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First Time Out in Months - Need Recommendations

t
teerak Sep 7, 2006 08:20 PM

My husband and I are planning our first night out in almost a year (we had twins awhile back and have had our hands full). We're dieing to have a great meal and some time to ourselves and we'd love some recommendations for new restaurants to try, or if you have ideas about old restaurants to try we're up for that too!

We're looking for a restaurant that is:

- in the city.
- not ridiculously expensive. With twins, all our money is going to diapers these days :)
- good about keeping to reservations. We don't want our few hours out to be wasted waiting for our table.
- all around good food. from appetizers to entrees to desserts. i want it all!

Any help you can give is very much appreciated! We're having trouble figuring out where to go - seems like a pretty momentous occasion to us since it's been so long!

Thanks in advance!

  1. t
    teerak Sep 19, 2006 06:54 PM

    Well, we finally did it! We got out of the house, just the two of us! Thank you to everyone who posted recommendations. We ended up choosing to go to Aziza for a few reasons. 1) the menu looked interesting 2) lots of you recommended it 3) it wasn't downtown so it would be closer to home so we could spend our time away in the restaurant rather than in the car.

    We were sat in the back dining room, which seemed much more intimate than the other two, on a comfy pillow-filled banquette along the wall. It was nice to actually get to sit next to each other. We were both so giddy to be alone though, honestly, that they probably could have sat us in the kitchen and we would have been happy!

    We started out with a watermelon salad - two types of watermelon, shaved pecorino, rosemary and arugula drizzled with honey. This was wonderful. Very different and light and perfect for a warm evening. Why can't I ever find watermelon that tastes this good?! Left me wanting more.. looking back on it now, it was probably my favorite part of the meal.

    We moved on to two different appetizers:
    one was fresh bodega goat cheese w/ cherry tomato & citrus jam, pistachios, and toast --> this was wonderful. The jam spread was amazing and a great accompaniment/ balance to the cheese.
    the other was a selection of mediterranean spreads (eggplant, yogurt-cucumber-dill,. and something balsamic) w/ flatbread --> this one I could have done without. None of the spreads tasted inspired to me. They each left me feeling a little bored and wishing I had ordered something else. Don't get me wrong, they were good. It's just there were so many more exciting things we could have gotten! Ultimately, I found myself hogging all the goat cheese and jam.

    Our entrees were amazing. We shared fennel crusted ahi w/ tahini and a really yummy salad of diced tomatoes and peppers (i believe), and rabbit with a cherry sauce and parsnip puree. The rabbit was to die for and the ahi melted in my mouth! The portion sizes were perfect and presentation was beautiful.

    And dessert... OH it was wonderful. I had a chocolate cake with warm drizzled fudge sauce. But the best part was the fresh mint ice cream that came with it. The whole concoction together was BLISS! My husband had the apple galette, which i didn't even bother trying I was so enamored with my own. He said it wasn't the best he'd ever had, but he certainly cleaned his plate.

    I would DEFINITELY recommend this as a date restaurant. It felt really special to be there, the service was good (if not forced at times) and the food exquisite. The crowd was eclectic - some were very dressed, others were wearing tshirts and jeans.

    Thank you again everyone for helping make our first night out in ages memorable!

    2 Replies
    1. re: teerak
      rworange Sep 19, 2006 07:03 PM

      Thank you for reporting back and giving us the end of the story. Happy for you that this worked out so well.

      1. re: rworange
        Morton the Mousse Sep 19, 2006 08:38 PM

        I'm so glad that you had a good time. It's nice to hear some raves about Aziza after a couple of lukewarm reports.

    2. n
      Nancy Berry Sep 10, 2006 05:29 AM

      I really like Firefly. They have a Sunday-Thursday prix fixe for $34 that includes any appetizer, entree, and dessert plus coffee or tea. The food is excellent, great appetizers and salads, varied and delicious entrees and really good desserts. They've always honored our reservations promptly and the service is quite friendly. Here's a link to their menu -- they keep their website pretty current.

      http://www.fireflyrestaurant.com/menu

      4 Replies
      1. re: Nancy Berry
        susancinsf Sep 10, 2006 05:52 PM

        The last two times I've gone to Firefly I have been sat next to someone with an infant. Definitely *not* what I would choose for my first night away from the babies, for just that reason alone!

        In that neighborhood, for what the OP is describing she wants, I'd consider Range...and based on the reports here, I'd also consider NOPA. and would second Aziza.

        1. re: susancinsf
          n
          Nancy Berry Sep 10, 2006 10:25 PM

          That hasn't been my experience, Susan, and I'm sure that the staff would seat them appropriately if they were informed during the reservation process of the nature of this visit to the restaurant. The folks at Firefly have always been very friendly and accommodating to us.

          1. re: Nancy Berry
            susancinsf Sep 10, 2006 11:48 PM

            sorry, I remain unconvinced. It is a small place, and on one of those visits the server had to be asked several times for basic items, and yet spent an inordinate amount of time cooing over the baby at a nearby table.(and even carrying her around for a few minutes, with the parents permission). Definitely kid-friendly, but were I in the OPs shoes I'd want something NOT kid friendly.

            However, it certainly isn't just or even primarily the kids issue by any means: I think the food is much better at Range and in a different category altogether at Aziza (and while neither are cheap neither are ridiculously expensive either). For that matter, ditto on Bacco, which also has a weeknight prix fixe in the same dollar range as Firefly's. Just to clarify: I haven't tried NOPA, was just suggesting it as a possibility to consider based on others positive reports.

            Indeed, I find the food and service mixed enough at Firefly that I probably wouldn't keep going back (I've been perhaps four or five times) were it not in my neighborhood, didn't have Navarro wines by the glass, and sometimes showed glimpses of being excellent. (I've had particularly good luck at Firefly with vegetarian dishes). For those reasons, much more than the prix fixe, I keep giving it another try despite my lack of enthusiasm...

            It does have a website for the OP to check out the menus:

            http://www.fireflyrestaurant.com/

            1. re: susancinsf
              Atomica Sep 11, 2006 04:26 AM

              As a parent of a not-quite-toddler, I really agree with something like Range over Firefly. Range is more urban and sophisticated, and I do think the food is better than at Firefly. I would not consider Firefly to be a very "special" night out at all. Range also has cocktails, which is a big plus in my book.

      2. rworange Sep 9, 2006 12:30 AM

        Hmmm ... what about Ana Mandara?

        It is a stunning-looking restaurant, they are good on reservations, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday there is live jazz and when you exit the restuarant you can take a nice stroll around the prettier parts of Fisherman's Wharf.

        http://www.anamandara.com/

        IMO, Slanted Door is the better restaurant of this type, but Ana Mandara holds its own. Slanted Door is just such an ugly restaurant, view or no view and not so good about reservations.

        One place that I've been considering that is up your way is a Cal-Peruvian restaurant caled Karamanduka. That wouldn't be the same old, same old.

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

        Hope you'll report back where ever you go.

        1. rworange Sep 8, 2006 05:31 AM

          The Richmond Restaurant always gets good reviews on this board. It is high on my places I want to try. It is near you. Parking is a little tight, but maybe you might just want to cab it from your house.

          Here's the OpenTable description
          http://www.opentable.com/rest_profile.aspx?rid=4887

          Website:
          http://www.therichmondsf.com/menu.php

          Aziza might be fun.

          11 Replies
          1. re: rworange
            t
            teerak Sep 8, 2006 07:37 PM

            The Richmond does sound like a good neighborhood spot. The current menu doesn't wow me though. Actually, looking at most of the menus from the restaurants above, I don't feel very WOWed by any of them. Am I missing something or is there a lack of inventiveness these days? I'm assuming most are going for quality of ingredients rather than quality + originality.

            1. re: teerak
              m
              Maya Sep 8, 2006 07:43 PM

              I love the Richmond, and go there all the time because it's very close to me, but if I were you, I really would go to Luella. Every single thing we had there (party of 4, and I tasted everything) was phenomenal, and it was a very pleasant place with great service. I've been to nearly every other place mentioned above (Incanto, Aziza, The Richmond, Chapeau, Range, Canteen) and Luella is a real winner. Aziza would be a good choice too, though, if you are into that cuisine and awesome cocktails.

              1. re: teerak
                Robert Lauriston Sep 8, 2006 08:29 PM

                If you want inventiveness, go to Coi, Daniel Patterson's new place.

                http://coirestaurant.com

                1. re: Robert Lauriston
                  p
                  Problem Child Sep 8, 2006 08:37 PM

                  Coi might not fit into her "not ridiculously expensive" criteria

                2. re: teerak
                  Morton the Mousse Sep 8, 2006 08:38 PM

                  You said you were looking for all around good food, not originality. Many of the best restaurants in SF serve food that, at first glance, appears to be simple. But when you actually taste it: the stellar ingredients + the expert preparation + the incredible amount of time it takes to make everything from scratch, you can't help but be wowed. I can still close my eyes and fantasize about the perfect braised pork dish I had at Incanto last month; it did not need to be weird in order to be memorable.

                  We're not big on molecular gastronomy here. Those restaurants that try it tend to go out of business. I like to believe that our ingredients are so good that we don't need to fall back on the strange. But, if you're looking for something more "original," and you don't want to drop a mint, you're best bet is probably Coi.

                  1. re: Morton the Mousse
                    t
                    teerak Sep 8, 2006 08:52 PM

                    I'm not looking for "weird", just a bit discouraged by a couple of the menus i've looked at. No big deal. And I guess that is only because we are spoiled here with the usual suspects being great yet subtle items like seared day boat scallops, wild mushroom ravioli and slow cooked pork loin.

                    And yes, Coi does seem a bit out of the price range. Thanks though.

                    1. re: teerak
                      Morton the Mousse Sep 8, 2006 09:39 PM

                      Gotcha. You're not necessarily interested in molecular gastronomy but you don't want yet another iteration of the ubiquitous Cal/Ital/French. Consider the chef's tasting menu at Aziza (a real bargain at $40 for five courses). It's been panned on the board a bit recently, but I've always had amazing food there from start to finish.
                      aziza-sf.com

                    2. re: Morton the Mousse
                      m
                      MuppetGrrl Sep 8, 2006 08:54 PM

                      Well put, Morton. Even with the best ingredients, inventiveness can backfire--I think the basil ice cream at Bar Tartine is a perfect example. The dish sounded fascinating, looked beautiful, but just didn't hang together, flavor-wise. The sorbet with (oh, damn, something like champagne?), on the other hand, was not utterly original, but it worked on the levels of appearance, texture AND flavor.

                      I'd much rather have a perfectly-done, utterly cheesy-creamy macaroni and cheese than a stacked tower of beautiful, but unmarried, ingredients. I just read Jacques Pepin's memoir, and he goes on at length about nouvelle cuisine and striking a balance between creativity and good food.

                      1. re: MuppetGrrl
                        Robert Lauriston Sep 8, 2006 08:56 PM

                        Have you tried the macaroni gratin at Nizza la Bella? It's the richest I've encountered.

                        1. re: MuppetGrrl
                          m
                          MuppetGrrl Sep 8, 2006 08:58 PM

                          No, I haven't! Where is Nizza? (Mac and cheese is most definitely a luxury item for me, like spaghetti carbonara, so I don't often indulge.)

                          1. re: MuppetGrrl
                            Robert Lauriston Sep 8, 2006 09:02 PM

                            Albany.

                            http://www.nizzalabella.com

                    3. p
                      Problem Child Sep 7, 2006 09:00 PM

                      If I am in your shoes, I will go to Chapeau! in the inner richmond area.

                      1. d
                        Dieppe Sep 7, 2006 09:00 PM

                        Rather than a date place, how about somewhere with a convivial vibe and good people watching like Town Hall? Their food is more complex than what you'd probably cook at home and a good value.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Dieppe
                          JasmineG Sep 7, 2006 10:57 PM

                          I'd only go to Town Hall (despite the enjoyable food) with someone I didn't really want to talk to that much, or with a really really loud voice. That place is deafening.

                          1. re: JasmineG
                            m
                            MuppetGrrl Sep 7, 2006 10:57 PM

                            I agree. I've been there with groups, and it's fine, but it's not terribly intimate.

                        2. s
                          ScrileyOSU Sep 7, 2006 08:29 PM

                          Range (in the Mission) is amazing. It isn't expensive, and they serve the best chicken I have ever had. It is a good atmosphere as well, and they do interesting cocktails.

                          1. r
                            rtmonty Sep 7, 2006 08:28 PM

                            I would go to Rue Saint Jacque or Luella. Both are neighborhood places, not fance but good food across the board and good service. And, you'll be able to afford wine without breaking the bank.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: rtmonty
                              m
                              Maya Sep 7, 2006 09:57 PM

                              I was just logging on to suggest Luella. Fabulous food, chill neighborhood vibe, attracive surroundings, and great service. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

                            2. m
                              MuppetGrrl Sep 7, 2006 08:27 PM

                              I've heard good things about Oola, too, if you're going for romantic.

                              One restaurant I LOVED that seemed reasonably priced, had incredible service, and very rich, delicious French food, is Le Charm. It's on Fifth and Folsom, so plenty of parking, and I've eaten there twice just as a walk-in. They have a canopied backyard. The wine is mostly local, the maitre'd loves talking about it, and the cassoulet was amazing. Great date place, IMO.

                              11 Replies
                              1. re: MuppetGrrl
                                Robert Lauriston Sep 7, 2006 08:38 PM

                                I've had great meals at Oola but it doesn't seem like a special-occasion place to me. And there have been two or three reports in the last month or so that make me wary that it might have gone downhill.

                                Le Charm gets mixed reports here.

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

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                  m
                                  MuppetGrrl Sep 7, 2006 08:53 PM

                                  Canteen gets blazingly fab reviews and I had a terrible time there, so it goes to show! :)

                                  1. re: MuppetGrrl
                                    Robert Lauriston Sep 7, 2006 09:06 PM

                                    Canteen's been running over 10 to 1 positive to negative reports. That's about as close to a consensus as this board gets. Any chef can have an off night.

                                    1. re: MuppetGrrl
                                      Morton the Mousse Sep 7, 2006 09:07 PM

                                      Canteen gets blazingly fabulous reviews for breakfast and brunch but fairly mixed reviews for dinner.

                                      1. re: Morton the Mousse
                                        m
                                        MuppetGrrl Sep 7, 2006 09:16 PM

                                        I'm aware of that, Robert. Everyone here adores Canteen. Every chef has an off night. Evidently I was on the one night a year he screwed up, and that's what I have to go on.

                                        Thanks for letting me know that, Morton--I hadn't noticed any other not-great reviews here, and was beginning to wonder if I remembered the grainy potatoes as well as I thought I did. :) Maybe that's the issue. I rarely, if ever, eat out for lunch or breakfast, though, so dinner's pretty much my only dining-out meal.

                                        1. re: Morton the Mousse
                                          Robert Lauriston Sep 7, 2006 09:21 PM

                                          Being bored by Canteen would be one thing, but based on three dinners, I can't imagine bad mashed potatoes coming out of that kitchen, that's why I figure it was an off night.

                                          If Dennis Leary gets sick, does someone fill in? It's very much a one-man show there.

                                          1. re: Morton the Mousse
                                            m
                                            Maya Sep 7, 2006 09:56 PM

                                            FWIW, I didn't think Canteen (for dinner) was all that great either. To me it didn't live up to the hype. The brioche was fantastic, but the rest of the food just didn't wow me.

                                            1. re: Morton the Mousse
                                              Melanie Wong Sep 7, 2006 11:41 PM

                                              Potato dishes every where around here are disappointing this season. Mealy and washed out flavors. A good one seems to be the exception.

                                              1. re: Morton the Mousse
                                                m
                                                MuppetGrrl Sep 7, 2006 11:44 PM

                                                I don't know about that. I've had quite a few delicious baby potatoes as recently as last night, and my homemade Yukon gold mashed have been consistently fine.

                                                Besides which, I'm of the opinion that if the ingredient's no good, use something else. (For the record, I went to Canteen last winter, not this season. And maybe dinner's just not their thing as much as other meals.)

                                            2. re: Robert Lauriston
                                              c
                                              Chowsmurf Sep 8, 2006 09:22 PM

                                              I very much enjoyed the ambiance at Oola- exactly what I look for in a "date place." Which can be a special occasion, depending. I guess we did go there to celebrate something somewhat special, but mostly just because I wanted to go somewhere sexy and eat good food and I had been curious about the place since I walk by it nearly every day after yoga.

                                              Depending on your outlook, I would consider it "special occasion." I'm sure there is better food to be had elsewhere, though for a non-bbq appetizer rib, you really can't beat it. (The burger is phenom as well.)

                                            3. re: MuppetGrrl
                                              susancinsf Sep 10, 2006 05:49 PM

                                              I personally wouldn't trust Oola to meet the 'good about reservations' criteria based on my experience there.

                                            4. Robert Lauriston Sep 7, 2006 08:26 PM

                                              I'd go to Incanto. We typically go way overboard but if you eat and drink like a reasonble person it's relatively inexpensive.

                                              http://incanto.biz/sample_menu.html
                                              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/318907
                                              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/34045
                                              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/33118

                                              FWIW the chef's kid isn't much older than yours:

                                              http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/s...

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                Morton the Mousse Sep 7, 2006 08:45 PM

                                                I'll third Incanto. The prices are shockingly low considering the quality of the food. I've only been once, but it was one of my best meals of the year so far and I can't wait to go back. The food is incredible from first course to last. They were very good about keeping our reservation and even held our table when we called to let them know we were stuck on the bridge. You could get carried away with wine, but if you're still breast feeding that probably isn't an issue. One thing to keep in mind when looking at menu prices is that they charge a 5% back of house surcharge in addition to the gratuity.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                  t
                                                  teerak Sep 8, 2006 07:33 PM

                                                  I'm wondering: what is it about Incanto that is SO good. The reviews you list don't necessarily make me feel i NEED to eat there.

                                                  1. re: teerak
                                                    m
                                                    MuppetGrrl Sep 8, 2006 07:43 PM

                                                    I grew up on the cooking of Italian mom and grandma, and the pork shoulder gave me a full-on sense memory of my grandmother's pork. The meat ragu with handkerchief pasta was so savory and delicious that I had to pause after the first few bites to gather myself. (What I call the mouthgasm!)

                                                    The sliced meat plate--prosciuttos, salamis, etc.--were better than any I've had anywhere else.

                                                    It's Italian fare, and familiar, but it was done better than anywhere I've ever had it before. And the wine list is tops.

                                                2. m
                                                  MuppetGrrl Sep 7, 2006 08:21 PM

                                                  Incanto's one of my faves, but it can creep up there pretty quickly if you're drinking wine. It's in Noe Valley, too; do you have any idea where you want to eat in the city?

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: MuppetGrrl
                                                    t
                                                    teerak Sep 7, 2006 08:23 PM

                                                    We don't mind where we eat. We live north of the Panhandle so we're pretty central and don't mind driving/taxiing wherever we're going.

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