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Impressing our Spaniard Guests

I am looking for a spot in SF or Oakland/Berkeley to take my sister-in-law's relatives who are visitng from a small town in Spain. They are very picky eaters and, essentially, just like Spanish food although we had a BBQ and learned they also like burgers and junk food! We want to take them out to a relatively nice dinner before they go, something they will really enjoy and remember as their experience of the states. The trick is they don't like spicy food AT ALL (like yellow mustard is too spicy for them) and, I just learned, don't like a lot of standard stuff we do (don't like rice and beans). For those of you who know the Spanish palate, any ideas? My thoughts so far are Dopo (it's just so good, how can we go wrong?!), Pizzaiolo (pizza, polenta, pork), A Cote (plenty of non-spicy options and the plates are small), and House (risky, but we could hit the jackpot). They don't drink that much so we could swing any of the above pricepoints. But you'll see I am not listing the likes of Chez Panisse or Oliveto because we just couldn't swing the bill for 6 people. I think Zuni would be too expensive but that could be good because as picky as they are about food they are pretty hip and I think they'd enjoy the atmosphere. I welcome any ideas. Thanks in advance.

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  1. How about sushi? If so, Sebo is great...

    517 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102

    2 Replies
    1. re: Husky

      My Spanish sister in law absolutely LOVES sushi but I believe it was an acquired taste, esp. due to the role of wasabi. :) And I think she may have already forced her sister to try sushi this week. If not, we'll check out Sebo. Hayes Valley would be a great location for an outing.

      1. re: Husky

        Wow, just read some details on Sebo, looks FANTASTIC! Either way, my husband and I will try it. Thanks again!

      2. What's the budget? Chez Panisse Cafe is relatively reasonable. Not sure exactly but isn't it w/i range of The House? It might be worth checking.

        1. Dopo, Pizzaiolo, and A Cote all sound like good bets.

          Spareribs at T-Rex. Sea Salt.

          T-Rex Barbeque
          1300 10th St, Berkeley, CA 94710

          Sea Salt
          2512 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94702

          1 Reply
          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Sea Salt is a great call. I love that place so I am not sure why I didn't think of it. Also, it has a nice, hip vibe. T-Rex is brilliant. I wouldn't have thought of it (and actually haven't tried it) but they love BBQ apparently so that could be a big winner. Plus, I really am on a budget! I'll look into it. . .

          2. My cousin's wife, who is from Madrid, lives in SF now and frequently entertains family and friends from Spain. It seems like the general consensus is that they like simple, clean flavors, and, like your relatives, do not like spicy food. Vietnamese and Japanese, in particular, are favorites. The love fish and meat, particularly beef and lamb, but do not care for poultry.

            I'm not familiar with East Bay restaurants, but in SF I'd recommend Dragonfly for upscale Vietnamese in Inner Sunset. I like some Tenderloin Vietnamese places as much as this one, but if I were bringing guests I'd want to impress, this would probably be my pick. Reasonable prices, friendly service, nice decor.

            3 Replies
            1. re: pane

              With the link, which will hopefully appear this time:

              Dragonfly Contemporary Vietnamese Cuisine
              420 Judah St, San Francisco, CA 94122

              1. re: pane

                So true, you know the Spanish palate. Even if it doesn't work out for the group, I think my brother would like to take his wife here. He is trying to introduce her to the variety of asian cuisine SF (/the world) has to offer.

              2. re: pane

                So true, you know the Spanish palate. Even if it doesn't work out for the group, I will recommend this for my brother to take his wife (they live in Russian Hill) as he is trying to get her to appreciate the variety of asian fare SF (/the world) has to offer.

              3. Do you think they would like French Basque tapas? If so, try Illuna Basque. I haven't been in quite a while but I remember it being oh-so-good.

                1. For 6 people, Chinese is a natural. Check the board entries for some ideas. Basque or tapas is like going to that McDonalds on the Champs in Paris. I'm sure they would also like local seafood.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: OldTimer

                    I'm sorry, that's just wrong. Going to Cesar is not like going to McDonalds. It would be like being taken to a charming little texas steakhouse in the 14th that serves the best onion rings you've ever eaten, anywhere, and a rather great NY strip. You'd still feel kind of funny --- why not go for a great french meal?

                    Sea Salt does sound about right. Report back, OP....

                    Regarding the yellow mustard, maybe they just don't like yellow mustard? I like hot about as much as you can imagine, and I don't like yellow mustard, because it's pretty nasty.

                    1. re: bbulkow

                      You put a smile on my face. Yes, yellow mustard is in fact nasty. We have it only because my husband likes it. I offered both yellow and dijon for our burgers and didn't get any takers on either one. My sister in law presented them as "less spicy" and "more spicy" respectively so perhaps that was the issue. :)

                      1. re: bbulkow

                        Oh, and great analogy to steakhouse in Paris. I am still not going to take them to Cesar but might go for a more diverse tapas experience since I think that represents CA cooking. Thus the A Cote option.

                    2. It's hard to know what only liking Spanish food means? There's a huge variety and
                      some of it is even a bit spicy (patatas bravas and pimientos de padron, to name
                      just a couple, can often require a nice wine chaser) and peppers from smokey to
                      sweet to fiery play a big role in the food of most regions. Which part of Spain are
                      they from, exactly? Are you sure that "spicy" hasn't lost something in translation?
                      Spaniards, as a whole, are some of the world's great eaters.

                      The very first thing Spanish friends of mine do when they come here is go eat
                      Indian. It's familiar (roasted and stewed meats and vegetables and cheeses; and
                      biriyani is basically paella. ) and wildly exotic at the same time. And almost
                      completely unavailable back home.

                      My suggestion would be Ajanta. The place looks like a generic, upscale Spanish
                      restaurant. You can get a bottle of OK wine for $20, and a bottle of wine (or two, or
                      three) is an absolute requirement with a Spanish meal. There are a lot of things on
                      the menu with little to no heat (if that's what they mean by "spicy") although everything is
                      interestingly spiced (if that's what they mean).

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                        You have me thinking. Perhaps my issue is that they are from a small village outside a small town in the La Mancha region and they just haven't traveled at all, not even in Spain. They did live in Valencia for a while but that's it. I am not even sure how many times they have dined in Madird despite being a 2.5 hour train ride away. And I think hubbie is just plain picky. Like many Americans I know. :) I am leaning toward small plates so that he can be picky but not be embarased about what he does/doesn't eat since it won't be too obvious. My brother tells me he likes junk food so maybe he can dine on pommes frites and white wine at A Cote while the rest of us have a meal?! I have been dying to try Ajanta and even printed a recommended menu from a chowhound many months ago (perhaps it was you?). I plan to take my sister in law there (the one who lives in the states) and will definitely do that eventually but maybe not with her family.

                        1. re: rockridgechow

                          If you put it that way...where would you bring someone from a small town in the Central Valley who has only traveled to Fresno or LA once? That makes more sense then figuring they're just picky. I think you're right about a place with accessible foods but also allows for other choices. Small plates are a good choice...because you can always order more.

                          1. re: ML8000

                            Yes, you are right. It did work out.

                            1. re: rockridgechow

                              Glad to hear it worked out...although you're the one who figured it out. So perhaps you'll get to visit them in Spain now.

                          2. re: rockridgechow

                            Aaah, one of the largest and least culinarily interesting parts of the country. The national dish of La Mancha is pisto, a stew of peppers and tomatoes and onions and olive oil mashed up and topped with a hard boiled egg. It competes with garlic soup for national dish title, I guess. Both can be very, very good. But it's a simple and uniform thing and I can see where your troubles might be. Add roast meat and some bland cheese and that's about it.

                            A Cote will definitely work and I wouldn't be surprised if Abuelo moves well beyond the fries. The standard A Cote recipe is: take something simple and good, don't mess around with it much, salt it, put it in the cooking device for a bit, slice it up and bring it to the table. That's not very different from back home.

                            1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                              YES! I have eaten MUCH pisto on past visits to family. (I did actually enjoy it) There also is a dish with whipped cod and potatoes that is actually pretty good. That's about it. Lots of jamon serrano and queso manchego. At any rate, I digress. We opted for A Cote and it was ideal. Our rural Spanish guests most appreciated the ricotta-stuffed squash blossoms (which are SO good) and the linguisa with prawns and clams. Fries also were a hit. In an effort to showcase American desserts, I ordered a couple of Coupe de Cotes (triple bittersweet chocoloate icecream, including bittersweet chocoloate chards, hot fudge, caramel infused cream and candied pecan bits). They were blown away. They also like the atmosphere commenting that American's pay a lot more attention to details when they design restaurants. Thanks all!

                            2. re: rockridgechow

                              I'm not sure I got my point across on the McDonalds in Paris. Somehow, when friends from Paris or Rome come to San Francisco, I have a problem taking them to a French or Italian restaurant. I suppose the best example I can give is once years ago in New Orleans, we took a friend's sister to the Bon Ton Cafe (perhaps the best Cajun place in town). She ordered (gasp) "cubed steak". I just have problems with mismatched cuisines. I don't go to seafood places in Kansas City and don't expect great BBQ in San Francisco. "When in Rome..."

                              1. re: OldTimer

                                You did, people were just quibbling about the use of McDonald's as a representative of the entire range of "American restaurants." Since Cesar is my no means equivalent to McDonald's in terms of either the quality of the food or the type of dining experience, they were searching for a closer analogy. Basically, I think most of us agree with the "when in Rome ..." philosophy. I've never understood the posts from the people who have a visitor from another country and want to take them to a restaurant featuring that cuisine -- for that matter, I've often argued that non-Californians visiting Napa should focus on California restaurants instead of places like Bistro Jeanty that are not specifically representative of the region, no matter how good it might be.

                                Oops, just realized I was replying to an old post -- one of these days I'll get used to old threads floating to the top!

                            3. re: Chuckles the Clone

                              Madrid has a huge number of Indian restaurants... so it's not at all unknown here.

                              My advice would be to avoid places with huge quanitity and a lot of sauce and fussiness. The simpler the better. Also avoid seafood unless it is fresh, unadulterated, and of pristine quality (otherwise it will compare unfavorably to what's available here--even in landlocked Castilla).

                              Castilla y la Mancha is known for its wild game, incidentally...

                            4. Take them for Chinese (dim sum would work great) or Japanese food. I have cousins in Barcelona (their family owns a restaurant) and they love all types of seafood. Don't bother with French or Basque food here, it will only disappoint them.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Ernie

                                I definitely wouldn't try seafood - Madrid has a huge fish market second only to Tokyo's, and the quality and variety of seafood in Spain is very, very high. You'll pay a lot here for something that may not measure up to home... especially since they have lived in Valencia.

                                If trying to "impress", and considering that Spaniards generally are not terribly fond of hot/spicy foods (my Spanish in-laws certainly are not) I would go for californian (e.g. Zuni) or cal-ital like (e.g Incanto) or their cousins.

                                1. re: Pincho

                                  I can only speak from experience with my Catalonian cousins, but it sounds like their palate is quite different from Madrileño tastes. Not surprising considering how different they consider their culture vis-à-vis Castellano.

                                  My relatives love all types of fish and were very curious to try fresh Pacific varieties unavailable to them in Catalunya. They also love mushrooms, so any cuisine that would highlight unusual or wild varieties were a big hit.

                                  Americana would also work well, i.e., good quality steakhouses, BBQ, Southern, etc.

                              2. I think the problem with most of your replies are that the people responding have no idea what provincial people from Spain are like. First off, they typically eat their local food only and would not even think about trying sushi or even less exotic food. I lived in Spain, and most people I spent time with there never even tried anything but the food their mothers had cooked or maybe McDonalds or something like that.

                                If you're smart, take them somewhere like Tommy's Joint on Van Ness. It's true American style Hof Brau. They'll get big hunks of roasted and/or braised meats, pastas, potatoes etc. I promise you that they'll enjoy it. You won't be able to tell your friends with glee about where you took them, but they'll get a real American meal--not some foo-foo meal that foodies like people on this board will fawn over. Another choice would be any Italian restaurant (Cafe Sport--Spanish love garlic and olive oil) or Capps Corner. Trust me, I know the Spanish palate and it's easy to please. They also like rustic French--think Coq a vin or cassolet and the likes. They'd like carnitas at a Mexican place too, just tell them to tell the cooks que no comen picante!!!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: hankstramm

                                  Actually there are lots of fans of Tommy's Joynt here, the place gets recommended regularly.

                                  Tommy's Joynt
                                  1101 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94109

                                2. I am a little embarassed as I don't think I ever reported back on my original post. Or maybe I did and I don't see it? I have a new baby, am sleep deprived, I plead temporary insanity. Anyway, A Cote was a big hit with the Spaniards from La Mancha. Favorites were the ricotta-stuffed (lightly fried) squash blossoms with pesto and a shrimp with chorizo-type sausage combination (I can't remember exactly). They also went nuts over the dessert -- coupe a cote -- which is indeed amazing (triple bittersweet chocolate ice cream, hot fudge, caramel cream, pecan praline and brownies). The atmosphere was great (we sat on the back patio at the large table) and my brother told me it was their favorite meal in the states.