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"Intangibles?": Delfina, Incanto, Oliveto, Quince

MSPD Dec 10, 2007 09:15 AM

Business in mid-January and my wife is joining me.

I've tried to do my due diligence. Judging from reports, menus, websites, etc. it looks like the above named places are the kinds of places I'm seeking and all offer reasonably similar format and price point. However, there's only so much you can glean from the websites.

Is there any reason to choose one of the above over the others? We have three kids under five years-old and we don't get to sink into a dining room chair, relax and linger over a great meal very often. Food is primary concern -- not so much about wine. Transportation is not an issue.

I'm looking for those "intangibles" only local knowledge can share -- anything from appropriate noise level (not that loud is necessarily bad...just don't want to feel stressed or rushed by waiting crowds), comfortably spaced tables, servers savvy enough to look into our eyes, recognize that they tell a tale of lives way too harried and sleepless and guide us through a relaxing and magical evening of cuisine.

Please elaborate which has the qualities to make for the most relaxing and satisfying evening. Thank you for any help!

(Also, as Chowhounds are wont to do, I would certainly listen to alternatives but ask that you filter out the highest-end places. I picked these four because they offer a wide variety of interest and approachable price range).

  1. sfeater Dec 10, 2007 09:25 AM

    Though I love Delfina, given your requests I don't think it fits the bill. It is always crowded and loud. Not an atmosphere I would describe as relaxing. Incanto or Oliveto would be great, haven't tried Quince, though I know it is highly regarded here and I think the atmosphere is more upscale then the rest.

    1. Dave MP Dec 10, 2007 09:27 AM

      Of these four places, I've only been to Incanto. Sounds like it would be a great place for you.

      I'd add Aziza to your list of possibilities.

      This recent post might be helpful.

      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/467025

      If you do searches for combinations of the places you listed, you'll probably find posts w/ helpful comparisons.

      For example:

      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/460917
      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/328638

      5 Replies
      1. re: Dave MP
        MSPD Dec 10, 2007 09:50 AM

        Argh. How could I have missed that third thread? Thank you. Right off the bat, I would say I'm leaning towards Incanto.

        I also meant to add -- the neighborhood of each is a potential plus. Walking around before/after, interesting shops nearby, etc. are a plus. I don't know anything about any of these neighborhoods. For example, we recently ate at Frasca in Boulder, CO (if anyone is familiar...similar genre as these). Wandering around the shops before and after was a plus.

        Thanks again. I know this isn't exactly the most fun/interesting/inspiring type of Q&A on here as all four places would probably be "fine". Nights out are so few and far between nowadays I'm putting maybe undue pressure on myself to get the "perfect" place.

        1. re: MSPD
          pane Dec 10, 2007 10:05 AM

          I've never been to Oliveto and went to Quince too long ago (2 years, maybe?) to remember it. I like both Delfina and Incanto a lot--I'm going to Delfina tonight and went to Incanto last week, in fact.

          Both have the basic failings of most San Francisco restaurants--too loud, and the tables too close together. However, I think the food at both is great. Delfina seems more classic Cal-Italian; Incanto can be experimental (offal, if you like it), but you can also still to rustic Italian favorites, like pasta with pork ragu.

          For neighborhoods, Incanto is five or six blocks from the main drag of Noe Valley, a pleasant, suburbanish neighborhood. Delfina is on a busy strip of 18th, near Tartine Bakery, and a 5 minute walk from lots of Mission bars and action.

          1. re: pane
            pane Dec 10, 2007 10:07 AM

            Also: when I thought of your request (really good food at a reasonable price, relaxing evening at a place that isn't too noisy/loud) the first thing that sprang to mind was a very enjoyable trip I had out to Ad Hoc, Thomas Keller's new place in Yountville, if you are willing to head that far afield.

            A friend came out to visit last month and we had a fabulous time there--my report is in this thread: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/459473

            1. re: pane
              s
              SteveG Dec 10, 2007 11:04 AM

              Actually, I feel like Incanto belongs in some suburb because the restaurant interior is so spacious by San Francisco standards. I don't feel like the tables are cramped at all there, though I definitely agree that Delfina is cramped, and I'm hard-pressed to think of a restaurant that would be more cramped than Delfina.

              Neighborhood-wise, I'd say Olivetto has the best strolling potential, but it's across the bay and I really didn't enjoy my recent meal there. I'd go to Incanto.

              1. re: SteveG
                susancinsf Dec 10, 2007 12:02 PM

                I agree that Oliveto is in a more interesting neighborhood than Incanto, (Delfina is in a more interesting, if slightly edgier neighborhood than either) but that yes, the food is better at Incanto than at Oliveto (IMO). Standards vary, I guess, on table closeness, because I find many of the tables at Incanto to be more closely spaced than I like (though better than Delfina).

                I haven't been to Quince, but my guess is that it might be more what you are looking for...

                If it isn't too pricey, I'd also consider Acquerello...

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

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

                Quince Restaurant
                470 Pacific Av, San Francisco, CA 94133

                Acquerello Restaurant
                1722 Sacramento St., San Francisco, CA 94109

                Oliveto Cafe
                5655 College Ave., Oakland, CA 94618

        2. a
          Aaron Dec 10, 2007 10:19 AM

          From your description, it sounds like you'd enjoy the refinement and elegance of Quince. It's more of a fine dining experience than the rest. For my money, I LOVE the food at Oliveto, but it sounds like the atmosphere is just as important for you, and Quince certainly has that intangible quality that makes the diner feel cared for and special.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Aaron
            s
            srr Dec 10, 2007 10:38 AM

            I agree about Quince. Of the group, it is the most "special occasion" place. I think Incanto is my favorite one of the restaurants for food, but I always say that I think they must beat the servers before each shift. I've not encountered any that seem to enjoy what they are doing. They are efficient and competent, but there isn't any passion coming from the front of the house. Not the case at Quince.

          2. g
            grubber4 Dec 10, 2007 10:22 AM

            I have been to all four several times. Oliveto has the best immediate neighborhood to stroll around in after dinner. Delfina and Incanto are more casual than the other two and certainly louder. Incanto does amazing variety of meats and pastas. Quince is the most elegant, refined quiet and quaint. It's one of my "go to" restaurants. The downside is that there is no window shopping right near by, though a 4 block stroll puts you on Fillmore St.

            7 Replies
            1. re: grubber4
              Paul H Dec 10, 2007 11:02 AM

              I have also been to all four several times. Of your choices, Quince has the quietest dining room, the best service, and the most elegant food. Given your wish for "servers savvy enough to look into our eyes, recognize that they tell a tale of lives way too harried and sleepless and guide us through a relaxing and magical evening of cuisine," the choice isn't even close.

              1. re: Paul H
                Dave MP Dec 10, 2007 11:54 AM

                I agree. I really liked Incanto, but I definitely would not describe the servers we had to be like this.

                1. re: Dave MP
                  MSPD Dec 10, 2007 12:42 PM

                  Thank you all for your generous input so far. A couple of questions about Quince specifically:

                  - I chuckled when I pulled up the web site...the photo that comes up is three two-top tables practically on top of one another. Is this typical of the whole place or just done for photographic effect? Granted, my wife is the one that has to shimmy back into the seating along the wall, but that looks a bit cozy.

                  - The sample menu on the site is from Spring/Summer. Anyone have any more recent experiences to share or idea of what kinds of dishes they serve in the winter?

                  1. re: MSPD
                    ccbweb Dec 10, 2007 12:56 PM

                    My wife took me a couple of days ago for my birthday, here's what we ate:
                    Mackerel Tartar
                    Dungenes Crab Salad with Red Grapefruit
                    Pumpkin Soup
                    Raviolo di Ricotta with Egg and Brown Butter (this one was just absurdly good)
                    Beet Lasagnette with Monkfish and White Shrimp (amazing flavors and textures in this dish)
                    Gnocchi with Veal Meatballs (the most refined "comfort" food I think I've ever eaten)
                    -I'm blanking on the name of the pasta...sort of a small penne with pointed ends...with a Smoked Eel sauce (I thought my wife would fall under the table she loved it so much)

                    As I recall the third course selections featured duck and lamb.

                    Obviously, I'm a fan of the place. I have the rest of the menu at home and I'll post the other things they had on the dinner menu from Saturday night when I have time this evening.

                    There are some tables that are close together, but we've been seated in that set of three in the photo the last two times we've eaten at Quince and haven't felt cramped nor have we felt we couldn't hear each other or that we were forced to listen to others' conversations.

                    1. re: ccbweb
                      ccbweb Dec 10, 2007 04:19 PM

                      I've posted the full menu from Saturday night (the 8th) on a new thread:
                      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/46828...

                      1. re: ccbweb
                        MSPD Dec 10, 2007 06:45 PM

                        You pretty much had me at mackerel -- among my favorite fish. Thank you for taking the time to post the above list and the full menu (which looks outstanding).

                        Happy belated birthday. It just so happens this will be mine as well.

                        1. re: MSPD
                          ccbweb Dec 10, 2007 08:39 PM

                          The mackerel was really quite something...served on toast with fennel and radish (I think those were tossed with lemon and olive oil). The tartar was faintly spicy and the texture was incredible. I could happily have eaten about 3 orders of it (and not because it was small, which it really wasn't). Happy birthday to you, too!

            2. d
              dinnerout Dec 10, 2007 10:45 AM

              I've not been to Incanto, and while all 3 are good, the dining room at Quince is the most refined in my view. It is quiet and there is an effort to provide an elegant experience. I think the food at Delfina is great, but it is quite crowded and noisier. I've not been to Oliveto in awhile, but my sense there was the same. You will enjoy the food at all 4, but that wasn't the question, was it! I will agree with the mention of Aziza - we were there for dinner on Saturday night and it was excellent. I love chicken basteeya so that is a must for me - the lamb chops were excellent. They have interesting cocktails and I have always had very professional service there. You might think of that as an either/or.
              Enjoy your visit!

              1. ccbweb Dec 10, 2007 10:53 AM

                I love Quine; it's far and away my favorite restaurant in San Francisco, but there are a few things to keep in mind in case they matter. They only serve wine (not sure if they have any beer at all but they don't have a bar nor do they serve liquor). If you'd like a drink before/during/after dinner that might be something to consider. I also think the wine list at Quince is one of the best selling points of the restaurant.

                The food is remarkable. We've eaten there twice in the last 6 months and the food has ranged from excellent to astoundingly good. We've generally skipped the "third courses" in favor of having more, different dishes from the first two courses and especially trying as many of the pastas as possible.

                The service is some of the best I've had and my wife and I really enjoy the atmosphere. It's a fairly small place, not too cramped and not very loud. We find it quite relaxing.

                So, for food, service and a relaxing evening I'd definitely suggest Quince; but keep the imbibing situation in mind if that's important.

                1. Chuckles the Clone Dec 10, 2007 01:56 PM

                  At the end of the meal, Oliveto is one of the most expensive restaurants in the area.
                  Yes, as can be pointed out, it's possible to come out under $100/person, though in my
                  experience that rarely happens.

                  1. a
                    Armoise Dec 10, 2007 07:40 PM

                    One other impression to add: I ate at Incanto Friday evening. I found the salumi marvelous, also the lamb neck entree, but we were served a grilled octopus that was difficult to cut even with a steak knife. When I mentioned this very gently to the waiter, first stating that the flavors were delicious but it was very difficult to chew, he came back with "well, that's the difference between the baby octopus and the full grown." I've eaten and cooked full-grown octopus for years. That one was just not braised long enough before grilling. My dinner companions and I felt that our service became cold after that comment, and we were a bit put off, even though many things we ate were delicious. Also bear in mind that portions are large on the entrees. I also concur with other hound's opinions that the pastas are just not that delicious. The "signature" handkerchief pasta with pork ragu was satisfying in a basic way, but paled in comparison with our starters, and the nettle cavatelli with chicken confit and ricotta salata were beautiful but as a dish nothing melded.
                    I'll go back, skip the pastas, stick to meat, salumi, and salads, and for sure the bay leaf panna cotta.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Armoise
                      o
                      Oakland Barb Dec 10, 2007 09:59 PM

                      We were disappointed in Quince last week.
                      This hasn't been the case, but it was this time.
                      The pastas were generally over-cooked and unremarkable. We too had the raviolo and thought it very unbalanced. Nothing "sang". The only main dish we had was a lamb that was the tiniest portion of food I believe I've been served as a main.
                      I don't care for the conceit of wishing a happy "whatever" on the menu. I've tried to convince my husband not to mention special occasions. This time we were brought a candle in our dessert for our anniversary?!
                      A few nights later we ate at Oliveto to "make up" for the dinner. It was superior in all ways. I haven't always felt this way, but it most certainly did last week. It will be a long time before I return to Quince.

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