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Vacation in SF - Recommendations, Please

This year, the wife and I didn't buy one another Christmas presents (apart from a few stocking stuffers) and instead opted to spend 5 nights in San Francisco. We live in Los Angeles and have family in the Bay, including my wife's new niece. I've been saving up my freelance money (my regular paycheck goes towards those darn bill things) for a few months and we've budgeted roughly $300 a day for food.

Our plan is to eat at a nice restaurant every night, and we'd like to do one of each of following (with some possibilities listed for each)

* Italian
-- Perbacco
-- Quince

* French
-- Fleur de Lys
-- Chapeau!
-- Cafe Jaqueline
-- Boulevard

* Steakhouse
-- El Raigon
-- Alfred's
-- Lark Creek

* Seafood
-- no idea

* Something "San Francisco"

We're also interested in lunches, but we don't really have any set categories, but we want to get chinese and sushi and have fond memories as of Sam Wo's and we've heard good things about Brand Ho. Looking through SF chowhound I've read positive reviews for Aziza and Bong Su. We're also open to breakfast recommendations.

If it makes a difference we're staying at Hotel Majestic, where we've stayed a few times before and which we enjoy. I like how it smells like old books and I'm hoping the remodeling didn't destroy the charm.

We're a few hours from SF now (I'm posting this via my Macbook Pro through bluetooth to my Blackberry and on to the EDGE network)



* Random geekiness note, I love the fact that this site runs on Ruby on Rails, I've just recently started developing in RoR for both my 9-5 and several freelance projects. I've only deployed 1 app so far, but man RoR totaly rocks.

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  1. We have a reservation or Perbacco tonight so that covers Italian.

    1. Yank Sing for dim sum.

      Press a Vi in the Presidio for lunch

      1. In the seafood category, go to either Tadich or Sam's Grill (in the SF Financial District), especially if you have never been to either before. Both are old-school restaurants that have been in business for decades and decades. Order whatever fish is fresh that day and have it simply grilled. Tadich also serves an excellent cioppino.

        3 Replies
        1. re: DavidT

          Last time I ate at Tadich, I assumed the salmon I ordered was wild. I should have asked the waiter, turned out, it was farmed. My daughter's sand dabs were so much better.

          1. re: walker

            Tadich has the name, but Sam's has the food and the old San Francisco feel. Try the Dabs ala Sam. When in SF, Dabs are a year round local fish. Sam's and Tadich were originally business men's power lunch joints with dark wood, trophy heads, etc. Women lunched at the more polite Russian Tea Room.

            1. re: WEkhardt

              Sam's is still a business lunch place.

        2. El Raigon is unique.

          With that budget, I'd do Fleur de Lys or La Folie for French.

          Something "San Francisco," Zuni or Delfina.

          1. * Italian
            -- Perbacco
            -- Quince

            Either one would be great. Perbacco is noisier and has an urban vibe. Quince has more of a (very good) neighborhood place/atmosphere. I think Quince has better food. The very best "nice restaurant" Italian in the city is Acquerello.

            * French
            La Folie is probably the most "French" upscale place
            Chapeau! is very good but a very long ways from downtown & definitely a neighborhood place.
            Aqua's kitchen is run by a very accomplished French chef (if you want to kill two birds with one stone [seafood])
            Another possibility is Jeanty at Jack's, the SF outpost of Yountville's Bistro Jeanty.

            * Steakhouse
            San Franciso is not known for its steakhouses. And since I'm rarely seen in a steakhouse, I'll leave this to others.

            * Seafood

            Aqua serves very good seafood at very high prices. Great place, though; try the tasting menu! Pesce (Polk Street) is much less expensive and serves excellent small plate seafood. It's a great neighborhood place and you'll not run into other tourists here.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Paul H

              Aqua has gotten some very negative reports here recently, including some from former fans.

              Acquerello is so French-influenced that I don't think of it as Italian. Their $110 five-course prix fixe with wine pairing is one of the best high-end bargains in town, especially if you drink enough to take advantage of the free refills.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                I should have mentioned that my opinion of Aqua is based on my visit there before Christmas when I had the tasting menu with wine paring. It was an excellent experience and far better than the tasting menu / wine pairing I had at Michael Mina two weeks previous.

              2. re: Paul H

                The Quince vs Acquerello distinction is an odd one. The decor in Quince is much nicer, in a simple clean way where everything is of the highest quality; Acquerello has more flowery decor that looks a bit tired. I found the food to be reflective of the atmosphere; Quince delivers outstanding dishes that make you want to scrape your plate while the food at Acquerello was much more fussy but not necessarily tastier for the fussiness.

                Perhaps if we ordered the tasting menu at Acquerello we would do better in terms of getting the chef's full attention, but as a young couple seated in what was obviously the "young poor couple" section of the restaurant we felt like we were getting rote versions of standard dishes. The cheese course was very interesting and on point at Acquerello, and you can tell the chef has a special interest in unique cheese.

              3. A really fun afternoon outing is Hog Island Oyster Co at the Ferry building - oysters and champagne - can't beat that!
                If you go to El Raigon for steaks I would suggest making a res at Cafe Jacqueline at 10ish for dessert. It is a restaurant that specializes in souffles, I prefer their dessert souffles to their savory souffles, and it would be a really special way to cap off an evening.
                For seafood you could do sushi - Ozumo is excellent and has a lot of unique dishes. Ask the chef to prepare a tasting menu for you. It will not disappoint.

                1. Incidentally, a friend had his bday dinner at Harris' about 2 weeks ago. While I think we all thought that the apps were not particularly memorable, the steaks were fantastic. I had the filet mignon - it was perfectly cooked and was very flavorful. Their by-the-bottle wine list is also incredibly well price - it would appear that they try to make their killing by the glass.

                  Then again, maybe I was just so thrilled to finally have my craving for steak met that anything still practically mooing would have sufficed. ;)

                  1. If you're craving Chinese, maybe for lunch, and you want a truly unique more 'down-scale' experience, Hunan on Sansome near Columbus. Huge, noisy, almost warehouse-ish, but you can see the cooks at work and the huge smoked bricks of meat, birds, etc.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Fiftyishfoodie

                      That's Sansome near Broadway. I love the hot and sour beef (#12) and the smoked ham (#34). Pretty salty, they're intended to be eaten with abundant steamed rice.

                      There are a couple of other branches. There's a famous Web page by a guy who ate his way through all 78 dishes on the menu:


                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        That blog is great. He says it's Henry's Hunan at 110 Natoma, which is SOMA, not Chinatown. The one on Sansome is just called Hunan. Are they connected in some way? We'd love to try the one talked about in the blog.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Thanks for correcting me! I was only a few blocks off, and to think I used to work right across the street!

                          I did mean Hunan on Sansome (near Broadway).

                      2. For seafood you should think about an upscale Chinese restaurant like Koi Palace in Daly City (it's worth the short drive.) They serve the freshest of seafood (lots of live tanks) and it's crab season, so a crab dish would be great -- they also serve great Peking duck and wonderful dim sum. It's a very busy place, so the service can be brusque, but the food is very good.


                        1. another possibility for seafood is crustacean, a vietnamese crab place, located at the corner of polk and california. for a cheaper version of essentially the same thing, head to La Vie on Geary near 23rd, or thereabouts...

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: sfoperalover

                            Just curious if you've eaten at Crustacean lately? It seems to get slammed a lot on Chowhound. It would be nice to hear either an uphill report or the good dishes to order there that maybe are being missed. I think it is on the DAT list.

                          2. Thanks for all the great ideas! We ended up eating at Ozumo two nights ago and having their prix fixe meal. It was quite good, and I'm going to write about the experience on my blog shortly. Tonight we have a reservation at El Raigon for dinner and then a reservation for dessert at Cafe Jacqueline. Tomorrow evening (our last night in SF) we're have a reservation at La Folie. Today we're going to have Chinese and tomorrow seafood, we haven't decided exactly where we're going for seafood... but we may just do something at Fisherma's Wharf... and for Chinese we're most likely going to do Sam Wo's for the nostalgia value.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: eecue

                              Well, if you are eating at Fisherman's Wharf, I like Scoma's the best so far. It is on it's own little pier, has free valet at the door should that matter and its own little fleet of boats so the fish is super fresh (though ask which is their fresh fish). They have a lunch special that extends until 3:30 and this month is a special promotion called Dine About Town, so for dinner they have a special prix-fixe.

                              Sides are so-so, but I love the fish. Not so crazy about dessert there so if you don't get the set menu, go over to Aliota's, sit at the bar upstairs and order the creme brulee which, IMO, is the best in SF. They have nice espresso too.

                              Hope you will do a cut and past from your blog and report back on the board about what you ate.

                              Have you had breakfast at the Majestic. I've been hearing good things.

                            2. I've eaten at Aziza a few times and love it!Right across the street is Ton Kiang,one of my favorite Chinese restaurants.Don't miss the crispy skin chicken,the dim sum(served at night too)..it's more cantonese like Sam Wo.

                              1. If you want to try an adventure for lunch, make a reservation at the California Culinary Acadamy 625 Polk St.(park in the underground garage across from City Hall). They have two dining rooms and one is a very nice white tablecloth room where their Cordon Bleu students prepare the multi-course lunches.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: WEkhardt

                                  If by "adventure", you mean "a crap-shoot" then I agree. Service is clueless and the quality of food is quite random. On the plus side, its cheap and occasionally you'll get a dish that's excellent.

                                  But would never recommend such a place to a visitor with a limited number of meals to eat in San Francisco; there are way, way too many reliably good places.

                                2. I noticed you have Cafe Jacqueline on your "French" list - but I don't know how it would compare to the other suggestions. From what I understand, it is a tiny neighborhood place and serves mostly souffles. Not that that's a bad thing, but it might not be what you are looking for.

                                  I have had several fantastic meals at Boulevard and highly recommend it. I thought the lunch menu looked especially good the last time I was there. I also recommend a trip to the Ferry Building while you are down in that area - maybe lunch at the Hog Island Oyster Co., the Slanted Door or their takeout counter "Out the Door". I have heard mixed things about Quince - a friend of mine lives in the neighborhood and says it is overpriced. Zuni Cafe and Delfina are highly recommended.

                                  If you go to North Beach - the Washington Square Bar and Grill, Steps of Rome and Enricos are all very San Francisco-esque but can be hit or miss on the food. For meat you might want to try the House of Prime Rib - an old time institution on Van Ness. For other "SF Institution" experiences, I recommend lunch at Fisherman's No. 9, and a drink at one of the rooftop bars in one of the big hotels - like the Fairmont or Top of the Mark.

                                  If you are going to be in the City for at least five days, explore the neighborhoods, like Russian Hill, Fillmore, Polk Gulch, etc. and spend some time in Golden Gate Park. I recommend the Japanese Tea Garden for a break from the hustle and bustle, and would encourage you to consider a drive up to the wine country or Point Reyes Station if you have a car. Have a great time!


                                  3 Replies
                                    1. re: Frosty Melon

                                      For the third and perhaps final time, yes.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        That's too bad - it wasn't the best restaurant in the world, but it was an institution. I see it's only been closed for a few months, so I would bet many more will probably make the same mistake.

                                  1. Cafe Jacqueline is great and you should be able to get a reservation.

                                    1. Ok to start with his is a copy/paste of my Perbacco review:

                                      There is nothing quite as satisfying as a delicious meal after a long drive. When you start your vacation with hand held nodules of culinary blasphemy known as McGriddles, your next dining experience can only go one way, up. While driving up the beautiful and inspiring Pacific Coast Highway I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I spent a good amount of time surfing the web looking for a good place to eat upon our arrival in San Francisco.

                                      It actually wasn't a complicated process, as the top thread on Chowhound SF was entitled "Perbacco, go there now!." After checking in to our hotel, I made a reservation, albeit 30 minutes later than I was shooting for, at Perbacco. We caught a taxi to the barely three month old establishment on Cal and Front and were greeted with a warm handshake by the friendly host, who sat us in a comfortable corner booth.

                                      Our server, Franco, was cordial, charismatic and quite Italian and thus able to execute perfect pronunciation on each and every menu item, while both Penelope and I, speaking only Spanish and English, faked it as best we could. We started with a quarter liter of Sauvignon Blanc to compliment an order of Scallops Crudo, which were coated in olive oil intermixed with Meyer Lemon zest, sliced Serrano peppers and daikon sprouts.

                                      Our second course, accompanied by a half liter of Barbaresco, was a half-order or the Salumi Misti, which consisted of a delicious sextet of cured pork products including two varieties of salami, blogna, proscuitto, imported lonza and ciccioli, which basically makes me the worst Jew ever. The pork parade was presented with gherkins, crackers and breadsticks and was exceptionally delicious.

                                      For our next course we split a pear and endive salad, thick with a rich chestnut honey dressing, toasted hazelnuts and a pungent triangle of gorgonzola. I'm glad we ended up sharing the salad, as it was quite decadent, and perfectly proportioned when conveniently split by our server.

                                      For the main course, Penelope had the butternut squash Mezzelune and I had the Pork Shoulder. My entree was accompanied by the richest polenta ever, which much have had an entire stick of butter mixed in to the quarter cup of polenta on my plate, which defies probability, and most likely possibility, but nevertheless was a supersaturated polenta which could have been used to make rock butter.

                                      During our meal I couldn't help to notice that the family next to us seemed to be the most popular trio in the restaurant, and my suspicions where confirmed when I asked Marco if we were sitting next to the owner. I introduced myself and mentioned the good buzz going on Chowhound about his restaurant, to which he responded that Chowhound was too kind to them. I noted that we drove up from Los Angeles that day and heard about his establishment on the internet during our drive. His wife and daughter said there were from LA and I told them that we live in Downtown, a block from Skid Row, and they mentioned their aunt was a fan and supporter of the Downtown revival.

                                      After our meal we opted for the cheese plate, and allowed Marco to make our choices for us, within the constraints of 2 soft and 1 hard cheese. I failed to note the exact types of cheese we were presented with, but they were damn good, and we ate them up with the included bread, marconi almonds, raisins and honey. We washed the cheese down with a 20 year old Dow Tawny and a 27 year old Graham.

                                      Our meal was delicious, the atmosphere was warm and friendly and the service was excellent. Sitting next to and meeting the owner was a nice perk and we have added Perbacco to our list of establishments that will receive our repeat patronage on our next trip to the Bay.

                                      1. Here is a copy / paste from my review of La Folie:

                                        Last night was our final dining experience in San Francisco, and as it turns out we saved the best for last. On the drive up to SF we asked for recommendations via chowhound, and recommendations we received. For our French restaurant we ended up choosing La Folie and we were extremely satisfied.

                                        We arrived a few minutes late, but thankfully it was a weeknight, and although three quarters of the tables were full, we were not given any static by the hostess due to our tardiness. After taking our coats and bags, the hostess sat us at a nice corner table next to a window and beside a couple celebrating a birthday. The birthday couple ended up being the only slight annoyance as they took about 20 flash photos of their food and each other, but hey it was a special day for them.

                                        We opted to start with a half bottle of Philipponnant champagne that reminded us of a carbonated port, which the sommelier promptly delivered to our table, and deftly opened without a sound. Soon after our toast the amuse buche of lobster risotto with a parmesan crisp was brought to our table. The risotto had a nice flavor, although I did get a piece of lobster shell in mine. I would say that the amuse buche was the least impressive item we consumed.

                                        I ordered the 5 course meal, and Penelope the 3 course. Our first courses came out at the same time and the 2 courses I had that she didn't were delivered with a dish for her to share, very considerate of our waiter Caley. I had read some bad reviews on Chowhound about the wait staff not being polite or speaking English, but Caley was an excellent server and spoke English with no accent, not that we care about the spoken dialect of our waiter.

                                        My first course was a duck consumee, with tiny slices of roasted duck, enoki mushrooms and a single foie gras stuffed tortelloni. It was quite good, very light and a wonderful starter. Penelope had a baked day boat scallops with shrimp soufle atop a delictable mound of pureed Jerusalem artichokes. As usual we split our plates at the halfway point.

                                        At this point our champagne was imbibed and we moved on to a half bottle of Langoa Barton Bordeaux which was full bodied and velvety. The red came just in time for my seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras, which was the largest most buttery and delicious piece of foie gras I have ever eaten. Penelope is not normally a fan of organ meats, but she thoroughly enjoyed it.

                                        Next up was my Lobster, which I think may have actually been crawfish as it was about that size, with Pork belly and baby vegetables. Despite its tiny size it was delicious and flavorful and the pork belly was wonderful and smoky. The broth which I scooped up with my fish knife was complex and rich.

                                        Our main courses arrived in unison, Penelope had the Veal Loin with a Chanterelle and Sweetbread Crepinette with Sautéed Brussels Sprouts (I refrained from making my famous baby mooing sounds), and I had "Le Boeuf", Beef Tenderloin, Braised Beef Short Rib, and Burger Rossini with a Truffle Madeira Sauce. The waiter reccomended that I start with the burger, as I would want to savor the short rib and tenderloin. I followed his advice and started with the wonderfully cute foie gras stuffed mini burger which was excellent, and finished with the short rib and tenderloin which were both heavenly. Penelope's veal was amazing and I especially loved the sweetbreads which where like a layer of rich pate.

                                        For desert I opted for the cheese plate and penelope went for the chocolate fondant. The cheeses were excellent and the fondant was amazingly delicious. We complimented or deserts with a glass of mapley Cockburn tawny port and a glass of Layon desert wine, that tasted of summer and apricots.

                                        La Folie was our favorite dining experience in San Francisco and we look forward to a return visit in the future.