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bay area recs for a nyc foodie?

im moving to palo alto from nyc and would love some good food recommendations. i will have a car, so getting to san fran and other surrounding areas isnt a problem, tho i wont be able to do it too often as ill be an overworked, stressed out grad student. im looking for excellent restaurants in the following categories:

*good southern brunch in a brunch-like setting (preferably with amazing buttermilk biscuits) [similar to clinton st. baking co. in nyc]
*molecular gastronomy [similar to wd-50 and degustation in nyc]
*farmers market new american [similar to blue hill + union sq. cafe in nyc]
*great spanish [similar to tia pol + boqueria in nyc]
*neopolitan style pizza [similar to una pizza napoletana in nyc]
*great ethiopian/eritrean [lacking in nyc]
*fantastic greek [havent found it in nyc]
*pork buns [similar to momofuku in nyc]
*great sushi thats not astronomically expensive
*"nouveau" mexican [similar to mercadito or la palapa in nyc]

*any other recs for chefs who are doing creative, inventive things with food
im not really into chinese or vietnamese and am only rarely in the mood for thai...unfortunate since i know the bay area is known for its excellent asian food.

thanks all for anything you can do to make my food transition any easier...im lamenting my taking leave of new york with every bite i take.

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  1. *good southern brunch in a brunch-like setting (preferably with amazing buttermilk biscuits) - good reports for Declancey's Welcome Table in Oakland, but that's kind of a schlep from PA for brunch. I had a hard time finding a good brunch when I lived in the South Bay.

    *molecular gastronomy [similar to wd-50 and degustation in nyc] - some molecular gastronomy techniques used at Coi (Daniel Patterson's the chef - love his pieces for the NYTimes) and Manresa (in Los Gatos). Both pricey (on par with wd-50). Both hew more closely to recognizable flavor combinations than wd-50 does (as far as I can tell from the menus, and reading other people's descriptions, anyway. Been to wd-50 but not to Coi or Manresa). No mid-range restaurants in that style like Degustation (which is, by the way, currently my favorite restaurant in the world).

    *farmers market new american [similar to blue hill + union sq. cafe in nyc]
    Well, this is kind of where the Bay Area kicks NYC's tuchus. We live and breath by the farmer's market. Menus change constantly... this makes it hard for me to try new restaurants, as my favorite restaurants change their menus monthly at minimum... some change them daily, In the East Bay, a lot of them post their menus online as they change. I've gotten so used to reading frequently updated menus online that when I researched my last NYC trip I got annoyed that most of the online menus clearly hadn't even been updated that season. Year, even. Start off with Chez Panisse, the godmother of them all... but I think a big percentage of the moderate-to-upscale restaurants in the Bay Area fall in this category.

    *great spanish [similar to tia pol + boqueria in nyc] - I love the Oakland branch of Cesar, but there's no question it's Cal-Spanish (pretty sure there are no sand dabs in Spain) ... there's a Catalan place called B44 that gets good reviews.

    *neopolitan style pizza [similar to una pizza napoletana in nyc] - A16 in SF - chef is certified by the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association. So we have that. What we do NOT have, as far as I know, is DiFara's. Eat as much DiFara's as you can, now. Bagels, too. I've stopped eating bagels completely out here.

    *great ethiopian/eritrean [lacking in nyc] - Zeni, in San Jose. Whole bunch of places in Oakland, too, but Zeni will be closer to you.

    *fantastic greek [havent found it in nyc] - haven't found it here, either. Evvia in Palo Alto gets some good reviews. I wasn't impressed.

    *pork buns [similar to momofuku in nyc] - the momofuku pork bun is a variation on the Taiwanese gua bao - if you search on "gua bao", a couple of restaurants come up.

    BTW - are you sure you don't like Chinese/Vietnamese/Thai? Or have you just not had good versions? (very possible in NYC, esp for Vietnamese and Thai). Give them a chance out here. You're going to be sitting on a motherlode of fantastic food (well... maybe not in Palo Alto per se - but within a 20 minute driving radius) and it would be a shame not to take advantage of it.

    *great sushi thats not astronomically expensive - here's sushimonster's master opus, covering the Peninsula http://www.chowhound.com/topics/333747

    *"nouveau" mexican [similar to mercadito or la palapa in nyc] - hmmm. Any interest in classic mexican? Mission burritos, taco trucks?
    Thread on upscale Mexican (which may or may not be "nouveau". Or "nuevo".

    Worth it to take some time to read up on recent threads - aside from searching on "Palo Alto", also search on "Redwood City", "San Mateo", "San Jose", "Santa Clara", and "Mountain View". There's incredible food out here... you'll miss the stuff that NYC does that you can't get out here... but you'll find the Mountain View Farmer's Market, and marvel at the range and quality (and price) of produce, and you'll remember that you once paid a dollar for a shriveled up, desiccated orange from Gristedes... you'll miss bagels, but then you'll find that you can get top-notch bread from excellent bakeries from almost every grocery store (not just the fancy ones) in the Bay Area. You'll miss that aggressive avant-garde spark that drives the newer restaurants in NYC... but you'll also go back to NYC to eat at those places. And while you're there, you'll stop by your favorite Italian deli, get a quarter pound of beautifully cut, silky prosciutto, and then drive yourself insane running all over the city looking for fresh figs, and how #$#^& hard is it to find a good fig when you KNOW it's fig season, and you can get 5 different varieties at your local Whole Foods at home?!! And then you'll know that you've become a Californian. (with NYC potty mouth intact).

    Welcome, and happy eating!

    1 Reply
    1. re: daveena

      I love B44, but it gets seriously mixed and mostly negative reviews here. I recommend the xato, mushrooms a la plancha, arros negra, romescada, baccala amb samfaina, and rabbit.

      44 Belden Place, San Francisco, CA 94104

    2. *other creative, inventive

      Aziza (Cal-Moroccan)
      Canteen (Cal-French in a hotel coffee shop)
      Fatted Calf (charcuterie; Ferry Plaza on Saturdays)
      Jai Yun (Shanghai tasting menus)
      La Folie (very French Cal-French)

      We have some great Peruvian food.

      There are two Indian fusion places in Palo Alto, Junnoon and Mantra, haven't tried either.

      *molecular gastronomy

      Forget it. Like daveena said, Coi and Manresa probably do the most but there's just no market for that here. One place that tried it closed.

      There is a new specialty shop, Le Sanctuaire. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/379016

      *farmers market new american

      The influences at seasonal ingredient-driven restaurants here are more Proven├žal and Italian, but:

      Chez Panisse (Berkeley)
      Oliveto (Oakland)
      Pizzaiolo (Oakland)


      *great spanish

      Forget it. Bocadillos in SF and Cesar's in Oakland are excellent but not what you're hoping for.

      *neopolitan style pizza


      *great ethiopian/eritrean

      Numerous reports say Zeni in San Jose is the best. High on my list of inconvenient restaurants to try.

      *fantastic greek [havent found it in nyc]

      Forget it. Kokkari and its sister restaurant Evvia in Palo Alto are the closest.

      *"nouveau" mexican

      Forget it. http://www.chow.com/topics/382000

      5800 Geary Blvd., San Francisco, CA 94121

      Zuni Cafe
      1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

      5008 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

      Incanto Restaurant & Wine Bar
      1550 Church St, San Francisco, CA 94131

      Jai Yun
      680 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94111

      2355 Chestnut St., San Francisco, CA 94123

      817 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94109

      La Folie
      2316 Polk St., San Francisco, CA 94109

      Le Sanctuaire
      315 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94108

      Chez Panisse
      1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

      Delfina Restaurant
      3621 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

      Ferry Plaza Farmers Market
      One Ferry Building, 200 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA

      Oliveto Cafe
      5655 College Ave., Oakland, CA 94618

      1. Albertine,

        In order to ease your transition, you'll have to make peace with the fact that the SF bay specializes in different categories than NYC. You won't be able to scratch an itch of getting a particular flavor of biscuit, but you will (if you keep your eyes open) find new favorites.

        This area is full of folks who moved from other areas moaning about "not being able to get real X", when there's plenty of great food about. Sure, there's all sorts of great regional stuff I miss, and delight when I find (like north carolina BBQ).

        But do you have a favorite Caribbean place? Somehow, the peninsula lucked into a great one, and after a few trips, you'll be missing it when you leave. Just an example. Pho? XLB? Beijing hotpot? Korean soft tofu pot? Oh, and the beer's better here. The east coast has been catching up, and I'm fond of that Brooklyn brewery, but the pacific coast IPA style is excellent, and must be drunk fresh.

        Pay attention to Davina's comments - they're good.

        Palo Alto is within a 1 hour drive of the entire bay area, from south san jose to north berkeley (depending on traffic). I would guestimate well over 20,000 restaurants, of which 2,000 are noteworthy in some way. I've lived in the bay area for 18 years, eat out 80% of my meals, and even then can say "I want something new!" and try a whole new restaurant. Last night it was a reasonably priced but tasty cal-ital place in Redwood City with an unfortunately forgettable name but a way with roast meats.

        Besides the Chowhound book, which I recommend highly, and the boards here (which is good for category-surfing and comparisons), Yelp is currently a great resource. They're my current go-to for a new joint.

        Good luck ---

        1 Reply
        1. re: bbulkow

          The info in the Chowhound book is from 2004, dangerously out of date at this point. A better handy reference for glove compartment or purse is the new (March 2007) edition of the Patricia Unterman's San Francisco Food Lover's Pocket Guide. Better yet, get a broadband smartphone and keep chowhound.com in your pocket!

          Answering the obvious question:

          Back A Yard Caribbean American Grill
          1189 Willow Rd, Menlo Park, CA 94025

        2. If you do searches on variants of "California cuisine" I think you'll find what you're looking for with "farmer's market new American."

          The idea of getting the freshest local ingredients at their peak and preparing them with a minimum of fuss started here, at Chez Panisse, as far as I know.

          Chez Panisse has given birth to both the style of cooking, and specific restaurants with Chez Panisse "alums" such as Olivetto, Incanto, Dopo, Ici, Quince, Eccolo, Jojo, etc.

          1 Reply
          1. re: SteveG

            To me, New American places would include Jack Falstaff, One Market, Town Hall, Salt House, and TWO--which I don't think are in the same league with Union Square Cafe.

            We have some first-rate versions of that style among the entrees at Boulevard and Delfina, but their primary influences are French and Italian, respectively.

            Boulevard Restaurant
            1 Mission St., San Francisco, CA 94105

          2. Great Ethiopian: Sheba Lounge in SF.



            Sheba Lounge
            1419 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94115

            1. *fantastic greek
              - You might want to try Dio Deka in Los Gatos. I haven't seen a review here in Chowhound, but it was profiled in the NYTimes Food Section a few weeks ago and it was reviewed in the SF Chronicle recently as well. I haven't been, so I can't tell you whether it's good or bad. I guess my choice for Greek would be Kokkari in SF.

              * great spanish
              - I'd suggest Bocadillos or Cesar as specified earlier. B44 was great several years ago, but I haven't been back after a disappointing visit almost 2 years ago.

              *good southern brunch
              - Elite Cafe on Fillmore St. in SF is great, but a lot of people on the board don't like it. I guess what makes it "southern" are the biscuits. They also serve grits, beignets and other Southern goodies. I believe that St. Francis Fountain also has biscuits, but there's nothing particulary Southern about it.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Mari

                I live in Menlo Park & always take out of town visitors to Falafel Drive-In in San Jose (San Carlos Ave off Hwy 880). Make sure to order the falafel sandwich or plate, it is awesome and I guarantee it will be the best 5 bucks you'll ever spend. I dare you to compare this to anything in NYC, ha-ha. I recently tried the gyro plate but didn't care for it at all (actually a kabob than a gyro). If you are really feeling down about missing the exquisite cuisine NY has to offer, just give your friends back home a call on some sunny 70 degree weather day here in January while eating a scrumptious blueberry scone w/ an espresso on the patio of Cafe Barrone (in MP) and ask what they are doing.

                Oh yes, some people may not agree with this but I actually like Gyros Gyros on University on Palo Alto. My kids & I really enjoy their lamb wraps & the Adena Kabab plate. This definitely will not compare to NY delis but just give it a try or perhaps Ken Zaman Mediterranean Wraps (haven't been to the latter).

                Let us know what you think!

                1. re: ceekskat

                  Sorry to say that Falafel Drive-In does not compare to Alfanoose in NYC. There's nothing quite like Alfanoose out here. Plus, Falafel Drive in is not Greek.

              2. wow thanks everyone! i never expected to get the in-depth kind of replies youve provided....all this information is going to be wonderfully useful.
                the lack of molecular gastronomy will really get me down, but perhaps ill fill the void with a newfound love of vietnamese?

                daveena - to answer your questions, im NOT sure i dont like chinese/vietnamese/thai...i probably just havent had any good stuff in any of these categories. guide me...please! and im definitely into all sorts of mexican (and i do love a good mission burrito), i just figured that good mexican would be everywhere, but "nouveau" mexican would be harder to find, so i would have to do more searching to seek it out.
                thanks again, everyone, for the fantastic recommendations.

                and...just a stab in the dark...but are there really no places at all that have even semi-decent bagels? i can feel my heart breaking...

                2 Replies
                1. re: albertine

                  House of Bagels is the closest, or Izzy's Bagels in Palo Alto. Try not to be TOO sad - you might not find molecular gastronomy or perfect bagels here but many people consider the Bay Area to be the global epicenter of excellent restaurants/cocktails/ produce/wine/foodstuffs/ etc etc etc. that people would kill for access to. Around here the bemoaning of "its not like new york" won't get you much sympathy! :)

                  1. re: albertine

                    Thoughtful posts like yours with a list of narrow, specific questions tend to get a lot of response.

                    Good central Mexican cuisine is hard to find in SF (Oakland's better), but in the last few years we've had an explosion of good Yucatecan places. Why we don't have outstanding upscale / fusion Mexican is a mystery, as discussed at length in the topic I linked to above.

                    No bagels, but great bread: http://www.chow.com/topics/385176

                    This topic might help you get a handle on what ethnic cuisines and regional variations thereof you might want to seek out: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/320429

                    Good newspaper article giving an overview of regional Chinese cuisines: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...