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One dinner in SF, four very different choices...

Incanto
Quince
Aziza
The Dining Room at the Ritz

All very, very different places, to be sure. But after lots of research here on Chowhound and elsewhere, I have narrowed a very long list of candidates down to these four places for our one dinner on what will be my first visit to SF.
(If it helps, some background: I go to school in NYC. Live in TX (as does my father). Favorite Italian restaurants in NYC are L'Impero and Babbo. Never tried Moroccan food before. Going to Manresa and Chez Panisse on the nights prior to the night of our SF dinner.)
I am seeking flippant, impulsive analysis from the SF hounds. I am at your mercy. Which restaurant would you go to? And why?

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  1. Aziza. If you're going to Manresa then you've covered the upscale tasting menu thing, and if you're going to Chez Panisse you've got your "California cuisine" thing, so Aziza will offer a completely different experience.

    2 Replies
    1. re: PegS

      I agree -- Peg's reasoning is spot-on.

      1. Given the style of Babbo and L'Impero, you really should try Incanto (or Oliveto). Restaurants in New York simply can't get the same quality of produce.

        On the other hand, you don't have anything like Aziza in NY.

        Dining Room at the Ritz is the same general category as Manresa.

        11 Replies
        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          I like Incanto because the style reminds me of Batali italian but don't go expecting Batali. The pasta is a little less toothsome than what Batali dishes up. The hankerchief pasta with ragu is rich and wonderful as is the braised pork. In terms of pasta and wine diversity, Lupa and Babbo still have Incanto beat.

          Quince may offer a style of italian different from what you'd find in NY. It's also very market driven. The pastas and antipasti are more inspired than the entrees. The wine list is skewed towards the pricier side but it's great.

          1. re: Porthos

            Batali offers more choices of pasta by making it ahead and freezing it.

            Incanto has around 30 wines by the taste, glass, or quarto; Babbo has half that number by the quarto only.

            Babbo's bottle list is much longer, but despite that not as comprehensive. For example, they have no Argiolas wines, no Sardinian reds other than Cannonau, no Cerasuolo.

            Reports on Quince have been mixed, use the search to find recent posts.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Whether or not Incanto is better than Babbo, they're similar enough that, given the option, one should try something different. At least, that's my opinion. If the original poster can eat at Babbo at home, and has never eaten Morroccan food (and there's nothing like Aziza in NY), then I think Aziza is a better choice.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                Priorities vary. If I go someplace that's credibly reported to have better Italian food than I can get at home, eating some is going to be really high on my list.

                Having cooked both Moroccan and Italian food, I don't think Aziza is doing Moroccan food at the level Incanto is doing Italian.

              2. re: Robert Lauriston

                I don't know if he freezes the pasta or not, but it's cooked and sauced perfectly. Lupa's wine list is pretty extensive as is Babbo's. The fact that they have 1 not 2 Sardinian reds and more wines from other regions doesn't necessarily make it a lesser wine list.

                Either way, the pasta at Babbo, frozen or not, is still better than Incanto in my opinion. The variety and the sauces can't be beat. Frozen and dried pasta doesn't imply inferior pasta. In fact, it's hard to get fresh pasta to be al dente. Again, Incanto is good...very good, but I don't think it beats Lupa or Babbo. The OP shouldn't go to a place he can get better at home.

                Robert, you should try Babbo AND Lupa the next time you're in NYC. Maybe you'll become a believer.

                1. re: Porthos

                  Fresh pasta is at its best the day it's made. Freezing noticeably degrades its texture. That's why Incanto and Oliveto serve the more limited selection they can prepare daily, just like at any decent place in Italy.

                  They also have chefs who are in the kitchen five or six days a week, and better produce than restaurants in New York can get.

                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                  "Reports on Quince have been mixed, use the search to find recent posts."

                  You should really try Quince. Then we would have another recent report.

                  1. re: Paul H

                    Agreed. One should really try the restaurant first before passing judgement. My latest visit to Quince was within 1 month of my Incanto visit and the styles are so different, you can't say one has better food than the other. There are dishes at Quince that celebrate local produce better than Incanto and dishes at Incanto that are more satisfying than anything I've ever had at Quince (braised pork).

                    It's even hard to pass judgement on the pastas alone. The ragu with the hankerchief pasta at Incanto was richer than Quince's ragu, but the the Quince pappardelle was thicker and more toothsome than Incanto's pasta. Gnocchi to gnocchi, the Incanto gnocchi was twice as large as the Quince gnocchi but both were equally light and well made.

                    Quince is different enough from NY style italian that it's worth a try. Incanto, rustic as it is, is not. I go to Incanto because I can't get Batali italian. If Lupa were next to Incanto, I'd choose Lupa 6 out of 10 times. I'd choose Babbo 8, even 9 out of 10.

                    1. re: Paul H

                      I'm not passing judgment, just suggesting that people read the posts.

                      If you want to encourage me to try Quince, don't tell me that Incanto's braised pork is more satisfying than anything you've had there!

                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Romans and italians in general eat dried pasta as much, if not more than fresh pasta. Carbonara is made with dried pasta. You can't get that texture with fresh pasta. Fresh isn't always better.

                      1. re: Porthos

                        Of course. Dry 100% semolina pasta is a whole different thing, and it's usually a terrible idea to substitute fresh egg pasta. No decent Italian restaurant would serve fettucine alla carbonara.

                        But fresh egg pasta is better the day it's made than after it's been frozen. The best Italian restaurants serve only as many fresh pastas as they can make that day.

                3. Concur with Peg and Ruth -- Aziza will round out your trip and make for an extremely memorable trip. You won't be disappointed if you get the tasting menu.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Carrie 218

                    Agreed, even if you don't get the tasting menu...

                  2. Well..we were markedly underwhelmed by Babbo, thought Incanto was good not great and really like Quince.

                    1. I've scratched The Dining Room from the list. Don't wanna risk culinary overkill doing a long formal tasting menu the day following Chez Panisse and Manresa.
                      But among Incanto, Quince and Aziza? Decisions, decisions. Maybe we'll just see what sounds best to us that day...

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: tupac17616

                        That's a dangerous plan, reservation-wise. On the other hand, let fate dictate!

                        1. re: tupac17616

                          Which day of the week are you talking about here?