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Recommendation for Surprise Birthday Dinner in SF

Hi all, we are visiting SF (from NY) later in the year to celebrate my husband's 40th birthday. I'm inviting a few west coast friends to join us for a little surprise dinner party. I would love your recommendations for good group dining in SF.

We love good food in unpretentious settings - Italian is a favorite. For points of reference, we've had good success with similar dinners at Lupa and Blue Ribbon here in NY.

Thanks in advance.

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  1. I like Antica Trattoria for Italian. It's good food and unpretentious.

    1 Reply
    1. re: OnceUponABite

      Years ago (before I moved), Antica was my favorite Italian restaurant. I loved their bolognese. Very friendly staff.

      I also recommend Incanto, Pane e Vino and Bacco.

    2. You should try Luella in Russian Hill, at the corner of Hyde and Green. The food is great, the decor is fun and modern and most importantly the staff is very personalble. I am throwing a privite party there is September and they have been nothing but helpful. Another great point is if you don't want to rent the entire place they have a nice back area that isn't seperated from the dinning room that you could reserve, I would guess that 10-25 guest would fill it up. Check it out and good luck!

      1. Thanks so much for the suggestions. After scouring the board and talking with friends, I've looked into Incanto, Delfina, Luella, Aziza, Rue St. Jacques. They all look wonderful. But the truth is, each reminds me of restaurants I know in NY.

        So I'm now wondering if there is a more unique SF experience I should be pursuing. Thoughts?

        1. We went to Incanto with friends from New York who have been to all the Italian places there and they didn't find it very similar to home. I imagine the same would be true for Delfina. New York just doesn't have the produce to do that sort of Chez Panisse-influenced Italian.

          Incanto's back room is great if you have 12 or more.

          1 Reply
          1. I'm not an SFer but I went to a birthday dinner at Suppenkuche, a german place, and thought it was really fun for a group and very casual. It's not italian but check it out...

            6 Replies
            1. re: FNY

              I concour. Suppenkuche is amazing, I eat there frequently. try the herring, its to die for.

              1. re: FNY

                I think i would have been really upset for the rest of my life it I'd spent my 4oth at Suppenkuche

                1. re: Sixy

                  Yeah, I like Suppenkuche, but it's a very casual and bustling place. Not somewhere I'd go for a special occasion.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    But its unpretentious and good, which is what this group is looking for.

                  2. re: Sixy

                    > I think i would have been really upset for the rest of my life
                    > it I'd spent my 4oth at Suppenkuche

                    For my 40th, I planned my own food extravaganza, so I know what you're saying. BUT, in this case, I think we have to trust the poster to know her husband's tastes and/or know how to deal with the fallout. ;-)

                    1. re: Jefferson

                      agreed - but although casual, I don't think suppenkuche fits the "italian in the vein of Lupa" that the OP requested.

                      I didnt like Suppenkuche at all when I visited but a German friend has told me it has recently improved a lot so I will give it another try. It's all big portions and beer and noise. Communal beer-drinking from a boot-sized glass, that kind of thing. OP - is that to your husband's taste?

                      for the record i went to Babbo in NYC for my own 40th.

                2. If you want a really unique experience try a fairly new restaurant: Bushi-Tei,1638 Post St.(at Luguna near Fillmore)SF 94115, tel: 415-440-4959. It's Asian-fusian (French) and rates right up there with Gary Danko. If you can afford it try the chef's special tasting menu about $85.00 per person. I've never had such a sublime, exquisite dinner. On the menu alacarte runs from about $14. to $34.(for Kobe beef). It looks like a store front from outside, but is really lovely inside with very friendly service and a very talented chef. I hope you get to enjoy it, a truly remarkable experience.

                  1. Is the wine list of much importance in your decision?

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Wine list is not so important. Our friends are the guzzling variety of wine drinkers, so we'll be sticking to value wines!

                      I love Zuni but it didn't rock my husband's world when he went there last year.

                      I'm intrigued by Bushi-Tei - thanks for the recommendation. I will look into it.

                    2. when I think unique SF experience I always think Zuni Cafe. Though not italian, it is consistently a great dining experience (good food, good wine, great service).

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: evangross

                        I agree, Zuni's tops. And it definitely has Italian tendencies.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Why does everyone in SF send everyone from the rest of the world to Zuni Cafe? Do they have a great "kickback" program?

                          1. re: gettinfat

                            No. Zuni is simply a great restaurant to a lot of people. Feel free to disagree, many do.

                            1. re: gettinfat

                              I recommend it because it's one of my favorite restaurants. I've had dozens of great meals there, never had a bad time.

                        2. I think it depends if you are looking for food that will be certain to rock your husband's world (if Zuni didn't) versus an overall group dining experience with solid (and quite possibly fantastic) food and a warm neighborhood feel to facilitate the group dining experience. This board has plenty of guidance on food that will rock his world. I think Gary Danko is the most casual of the top-end spots but I haven't been to Bushi-Tei. Gary Danko has a private room. On the neighborhood piece, I ate at Blue Ribbon or Blue Ribbon Bakery the last few times I was in New York and (of course) LOVED my meals. But I am open to hearing about those lesser-known neighborhood spots that may or may not be better than anything I can find at home but would offer a view into local life coupled with a solid dining experience. If that's your direction I am thinking: Firefly (Noe Valley), Liberty Cafe (Bernal Heights), Delfina (Mission), Isa or Bistro Aix or A16 (Marina), Trattoria Antica (Russian Hill), Eos (Cole Valley), Cafe Kati or Acquarello (opposite ends of lower Pacific Heights area) and, yes, Zuni. Isa has a great patio, good for group dining and guzzling. There are scores of other great options in these categories.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: rockridgechow

                            Delfina all the way! I've only been there once, but Liberty cafe is very small and the chicken pot pie is made with frozen peas, and sauce is pure roux. I need to give it another chance in the future, maybe they were having an off night.

                          2. Isa is a good one, not pretentious, great food, and a good area in the back patio for a party. The "large" small plates make ordering and sharing easy. In fact the last time I was there I saw a birthday party.

                            If you want Italian A16 has an outdoor heated patio that is great for parties too. Eating outside never feels pretentious. Here's the link to a post about a birthday party at A16

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: AmySherman

                              I think the chef at A16 left a few months ago, so you may want to look for recent information on the food.

                              1. re: reneesf

                                It hasn't changed significantly. The new chef, Nate Appleman, is the old #2 and was all set to be chef at a second restaurant when Christophe Hille left.

                            2. I ate at A16 consistently pre and post 'the chef' and the food has remained consistently good throughout the switchover in my experience. The wine list is very interesting

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Sixy

                                A16's wine list has some excelelent stuff but the best Italian wine lists are at Incanto, Acquerello, and La Ciccia.

                              2. SF Hounds - thank you so much for the attention to my post. All the chat has made me excited for our trip to SF. Clearly, we can expect some good eats.

                                As for the birthday dinner, I can tell you that Delfina is ruled out. They don't take parties larger than 6. Slanted Door (which no one here suggested but everyone I know who has visited SF seems to think is terrific) is out too - they are booked already.

                                I innocently asked my husband what he liked/ disliked about our prior party at Lupa. He said that the food was excellent, of course, and the wine, but that being at a long table in the middle of the dining room made conversation kind of hard. So I think a private dining area is key and family style meal would be good too. That way, people can switch seats, get up and chat and mingle a bit more.

                                Anyway, thanks again for the ideas and comments. I do appreciate them!!

                                1. Hi all, just wanted to let you know that we selected Incanto for the dinner party. Now we just have to decide whether to do the whole beast or not. And decide which wines to get. Decisions, decisions. . . .

                                  Thanks again for your terrific recommendations. We hope to get to a few of the other restaurants while we're in town too.