my res. on July 15th. Any pointers on how best to accomplish that? Should I try Open Table? Call? Thanks. If I'm not successful with the res., should we go anyway and hope for the best in the bar?

                            After our 3 nights in S.F. we are off to Tahoe where I have 2 free nights at Harrah's (and at least of our last visit 2 years ago there isn't anywhere all that interesting to eat) and then 3 nights in Mammoth for our annual fishing attempt, and in Mammoth there definitely isn't anything great unless you count the restaurant at Convict Lake which was fine but overpriced, so I'm really looking forward to our S.F. dining as the culinary highlight of our vacation.

                            1. re: Debbie W

                              To both Silverlake and Debbie W. Good choice about that Chowhound Guide. It is truly great when being spontaneous. There is always a rec for something nearby to try.

                              Here's a really nice recent Zuni report with a link to photos

                              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                              Reservations for Zuni should be no problem. If OpenTable allows a reservation for August 15th today, then go ahead and make it. With OpenTable you have a piece of paper in your hand that confirms a reservations and there are those dining points. Not that I remember Zuni losing reservations.

                              1. re: rworange

                                Thanks for that Zuni report link. The pictures are amazing - oysters, Caesar salad, chicken, granita, rice pudding, wow! What a wonderful meal you all had.

                              2. re: Debbie W

                                Zuni also saves a fairly significant number of seats each evening for walk ins. Getting a reservation has never been a big problem, but I believe they are only releasing certain times to Open Table, so perhaps best to make the reservation directly with the restaurant if you have another time in mind.

                                1. re: Debbie W

                                  Getting a reservation at Zuni for a weeknight a couple of weeks in advance has never been a problem for me.

                                  Looks to me like they take only <6:45 and >9:30 on opentable. If you want some other time, phone the restaurant.

                                  1. re: Debbie W

                                    Hi Debbie W! Your choices are right on. I've never been to Delfina, but the other two are great. I don't think you'll have a problem getting your first choice reservation at Zuni; I would probably call to get the most options.

                                    To Silverlaker: Canteen is a fun little place for breakfast or dinner, and it's likely within walking distance of your hotel. Here's a link to my recent brunch report: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                                    For Cal-Ital, I really enjoyed our meal at Incanto posted on here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                                    And the Ferry Plaza/Building on Sat. is a must-visit. Buy some June Taylor jam to take home and see what else at the farmer's market entices. While there are a plethora of eateries to choose from, somehow I'm happiest w/ a loaf of bread from Acme and cheese from Cowgirl.

                                    Hope you both have a great time and please report back!

                                2. I'm a clam chowder fan, having tried almost every bowl in the area (well, alot anyway).

                                  My favorite at the city is Woodhouse Fish, but only if in the neighborhood (Castro-ish) It is good, but not destination clam chowder.

                                  http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...
                                  http://www.woodhousefish.com/

                                  While I'm not a fan of it, Hog Island has a $14-ish bowl of clam chowder that is quite popular. My problem is that what it REALLY is a bowl of clams WITH shells in a broth. It is a fine dish, but I have problems with the word chowder.

                                  HIGH on my list that I haven't tried yet is Ferry Plaza Seafood. It is right across from Hog Island and a number of Chowhounds who know my passion for chowder have recommended I try it.

                                  http://www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.c...

                                  Skip the chowder at Swan's Oyster depot. I haven't actually tried this, but there are a number of reports that it is canned chowder doctored with clam juice.

                                  Going north toward Napa, Fish. in Sausalito is REALLY a worth-while stop for both seafood and the chowder. It is right on Richardson Bay in Sausalito with picnic tables on a pier right on the water. The white chowder is very good but my favorite is the Portuguese chowder.

                                  http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...
                                  http://www.331fish.com/food/index.html

                                  Should you find yourself in Berkeley, one of my favorite chowders is at Sea Salt. I love this place, it is SO Berkely.

                                  http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...
                                  http://www.seasaltrestaurant.com/

                                  1. Washington DC hound here - Several mentions of Azziza - strongly agree with this rec - my wife and I were there most recently over Memorial Day weekend, and it was great as always.

                                    1. Thanks for all your suggestions and debates -- you've all made me very hungry!

                                      1. Hiya Silverlaker! I was born and raised on the East side of the Lake. Right in Neutra-town.

                                        I second, third, fifty-fifth Zuni. Also I love Oliveto in Oakland. It's right next to the Rockridge BART stop. Wonderful food, lovely restaurant.

                                        Taddich Grill - great old SF ambience - long wood counter, crusty waiters, etc. Good plain fish - grilled swordfish, pan-fried sand dabs or petrale sole. Fantastic tartar sauce and great dinner seafood salad with house dressing. Sitting at counter is fine if you can't get a table. No res.

                                        I'd do Canteen for breakfast. One of the best lattes I've ever had. Perfect eggs. Tiny little fun place.

                                        Had a fabulous dinner last weekend at Green's, the famous veggie restaurant orignally started by Tasajara/Green Gulch folks - Deborah Madison was there, etc. It's in a lovely location - on a pier at Fort Mason overlooking the Marina. I'd highly rec. this place.

                                        I also love Jeanty at Jacks - tres bistrot/cafe Francais - with all the usual dishes (steak and frites, tarte tatin, frisee salad with egg and lardons, etc.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: oakjoan

                                          I just made reservations at Zuni -- I had no problems getting in, probably cause we're visiting mid-week. Thanks again.

                                          Any thoughts on Italian? We're major fans -- in L.A. we're regulars of Angelini Osteria (i.e. more authentic) but we also love the ol' fashion, red sauce American/Italian.

                                          1. re: Silverlaker

                                            Oliveto's Italian. Zuni is Italian-influenced, somewhat similar to Campanile. Delfina's menu is mostly hardcore Italian except the entrees are sometimes not. Here's a thread with more info:

                                            http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                                            1. re: Silverlaker

                                              Incanto in SF. A-16 in the Marina area. Haven't been there in a while, but they have glorious pizza and very good food from a particular region, Campagna, in Italy. Another really nice place is here in Oakland, on Telegraph Avenue. It's Pizzaiolo. You have to stand in line to get in unless you go very early (5:45) or quite late (9-ish), but it's worth it for the food as well as the scene.

                                          2. you have gotten some great recs for food.. so many choices, so few meals... so here are a few recs for wineries that I have enjoyed, not just the wine, but the setting too.... V. Suttie, Cline Vineyards, Coppola, Geyser Peak, Taft Street, Sunce, Bennett Lane, Follie Deux.. but the absolute favorite is Vincent Arroyo, amazing wines, have a reserve that we stock up on more and more each year, especially the port, yum!

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Mel

                                              where is vincent arroyo? one i've missed. my favorite portworks in the valley is Prager, but always looking for new ones to try!

                                              1. re: djh

                                                it is up in Calistoga on Greenwood... very small, card table for tasting room and a wonderful dog that plays catch among the barrels.... it is hard to tast their port since they only sell them on reserve... but last time we were there we got to do a barrel tasting of the next batch which was amazing, chewy, deep flavors...

                                                here is their website
                                                http://www.vincentarroyo.com/

                                            2. Again, you guys are GREAT! I've got a great list going, and thanks Mel for the wineries recs -- I hope to return the favor one day soon!

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: Silverlaker

                                                Some of the worst wines I've ever had from California were made by Sunce. At V. Sattui, the pickings are a bit slim, best bet is the Riesling and some of the fortified wines. Taft Street's wines are nothing special. Vincent Arroyo does a great job with Petite Sirah.

                                                1. re: Silverlaker

                                                  Don't eat there (high prices and not amazing) but DO have a glass of wine at sunset on the outside porch at Auberge de Soleil in Rutherford. Stunning view of the valley. A friend who took me there said that the changing colors of the landscape as the sun set reminded him of Monet paintings.

                                                  If in Sonoma, stop by Sonoma Market for picnic supplies. Fantastic selection, lots of the best bakeries represtneted, good selection of little wineries at good prices ... the olive bar has about 70 olives. Pick up some cheese at The Cheesemaker's Daughter, daughter of the owners of Vella Cheese ... also worth a stop. Good breakfast items at La Salette in Sonoma.

                                                  The best way to return the favor for the tips is to report back about your trip. It helps locals when considering recommendations in the future and visitors who might read your report in the future ... and it is always great to have the most current info on the board.

                                                2. Chezmargie -- thanks for your response & your recs, we will definitely check out Hess, sounds up our alley. My husband and I enjoy less commercial, smaller experiences. Though we've been to most of the various wine countries in CA -- Temecula, SB, Sonoma,Santa Cruz hills, up until this visit, we have avoided Napa (because we've heard how large and commercial it is). But if you could rec a more personal & unique Napa visit that would be wonderful.

                                                  Anywhere with art galleries a plus and restaurant recs always welcome. Oh, and we'll be based out of Santa Rosa. This trip we'll focus more on Santa Rosa area, Napa and Sonoma (which I love) -- any other small towns in that hood we should visit and venues there, pls let us know.

                                                  What are the "must" restaurants that I need to make reservations at??? Nothing pls at too high a price-point (like French Laundry) -- we're more at $100-200 for dinner. Thanks again!!!! I'm gonna need a notebook for all the great recs (or a longer trip).

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: Silverlaker

                                                    Since you'll be based in Santa Rosa, why not focus on the wines and villages in Russian River Valley, Dry Creek, and Alexander Valley instead? Far less driving and better wines, unless Cabernet Sauvignon is your focus.

                                                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                      And go to Cyrus in Healdsburg instead of the French Laundry.
                                                      http://www.cyrusrestaurant.com/

                                                  2. I have to wholeheartedly agree with chezmargie. Hess is one of our most favorite destinations, and not just for the wine. The drive up the hill from the bustle of Napa is very enjoyable, and the art gallery & collection are stunning.
                                                    DO NOT go to V. Sattui - that is unless you like paying for overpriced nibbles and tripping over clueless tourists while inhaling RV fumes. Because of all this activity, it also happens to be one of the most congested an annoying stretches of Highway 29 (take Silverado trail instead!)
                                                    Let me just sum it up this way. While driving by the winery one very busy afternoon, we spied a large, brightly coloerd and tackily designed vinyl banner hanging on their front fence.
                                                    It read: "V. Sattui Welcomes Nascar."
                                                    Enough said.

                                                    1. Also, since you're going to be visiting Sonoma, here's our favorite route to get from Napa to Sonoma:
                                                      Go North up Silverado Trail
                                                      - Mumm (Rotating art gallery 7 Ansel Adams photo collection)
                                                      - Stag's Leap (intimate tasting room, and fantastic big reds)
                                                      - Meadowood (just to see the croquet lawn, elegant lunch at the Grill)
                                                      - Auberge Du Soleil (a MUST for sunset cocktails)

                                                      Cross West on Dunaweal Lane, North of the St. Helena downtown traffic snarls on 29
                                                      - Clos Pegase (Michael Graves designed the winery - great caves)
                                                      - Sterling (famous sky-tram)
                                                      - CIA Greystone (on highway 29, just south of the cross.)

                                                      Or cross West through downtown Calistoga (lots and lots to see & buy)

                                                      Then take Petrified Forest/Calistoga Road up West over the hill and down to Sonoma Valley on Highway 12. You'll be rewarded with incredible vistas and a winding mountain road that is more than scenic (stop in at Hans Fahden Winery for their Monet-inspired gardens and wonderful cabernet - if their flags are up, Antone has decided to open the tasting room).

                                                      If you're coming from Sonoma, you can make this drive in the opposite direction - the road is known as "Calistoga Road" on the Sonoma Side.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: foodiegrl

                                                        You can save some time by tasting at Mumm in the evening; I'm not sure how late tastings run compared to late summer sunsets in July, but during some seasons you can wrap up your tasting and sit on the patio with a last glass of champagne and watch the sun set. Mumm's on the same side of the valley as Auberge du Soleil, but doesn't have quite the same elevation.

                                                      2. If you get as far north as Calistoga, you should visit Chateau Montelena winery. The wines are great, but the property is the real draw. It's stunning.

                                                        A couple of recommendations for SF dining... Go to Canteen for lunch. We are always thrilled and feel like we've gotten away with something (food this good for this little?). I don't think anyone has mentioned Piperade. It's a Basque restaurant that does everything right. Have the garlic soup. The room is lovely and the service is gracious. It's a true gem. As mentioned above, the Ferry Building is a must-see. The clam chowder at Hog Island Oyster Co. is some of the best I've ever had. Go back on a weekday to have lunch at Boulette's Larder, too. The menu is short and ingredient-driven and features some of the best food I've ever eaten. Service is a pain, but it's the one place where I just don't care. Have fun!

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: monday

                                                          Second Chateau Montelena! We were there a couple of years ago after trying their wine at the French Laundry on a prior trip. The chateau is gorgeous. I believe we made a reservation for a tour and tasting. Very worthwhile.

                                                        2. The number of posts is very formidable.

                                                          My favorites:
                                                          In the Napa Valley, Tra Vigne is beautiful, you can dine in or outdoors, food is great, little touristy OK.
                                                          Also in the Valley, Mustards is still great after all these years - espcially their hamburger and fries

                                                          In San Francisco, nobody mentioned the Slanted Door at the Ferry Building. Fantastic modern Vietnamese/Asian. Nothing like normal Vietnamese.

                                                          And for a splurge Boulevard is fabulous....

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Josh in San Francisco

                                                            Ummm, the Slanted Door serves something very much like traditional Vietnamese food, only in a fabulously impressive (and expensive) space at radically inflated prices.

                                                            And without much else to recommend it. There are, after all, better, and cheaper, Cha Giao rolls in SF....but SD does have amazing views....

                                                          2. I wouldn't go back to Tra Vigne, food was fine but not great. Same goes for the other Real Restaurants-owned places I've tried.

                                                            http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                                                            1. Two of our favorites for really good, clean, honest food:

                                                              Jai Yun (chef's tasting menu, and this food is really unusual for our part of the world)
                                                              Hog Island Oyster Co. (oyster stew, raw oysters)
                                                              Yank Sing (adventurous dim sum, a little expensive, but really tasty)