Overwhelmed by Options
I will be in Santa Rosa for a few days next month and am hoping to do some serious eating there and in the bay area. I usually try to read through boards before posting, but I'm completely overwhelmed by how big the area is and how much awesome food there is. So I figured I would post as much info as possible about what I like and see if you all could help me out.
I will travel great distances for good vietnamese food and neopolitan / New Haven style pizza. I also really like cocktails, both classics (aviation, jack rose, manhattans) and newer stuff (in particular all of Lucy Brennan's drinks at Mint & 820 in Portland). I love spicy food, esp. indian and szechuan. Oh, and I would definitely like to get some good bread while I'm there. Boston is slightly lacking in this department. I don't like sourdough (sorry, San Francisco!), but I love rustic breads, ciabatta, baguettes, etc.
I am setting aside some money for food in CA, but generally prefer more casual places. So fun cheap eats and moderately priced places would be best. I don't mind if a place is a bit of a dive or hole-in-the-wall.
Places I've enjoyed on previous trips to the bay area include A-16, Pizetta 211, the cafe at Chez Panisse, LeCheval.
I think I'd like to go to Zuni Cafe, since I love the cookbook so much. I wouldn't mind going back to A-16. But I definitely would like some new ideas (and cheap ideas) as well as suggestions for places in Santa Rosa, Napa, etc. Even though I'll only be able to hit a couple places on this trip, I definitely will be back to visit, so I very much appreciate any suggestions for this trip or future ones.
Keep Zuni on your list; I love the cookbook too! They are open for lunch as well as dinner, and it can be very lovely and filled w/ light during the day. Their bartenders are on top of their game. I've had a cocktail w/ meyer lemon there as well as their signature bloody mary w/ balsamic vinegar. http://www.zunicafe.com/
For Viet food, Bodega Bistro is a board favorite. Search the archives for specific recs.
I didn't care for Bong Su (recommended above) the one time we went. Overpriced and felt like I was paying more for their atmosphere. The bar area looked very chic, and I wouldn't mind returning for a drink if I was in the area.
I also suggest Aziza for Cal-Moroccan food. All around good food, drinks, ambience, and service make it another board favorite. If you have a big appetite, then their 5-course tasting menu is supposed to be an excellent deal. Again, lots of archived posts. http://www.aziza-sf.com/
You might consider Incanto for Italian. Their housemade salumi platter is a wonder. The chef, Chris Cosentino, is also known for showcasing offal. Good wine list.
For Napa, Ubuntu, a vegetarian place opened up recently by an ex-chef of Manresa, is getting a lot of good buzz and board love right now. http://www.ubuntunapa.com/index_flash.html
In Yountville, Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc also has its fans, although some people aren't as impressed. I have not been yet. http://www.adhocrestaurant.com/
Hope this helps to focus you a bit. If you have time to check out marketplaces, then there's always the Ferry Building in SF and Oxbow Public Market in Napa.
Good viet food - you should weigh in on Bong Su vs Slanted Door. Eat at both and let us know. I'm a Bong Su fan, and don't bother with Le Cheval any more. SD has good cocktails, BS has a fancy looking bar but I haven't tasted. Sister restaurant in PA is good-but-not-great.
Like many places, they've designed some fancy cocktails instead of hiring an excellent bartender who can get the classics spot-on.
You should probably try the Korean, though - I believe Mr Lauriston had a good roundup of Oakland Korean recently, with the answer being Oghane, and I concur. These are casual, excellent places.
China Village is a destination, discussed repeatedly. My favorite cocktail in the east bay is Cesar Shattuck, by close following is Fonda (A cote is good too), who makes a nice warm chocolate cake, and would be a great twofer with CV. If you are walking, not rolling, out of CV - you'll end up ordering way too much food at CV.
There is no New Haven style pizza hereabouts. Lanesplitter has a neopolitan, and it has it's moments, but it's not worth limited travel meal space. Move along.
But, on to what caught my eye: the mixed drink aspect.
Zuni is known for its Cosmo, and was makin' em great before they were popular. Full menu is available at the bar & bar tables. A plate of oysters and your favorite cocktail is a great way to start an evening - I might argue few SF experiences are as quintessential.
The bar at Boulevard is excellent. High end booze with best-in-class fruit makes for great margaritas and such. Their skill with the manhattan does not match Cesar, I fear. I suspect Jardinere of having a dab hand, but am always suckered in by the liquor flights and never try anything mixed.
The drinks between soma and mission tend to be uniformly great. Of special mention might be Casanova, the Attic, Doc's Clock, Dalva when it's not busy, and my favorite manhattan being Annie's at the Rite Spot. Quality varies greatly by the 'tender and how rushed they are. Oh, and I bet the Slow Club's still mixing good ones.
I'm a believer in the three restaurant evening, and the few times I've done it has been a great experience. Drinks and appetizer at one place, dinner on the small side (like, two apps) elsewhere, and drinks and desert a third place. The first trial of the concept was Cesar / Chez Pannise / Cesar, which was killer. Annie's Social Club / Boulevard / Jardinere was a good night, but my dad overate and tore his esophagus. My current girlfriend just can't eat that much, so I've been slacking. Still --- if you're diligent, you can get a lot of eating in an evening - your transit between joints is your breather. Just be careful out there - a torn esophagus is self-limiting, but scary, and put you out of action for a few meals. Er, days. I meant days.
Lanesplitter uses the words "Neapolitan" to mean thin-crust and "Sicilian" to mean thick-crust, but both are actually New York-style.
A16 is the only place for real Neapolitan-style pizza. seems to be the only VPN-certified Neapolitan-style pizza place in the Bay Area. Niebaum-Coppola used to be but I guess somewhere in the transition to Cafe Zoetrope they dropped that.
Pizzaiolo's pizza has a definite Neapolitan influence. Definitely worth a detour.
We don't eat much sourdough in San Francisco any more. It's by no means extinct, but many of the old bakeries have folded, and in most better restaurants sourdough has been supplanted by Acme and its competitors.
Bennett Valley Bread and Pastry is very good. They're in Santa Rosa but I'm not sure they have a retail outlet. They're at the Saturday farmers market in Santa Rosa.
If you're driving past Petaluma, you could make a stop at Della Fattoria, one of the three best bread bakeries in the Bay Area. They're also at the Saturday farmers market at the SF Ferry Plaza.
If you're in Berkeley or SF, go to Acme. You can find their stuff in many supermarkets, but the selection and freshness are better at the bakeries.
Tartine has very limited selection and tends to run out, but they make arguably the best loaf in the area. It's very large so you might want to get it to take home.
1601 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702
600 Guerrero St, San Francisco, CA 94110
141 Petaluma Blvd N, Petaluma, CA 94952
Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111