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SF for one week—how are my choices?

Hey, all—

I'll be in SF visiting friends the 18th - 24th. Food is going to be the highlight of the trip, so I hoped some of you might be willing to edit my list for me. You can probably discern from the spots I've picked what kind of food I'm after, so I'm mainly wanting to make sure I'm not missing anything obvious, since I have one or two more meals to fill. I am planning to do El Farolito, because my friends love Mexican, and we have none of that worth eating in D.C. Otherwise, I just want stellar ingredients, relatively simple preparations with French or Italian accents.

Chez Panisse Cafe (have reservations)
Delfina (would Pizzeria Delfina be a better choice?)
Cafe Fanny
Tartine (I have a few days on my own for lunch when I planned to eat here, but should we also hit Bar Tartine one night for dinner?)
Greens (my friend has been wanting to try this spot, plus the cookbooks were my veg. bibles for years)
Bi*Rite Market
Quince (should I replace this with Michael Mina or Gary Danko?)

Ferry Building market on Sat. (any food in particular we should try for brunch/lunch?)

Let me know what you think. Thanks!

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  1. Great list! The two others I would consider are Canteen and Incanto.

    I'd definitely keep Quince over MM and GD.

    I'd also definitely go to Bar Tartine for dinner one night - totally different menu from the bakery.

    I've had two really disappointing meals at Greens, most recently a few months ago (really dated veg preps - seriously, they have vegetable kabobs on the menu). Worth it to take a look at the menu online to see what I'm talking about. You have so many other restaurants on your list that do such a better job at using local, seasonal produce that it would be a shame to waste a meal at Greens.

      1. re: sgwood415

        Yeah, given the style of places on that list, I'd say Incanto rather than Greens, or if you must go to Greens, rather than Quince.

      2. I think that's a good list, but I'm curious about your pick of Cafe Fanny. I think Cafe Fanny's great, but if you're already headed to Tartine, not sure why you'd trek all the way to Berkeley for another cafe meal. Also, Cafe Fanny is pretty small and standing room only inside, so if you luck out with good Indian Summer weather while you're here, sitting outside might be too cold.

        But given what I said, if you do end up going to Cafe Fanny, be sure to check out Kermit Lynch Wine next door for some unique French wines.


        8 Replies
        1. re: singleguychef

          i agree about Cafe Fanny - good food, but only if you happen to be there on a lazy weekend morning.

          1. re: singleguychef

            I agree about Cafe Fanny -- if you're going to be in Berkeley one morning for breakfast, I'd head to 900 Grayson or La Farine. And I also agree with what people are saying about Greens.

            1. re: singleguychef

              Hmm... good question. First, I am of the mind that one cannot easily overdo cafe meals, particularly when good ones are not easily found at home. I was actually thinking of going to Tartine twice. ;)
              Also, I have lots of time to kill during the week, and since I've never been to Berkeley thought there would be plenty for me to do. No?
              I would be really appreciative of other relatively casual lunch spots, though. I'm sort of short on those.

              1. re: greens

                There definitely is plenty to do in Berkeley, I would just pick a number of other lunch spots above Cafe Fanny. First, are you going to be driving? Because if not, that will limit your choices some (but there's plenty of good walking around to do, so you'll still get to see a lot of good stuff). This relatively recent thread: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/378354 has lots of good food related stuff to do on a weekday in Berkeeley.

                1. re: greens

                  I think if you want to experience food on the East Bay, it would be fun to go somewhere where there's other options afterwards to walk around. Cafe Fanny, like I mentioned, is good but doesn't have anything much really around it unless you're going to get in your car and then drive down to Fourth Street area to visit Sketch. (BTW, I would visit Ici in Elmwood neighborhood of Berkeley before Sketch, but that's another debate on another string, I believe.)

                  Jasmine's recommendation for La Farine is good mostly because there's a lot of other things around that area to check out, like a really interesting neighborhood meat market, the popular Wood Tavern restaurant, and another new restaurant called Noodle Theory. So it's in an area with options.

                  Also, Gourmet Ghetto close to Chez Panisse has a lot of food options such as Cesars for drinks and tapas, CheeseBoard for pizza and stuff, and Gregoire. So again, I'm mostly thinking as a visitor it's nice to hit a spot and then explore as opposed to driving from one destination eatery to another.

                  1. re: singleguychef

                    There are two branches of La Farine. I think College Avenue is a more interesting neighborhood and a longer shopping district. Also has a BART station. Rockridge Market Hall is worth a visit though it's no big deal compared with the Ferry Plaza.

                    La Farine
                    1820 Solano Ave, Berkeley, CA 94707

                    La Farine
                    3411 Fruitvale Ave, Oakland, CA 94602

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Yeah, I always forget that there's a La Farine on Solano, I was talking about the College Ave location.

                    2. re: singleguychef

                      Excellent point. Both 4th St and the Gourmet Ghetto offer a multitude of food shopping, quick bites, formal dining, good drinks, etc. Great for food exploring.

                      I would opt for Sketch over Ici mainly because BiRite Creamery makes ice cream that is similar in style to Ici, whereas Sketch's style is more one-of-a-kind. I also feel that Sketch's non-ice cream treats (toffee, caramels, cakes, cookies, marshmallows) are superior to Ici's.

                2. Definitely add Canteen. i'd get rid of Zuni, honestly. Try Range in the Mission instead - IMO, a better roast chicken. Bar Tartine also a must!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: mariacarmen

                    I normally recommend Range over Bar Tartine.

                  2. as for ferry building - try Out the Door - as opposed to Slanted Door. Also, if you want a high-end lunch, the caviar counter at Tsar Nicolas is great - try the soft scrambled truffled egg in its own shell with caviar, with some bubbly! very decadent. Or sit outside of Hog Island Oyster Co. and slosh down some fresh oysters with a bay view.

                    1. At the Saturday farmers market, don't miss the Andante Dairy cheeses.

                      1. All in all, it's a great list.

                        I agree with others that Cafe Fanny shouldn't be on there. Food is fine, a bit expensive for what you get, and nothing special. I live down the street and still only eat there a few times a year. If you're looking for a super casual cafe in Berkeley, Gregoire does a similar concept with much better food (though no coffee and even less seating). Also, 900 Grayson is fantastic for breakfast, brunch and lunch. Casual "greasy spoon" style eats with a Cal inflluence (read: organic ingredients and superb execution). It's a little pricier than Fanny, but oh so much better.

                        If you'll be in Berkeley a few days, you must try Sketch Ice Cream on 4th St. IMO, it's the best sweets shop in the Bay Area.

                        General consensus is that Greens has been on the downhill slide for more than a few years now. I haven't seen a positive report on it in ages. I agree with others that Incanto would be a far more delicious venture. It's my favorite restaurant in the Bay Area, and very unique to the SF dining scene.

                        If you're looking for a casual weekday lunch spot, consider Out The Door in the Westfield Center. Delicious Vietnamese food with a Cal influence at reasonable prices. I like Westfield more than Ferry Building b/c there's seating and a larger menu. Definitely do lunch at Tartine - it's out of this world good.

                        I think the best way to do lunch at the Ferry Building Saturday Market is to make a picnic. Get some pate from Fatted Calf, cheese from Andante, bread from Acme, fresh figs from Knoll Farms, dessert from Frog Hollow. You can sit out at a table on the Bay and live it up.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Morton the Mousse

                          Ferry Plaza is an only-in-San-Francisco experience.

                          There's some good food at the Westfield Mall but I don't think it's worth spending time on a short visit unless you're really into malls. Not much local color, the place could almost be in Singapore or Dubai.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Have you tried Out The Door at the Westfield Mall? Though I don't enjoy the mall vibe, Ithey have a dining room that is nicer than the food court. I've eaten there several times now. Some may argue it's not a destination (though I have driven to the city just to eat there), but it fulfills the OP's need for a casual, easy, tasty and affordable lunch spot that uses stellar ingredients in the City.

                        2. Contrary to what others have said, Cafe Fanny is a staple in my morning commute. They make stellar cappuccinos and cafe au laits, and their fresh-squeezed OJ is as good as it gets (I often buy one on my way to work in the morning and stick it in the freezer till lunch and have it as a slushy at lunchtime... delish! I know its crazy to talk about orange juice like this, but it really is that good).

                          Anyway, its by no means a destination point, but for a quick bite of good food during your travels, its a great plan.

                          1. When I go to the ferry building, I love Tracy Des Jardins taco shop. Also, the chocolate shop (forgot the name) has the most incredible gourmet smores packages, homemade marshmallows etc. Swans Oyster depot for fresh crab and I personally thought Michael Minnas was worth the experience, especaiily the lobster corn dogs.

                            17 Replies
                            1. re: mcastle

                              What do you like at Mijita? I like the sopa de albondigas but stopped ordering their other dishes since I found their tortillas weird.

                              Not much fresh crab this time of year.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                I don't live in the bay area, have family there, so I forget what time of year is crab season. We don't get much crab in Arizona. I thought Mijita was great but it has been awhile since I've been back, whats wrong with the tortillas?

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    thanks, maybe I won't go back. My husband is from SF and insists on going to Pancho Villas in the mission district everytime we go back. Being from AZ, I think I still like Panchos burritos better.

                              2. re: mcastle

                                You guys are fantastic. Thank you for all the super suggestions.
                                You're selling me on Incanto, but I'm now I'm wondering whether to go there or to Quince, should I need to make the choice. I actually like the looks of the sample menu at Quince better, but it seems I may be missing something. What do you all who prefer Incanto to Quince think is superior?

                                1. re: greens

                                  I have been very happy with the appetizers (the more rustic ones) and the pastas at Quince. I have not enjoyed anything else I have had there in my three visits. Incanto (and Delfina) always startle me in that I rarely find most of the menu intruiging, usually just one appetizer and main, or pasta and main appeal to me. But for those places, that is all you need, I haven't been disapointed in my choice yet.
                                  I would definitely say to go to Delfina over Delfina Pizzeria.

                                  1. re: Meredith

                                    My experience with Incanto's menu is sort of the opposite, usually I want to order almost everything and have trouble deciding.

                                  2. re: greens

                                    Quince is refined, upscale, expensive, (arguably) somewhat French in influence. Incanto is rustic, casual (though it still feels "special"), reasonably priced and (arguably) more authentically Italian. If you love Italian food, you should try both. Maybe nix Zuni (good, but less interesting) or Delfina (ditto)?

                                    I adore Incanto because the menu brings me outside of my comfort zone and rewards adventerous eating. Although I usually need a menu interpreter, I find that if I trust in my server's recommendations, I will be wowed. If I didn't eat at Incanto, I would not have learned that I love beef tendon, lamb neck, duck testicles ("duck fries"), tuna heart and head cheese. Incanto also has an incredible by-the-glass wine selection.

                                    1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                      Quince's Web site says it offers "a modern approach to French and Italian cuisine," so there's not much argument about the French influence.

                                    2. re: greens

                                      You will have a wonderful meal at either restaurant; I wouldn't say that one is superior to the other.

                                      However, while Quince certainly serves variety meats (oxtails, pig ears, etc.), Incanto really goes out on a limb to obtain exotic cuts for jaded palates.

                                      1. re: scenicrec

                                        I love offal and Incanto does it best, but I've had great meals there that didn't include anything challenging.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          Right. Like I said, both restaurants serve excellent food.

                                          1. re: scenicrec

                                            We just returned from a few days in SFO and ate at Venticello, Quince, Gary Danko, Foreigh Cinema, Myth and The Slanted Door. I'll post reviews soon.

                                            I can honestly say Quince was a huge disappointment to us in every way. The room is small and designed with banquettes on eaither side and tables in the centre of the room. The entire room is cream colourd and the lighting is quite bright. There is nowhere to wait for your table to be ready except standing up against the front door standing wedged almost against the diners on either side. The menu was nothing special and not in the least inventive. Service was officious and so overly attentive and fast we felt rushed throughout. There are so many staff that they're on top of you all the time. Plus the configuration of the room is such that the aisles on either side resemble a racetrack with the waitstaff practically running up the aisle around the front and down the other side all night. It made me actually dizzy and also made the service feel even more frantic. We did not receive the gazpacho amuse as other diners around us did. If there was a sommelier, we wouldn't have known. My tomatoe-ey starter had one cherry tomato, a shot glass of the amuse gazpacho (??) and two heirloom tomato slices. We shared the rib-eye for two which was a sorry looking chop about 1/4" thin though ordered MR, received almost WD and very fatty. The cheese course was miniscule and ordinary, plus had no accompaniments other than some almonds and a few rounds of white bread! We had been so looking forward to this evening. We felt the emporer had no clothes.

                                            In contrast...Gary Danko. OMG! Quince and GD should not even be mentioned in the same sentence. This was probably one of the finest and most enjoyable dining experiences of our lives. From the room, to the flawless and welcoming service to the menu, to the execution, it was simply PERFECTION. It deserves it's own review which I will post with menu and wine details.

                                            All I can say is if you have a choice between the two, please, please choose Gary Danko.

                                            1. re: GRobin

                                              Adding a link:

                                              Quince Restaurant
                                              470 Pacific Av, San Francisco, CA 94133

                                              1. re: GRobin

                                                Did you order any pasta at Quince? Most of the reports on Quince found a couple of hits, mostly misses in the app and second courses, but consistently superb pasta. It's actually a better strategy to order 2-3 pasta courses per person, and skip apps and mains.

                                                My own experience with Quince was slightly disappointing - I thought the quality of pasta was excellent, but the three I ordered had very similar flavor profiles (cream/truffle/veal stock/shallot), That's partly my fault, and partly the fact that it was winter - with fewer seasonal fresh vegetables available, a much higher percentage of sauces fell into that category. I did think it was more expensive than a comparable meal at Babbo (NYC) would have been (that was probably the true root of my disappointment - I'll say the pasta at Quince is better than the pasta at Babbo, but not so much better that it made up for the price differential).

                                                edit: I'm trying to figure out how Quince was more expensive, since the prices on the online menus are similar for pasta dishes... I think the difference might have been in the wine lists and portion sizes (a single pasta at Quince is definitely a course and not a meal).

                                                Gary Danko, on the other hand, was a huge disappointment - I actually can't remember a single dish I had that night, other than a friend's Moroccan spiced squab, which was actually inferior to a version we had at Isa (a very casual small plates restaurant that no one would ever name in the same breath as GD). After Michael Mina and Gary Danko, I swore off fancy food in SF altogether.

                                                1. re: daveena

                                                  I had dinner at Quince last week, and at least 3 of the 5 dishes we order were outstanding. The artichoke sformato was intensely flavored, rich, and delicious, one other app was also great, but I can't recall. The raviolo (sp) was also superb. Beautiful ricotta cheese, warm egg yolk, fresh delicious pasta. The bread selections are also as good as ever.

                                            2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              Robert, I've always noticed that you don't seem to be a big fan of Quince - are there particular reasons why?

                                      2. Ferry Building is a must... get some great cheeses, fruit, bread and inside, and have a picnic. IMO, Fanny and Greens are both a bit tired...I would try Incanto on Church Street, for the pasta and neighborhood "feel." Zuni for happy hour champagne and oysters is still one of my favorites, though - especially on a cool evening.

                                        1. I finally went to Canteen recently (end of August) and had a wonderful experience. I would definitely add it to your list. Nopa is also fantastic.

                                          Pizzeria Delfiina is great, but I would sick with Delfina if you have reservations. I put my name on the waitlist for both last month, and ended up being seated at Delfina first. It was wonderful - it made me wonder why I hadn't been there for awhile.

                                          Finally, I would check out Universal Cafe for brunch. You may find a wait (especially on Sunday), but I think it's worth it.

                                          Enjoy your trip!

                                          1. It all sounds great, IMO though, I would say the roast chicken at Range is way better than at Zuni, and the atmosphere at both is wonderful. I would definetly pick Range, though.

                                            Also, skip Cafe Fanny, head to 900 Grayson for breakfast...delicious.

                                            I would not miss Quince if my life depended on it. Their pastas are some of the most exquisite food on the earth. I would literally go there and get a salad and two pasta courses, or even three! Incanto is wonderful, but Quince is such an experience and if you prefer pasta to offal, go there. Otherwise, Incanto will be wonderful, too.

                                            7 Replies
                                            1. re: Doodleboomer

                                              Okay, I think I'll probably try for both Quince and Incanto, though both will most likely be on my own, since I may have a couple of dinners during the week on my own, too. I read in another thread that Incanto is great for solo dining; how is Quince? And I do prefer pasta (by leagues) to offal (sweetbreads and tongue I can do; liver nauseates me, and the only bite of brains I had was surely my last). I am such a pasta fanatic, in fact, that Quince is sounding right up my alley.
                                              I should say I will probably not order the roast chicken at Zuni, but if I were planning to I would definitely consider Range. ;) I use the roast chicken technique from Judy Rodgers' book, and it's pretty damn good, if I do say so, so I'd probably try something I'm less capable of making at home.

                                              1. re: greens

                                                So you know... Incanto has some pretty great pastas too (spaghettini with cured tuna heart and egg yolk!)

                                                Quince is probably better for eating with people - it's a small, intimate room, without bar seating. I'm a fan of dining alone, but I'd probably want friends with me at Quince.

                                                1. re: greens

                                                  Incanto's pastas are great. The handkerchief pasta with pork ragù that's always on the menu is a must. The other night we had one with if I remember right octopus, chanterelles, and pasta made with the octopus ink, and also the spaghettini with cured tuna heart and egg, both were great.

                                                  All this talk about innards gives a false impression. You can special-order an all-offal menu, but most nights the offal dishes are just two or three appetizers out of the long menu. The roasted lamb neck that's frequently on the menu isn't innardy at all, it's very flavorful meat.

                                                2. re: Doodleboomer

                                                  THANK YOU - someone else agrees with me about Chicken at Range and Chicken at Zuni. i had the opportunity to choose between Incanto, Quince and Delfina for a belated bday dinner - i ended up choosing Delfina, because it's been around so long and i've never been. can't wait to try!

                                                  1. re: Doodleboomer

                                                    I was recently blown away by the roast chicken at Zuni Cafe. I've got reservations next week at Range, so I know what I'm ordering now for comparison's sake. We enjoyed Zuni Cafe quite a bit despite some loud neighbors at the next table.

                                                    1. re: ccbweb

                                                      Still working on this a little...
                                                      Help me with this choice? Bar Tartine and Delfina: which would be better for a group, and which would be more appealing for dining alone? I have reservations at both, but will need to cancel one and do the walk-in thing by myself one night. Trying to decide which to assign to each night.

                                                      1. re: greens

                                                        I've been to both (but only once at each time), and I remember Bar Tartine as being much louder than Delfina, so Delfina might be better for a group because it would be easier to hear everyone.

                                                  2. Hello greens,
                                                    I just returned from a 3-day in SF and it was amazing...I go there to dine and it had been a year since the last trip.
                                                    I've been to both Delfinas and loved them both for entirely different reasons and have revisited 2x in the last 2 years. I chose AME vs Gary Danko on a whim and I LOVED IT!
                                                    feel free to look at my chow to see what type of food i find to be splendid. I am already planning my next foodie trip to sf and willrevisit AME and I will be dining solo with no problem...the food will make great company! The tasting menu was a dream and we ordered 3 other items that kick out bootys!!! the wine pairing was stellar and the service was fantastic.
                                                    Have fun!
                                                    I can't wait to hear where you wind up!

                                                    8 Replies
                                                    1. re: tatertotsrock

                                                      We'll be in SF starting this week for eight days. We want to try some newer places so we have: Incanto, Delfina, A-16, Ame. There are a couple of "classics" that we have never been to: Zuni and Slanted Door. I get the feeling that some Bay Area Chowhounds may be a little tired of them, but without getting too touristy, since they are long-time places, we thought we'd at least check them out. Any recommendations (other than the obvious roast chicken)? Thanks

                                                      1. re: markabauman

                                                        At Zuni (definitely the chicken, just to confirm), the Caesar salad and the strawberry ice cream. All three of those dishes are perhaps the best of each I've had. The oysters are also quite good.

                                                        1. re: markabauman


                                                          Zuni Cafe
                                                          1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                                                          1. re: markabauman

                                                            I was not a fan of Slantend Door, but I did LOVE Delfina and Pizzaria Delfina.
                                                            I'm also a big fan of CLEMINTINE.
                                                            AME was by far the best so far!!!
                                                            We ordered the tasting menu and 3 additions: the staff meal (amazing!!! Cuttlefish, okra, quail egg, sea urchin, and wasabi...so yummy!); the lamb 3 ways 2 of the 3 were amazing one was just good...pretty much very good but next to the braised piece, it was hard to compare-the braised bit ROCKED!), and a farmers market salad that was pretty and delicious.
                                                            The wine pairing was excelllent, along with the service.

                                                            1. re: markabauman

                                                              A16, Delfina, Incanto, and Zuni, I could eat at any of those places once a week forever and never get tired.

                                                              Slanted Door's worth trying once. I still like the food and the wine list is amazing, but I dislike everything else so don't find it worth the price.

                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                So here's the update:
                                                                Had a blast in your city. What wonderful food. I am so phenomenally envious.
                                                                For lunch: Ended up doing Tartine twice (soppressatta/fontina/rapini pesto was obscenely good) Pizzeria Delfina twice, which was some of the best pizza I've had outside Italy (all hail the Margherita with bufala), Slanted Door once (quite good, loved the clams) and a mediocre French bistro spot in the Fillmore I've already forgotten the name of.
                                                                Dinner: Delfina was excellent, Cafe at Chez Panisse was perfect, Bar Tartine was marvelous, Incanto was very good but my pasta was dry. Service everywhere was top notch, except at Delfina, where our server was distracted by the upcoming staff party that began before we even left the restaurant. Annoying, but the food made up for it. Bi-Rite Creamery was absolutely heavenly (salted dulce de leche and honey lavender particularly so), and the sourdough everywhere was killer. There is a pitiful shortage of spectacular bread in D.C.
                                                                Anyway, thanks to all for the many recommendations; I took them all to heart. Hopefully the next visit will be sooner rather than later.

                                                                1. re: greens

                                                                  Thanks for reporting back! Sounds like you really did take us to heart -- I'm always amused at people who report back (or who say they read the board before their trip, even if they didn't post a request for suggestions) and then list a bunch of places they ate that are definitely not places recommended here.

                                                                  The bread here totally spoils us for the rest of the country (if not the world: I was shocked by the poor quality of most of the bread I was served in Italy). While some other places may have particular specialty breads that are better than their counterparts here, the quality of bread across the board here is phenomenal.

                                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                    i SO agree about the bread in Italy. i lived there for 5 months in 2005, traveled from Piemonte region to Rome, found bread almost everywhere there tasteless and uninteresting. we are spoiled with respect to food in general here - quality, variety, access, etc.

                                                          2. Oh, you better get yourself into Swan Oyster Depot on Polk Street for some of the best fish you can get. It's all shrimp cocktails, seafood salads (crab louis, etc), chowder, smoked salmon. It will rock your world. Totally SF, totallly authentic. Lunch only. GO EARLY, or go late. Always a line--well worth it.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: alio e olio

                                                              Oh....alio e olio,
                                                              I do love SWAN...you wanna know how much? Well, the day after my tasting menu night at AME, I decided to walk there for breakfast...
                                                              (last time I was in town, we went at 10:30am, right after yoga, to get crab, oysters, and a beer for breakfast!)
                                                              ...this is where the violins start, because when I got there, it was closed...it was Sunday! How could I have forgotten?!?! This is where is get even more traggic...I had WALKED from the Griffin (a block from the Ferry Building) in hopes of earning all my bread, crab, oysters, and beer.
                                                              Oh well, next time.

                                                            2. Greens; I'm amazed that no one has offered a suffestion that you look at Coi as an option for the higher end dining. It is a remarkable dining experience that showcases fresh top quality ingredients that focuses on vegs. The room is somewhat austere whith a Japanese feel and excellent low key service. You should definitely consider it.