Trip Report (Long and Rambling)
Hi. Just returned from a week in San Francisco/Sonoma County. Ate at several places suggested on Chowhound and others recommended by people I ran into. Here's a basic report.
San Francisco, stayed at W Hotel near Moscone center so tried to eat locally. First night had dinner at Two on Hawthorne St. Very friendly hostess said she wouldn't have a table until 10 but sat us at the bar. Not too hungry so ate some big salads plus a gigantic ravioli that was really rubbery and greasy. But I was full so left happy. I wasn't hungry because we hit Yank Sing for dim sum that afternoon and pigged out. The food was delicious, not greasy, the servers all friendly, cleverly sending people over to our table, not with carts, but with just 2 plates of "a house specialty" in their hands, trying to push elaborate cabbage salads and steamed fish. Authentic experience or not, I love their food and of course paid lots of $$ for it, but when traveling on business it doesn't hurt as much.
Lunch next day was at La Taqueria in Mission St. I had a carne asada burrito, partner had carnitas burrito. Perfection! And both came without rice so I didn't feel bloated all day! Dinner that night was at Lulu's, also near the Moscone Center. You can smell the wood-burning oven as soon as you enter. Delicious smell. I had a fennel scented pork loin with delicious mashed potatoes. My partner had salmon that was sort of dried out, but again, the service was friendly and we had a good time.
Okay, here's a question: 3 or 4 nights in a row, when our server first came over to introduce themselves they all asked if we had ever eaten with them before. Then they'd say the same thing: "We serve everything family style. We encourage sharing. We suggest 4 or 5 plates for the table. Things will come from the kitchen sort of staggered, whenever they're ready." What's the deal with that? Can't the kitchen plan enough to have the appetizers done and then wait to start the entrees until the proper time. So sometimes we'd have 3 things going on on the table, some of it getting cold. We cracked up as soon as a server would ask if we'd been there before because we knew what was coming next.
Back to the food. The Slanted Door the next night was delicious, with a lovely view. The shaking beef and chicken with caramel sauce/clay pot were winners, as was the chocolate cake. I've eaten all these things many times in lots of places. The Slanted Door was not earth-shatteringly great, but there was nothing negative at all.
Lunch the next day at Chez Panisse upstairs in the Cafe. We had planned to spend some time checking out Berkeley before lunch. We took BART from SF and arrived to find it drizzly. So we wound up walking pretty quickly toward the restaurant and arrived a half hour early. Besides we didn't pass anything that looked worth stopping for. Lots of aggressive crazy people lining the route. They were very happy to take us early. I had a delicious pork braised in milk, partner had a pizza with peppers. The dessert is what sticks in my mind. A ginger cake with creme fraiche on the side. Perfect.
Next went up to Sonoma. Had a few standout meals, memorable mostly for the settings and staff and maybe a little for their food. In Duncans Mills, Cape Fear Cafe was fabulous. In Healdsburg, Zin was wonderful. Just wanted to put down some impressions, because I'm already forgetting details!
>>Okay, here's a question: 3 or 4 nights in a row, when our server first came over to introduce themselves they all asked if we had ever eaten with them before. Then they'd say the same thing: "We serve everything family style. We encourage sharing. We suggest 4 or 5 plates for the table. Things will come from the kitchen sort of staggered, whenever they're ready." What's the deal with that? Can't the kitchen plan enough to have the appetizers done and then wait to start the entrees until the proper time. <<
I think they're misusing the phrase "family style"... that should refer to a shared serving bowl where each person helps themselves. Grandma never served each item one at a time!
In this style of serving (which I think of as "small plates" or "tapas style"), there is usually no distinction between appetizers and entrees. I'm not a big fan of getting everything at once, although I love sharing, so we'll usually order 2 or 3 things, get those, then order 2 or 3 more. That way we can control the sequence and timing a bit better.
Isa on Steiner near Chestnut in the Marina does small plates correctly (in my opinion)... the kitchen will sequence the dishes and bring out one at a time (if there are only 2 of you). AND they bring clean plates and utensils for each dish (another rarity).