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Feb 25, 2008 07:26 AM

Recs for a visitor from London, please

I'll be accompanying my husband on a business trip to San Francisco and Napa Valley towards the end of April 2008. The trip organisers have made bookings at Kokkari, Mousse's and Slanted Door (apologies for any spelling mistakes) but we also have a Friday and Saturday night free to do our own thing. Could you please recommend some restaurants which would complement the 'business' bookings - we're open to all good food, though a preference would probably be French/ Italian (so is Boulevard recommended?) We're staying at the Campton Place Hotel. Many thanks in advance for your advice,

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  1. That would be Moose's :-)

    You mentioned Napa -- is it possible to have either of those meals there? That would give you more possibilities.

    You're going to find SF cheap compared to London, so this might be a good time to splurge and do some high-end dining. There was a just a very positive review of Fifth Floor under it's new chef, for example.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      "You're going to find SF cheap compared to London'

      I wish we had that exchange rate... the sky is your limit Caroline. you will have plenty of (maybe too many?) options within a 10 minute walk from your hotel. If you want a more idiosyncratic type of place you may have to venture out to the neighborhoods, but there's just so much to be found within the boundries of Market and Van Ness.

      if the weather is good and a casual, leisurely lunch is welcome, Belden Alley has a few places with outdoor seating that may not be "stellar" but usually satisfy.

      also cool in my book was what a co-worker referred to as a 'walking lunch' - hiking up Telegraph Hill, hitting a bakery on I think, Kearny (odd stretch near the tower that doesn't connect to the rest - someone please correct me) for focaccia and ending up down the Filbert steps by the bay and back to work.

      1. re: hill food

        Liguria's the standard stop for focaccia.

        Liguria Bakery
        1700 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA 94133

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Liguria is indeed quite good, but this was someplace way up the hill in the shadow of Coit, maybe not a destination, but a nice surprise given the topography. lots of glass, maybe 10 feet square outside of the kitchen (3m for the metric inclined).

          1. re: hill food

            Bakery or deli/market?

            Speedy's fits part of that description.

            Fog City market?

            The closest bakery would be Italian French Bakery but that doesn't match the description street-wise

              1. re: hill food

                You seem to have some firm details on the location otherwise from the description I'd think you really might still be talking about Liguria or the Italian bakery on Green which has changed hands and focus. As you know, the hill itself is mostly residential. I'd be interested if you could dig up the name of the place even if it's not around anymore.

                1. re: sugartoof

                  y'know an E-W street may be more likely, its allure was that it was in such an unlikely place. wasn't Liguria (lived on Stockton for a few years)

                  Green may very well be it. and sorry to others to take this so off-topic.

                  Telegraph has so few attractions, but is a really great place to explore.

    2. Since you list "French/Italian" as a preference, Acquerello would be a good choice. It is Italian with strong French influences.

      1. French per se is not particularly strong in this area, though the most expensive restaurants (e.g. French Laundry, Dining Room at the Ritz, Manresa) all have strong French influences.

        Kokkari and Slanted door are very urban and get a lot of business travelers on expense accounts. Moose's draws more of a local crowd but a very well-heeled bunch, lots of politicians, etc. The same is true of Boulevard, so it might be a bit too much of the same thing.

        I suggest you try someplace with a more uniquely local style that highlights our wonderful produce. Incanto, for instance, serves a very local version of seasonal, rustic Italian cuisine with a strong Fergus Henderson influence. Aziza serves a unique California spin on Moroccan cuisine. Zuni Cafe's sort of a local take on a Parisian brasserie, though the food's as Italian as it is French.

        "If I could get perfect vegetables, I wouldn't need to do all this."--Heston Blumenthal

        1 Reply
        1. quince should fill the bill nicely. one of my favorites.

          here's a link:

          1. Wow - thanks for so many great replies! Glad that it will be a Moose not a Mouse! You've given me lots to investigate so that is really appreciated. We have 3 nights in Napa but I understand that dinners have already been arranged for each of these nights.
            Couple of follow-up questions if I can be cheeky: for the restaurants you have recommended, roughly how far ahead do I need to book for dinner? what is the dress code on the smart/ casual meter?
            We have a few days tagged on to the end of our trip down at Half Moon Bay - does anyone have any thoughts on whether this is a good place to spend the time from a food/ scenery perspective or is there a fantastic place within a couple of hours drive of SF/Napa that we're missing out on?
            Thanks again for all your help -

            25 Replies
            1. re: Caroline N

              nothing in CA is more than business casual except the opera on opening niight. or I guess the Oscars, but that was yesterday. near HMB is Moss Beach which has some really cool tidal pools. Half Moon itself is nice if the weather is - if it's foggy I'd rather look at urchins and sea anemone at Moss.

              anyway that stretch of 1 is really cool (and sorta scary in a good way).

              Santa Cruz is not a far drive down with great old-type thrill rides (minimal safety equipment) the Pacific is frigid, but SC is around the Northern limit where it's not deathly cold. kind of WT, but still fun (sorry if that sounded pretentious,) and if you notice the sign for Bonny Doon - excellent dessert wines (East side of the road IIRC) def. worth a stop.

              1. re: Caroline N

                Some places you need to reserve weeks ahead. Varies a lot. Dress code is informal everywhere except the French Laundry.

                Half Moon Bay is not a great food destination. It's also overdeveloped and suburban compared with other parts of the coast such as Point Reyes, Bodega Bay, Big Sur, Mendocino.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Big Sur and Mendocino are too far for a day trip. I'd probably do Point Reyes or Bodega Bay over Half Moon Bay, but HMB can be great. It's fun to walk out on the pier and look at the fishing boats. The town itself is suprisingly nice still, though there is some unfortunate sprawl around it. Last week, I discovered the coastal trail by the Ritz -- the views of the cliffs and sea are incredible. To keep this food-oriented, I'll add that I had an only-okay lunch at Sam's Chowder House, but the view was wonderful, even in a drizzle.

                  1. re: Glencora

                    She said "a few days," not a day trip.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Ooops, you're right. In that case I'd probably go North, though I find some of that drive very scary.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        But she also said "within a couple hours drive" which neither Big Sur nor Mendocino would be -- especially on those roads for someone driving on the "wrong" side from what they're used to.

                        The area south of HMB is quite a bit sunnier than it is going north, too. The Pt. Reyes area always reminds me of Scotland (the name Inverness isn't arbitrary), so perhaps not such a treat for someone from Britain.

                        From HMB you can do a day-trip to Monterey, too -- Hwy 1 South is pretty straight along that route (restaurants, etc., Santa Cruz and south are covered on the California board).

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          And maybe over to Salinas for taco truck tacos and the Steinbeck museum. That and the Santa Cruz boardwalk (Deep-fried twinkies?) would be a very California experience, if that's what the OP wants. Or Point Reyes if she'd rather have local oysters, cheese, etc. (You're right about Inverness, BTW, the families there were Scots and some still are.)

                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                      The area right around Half Moon Bay and northward is "suburban" but once you get south of there you're on one of the most beautiful undeveloped parts of the coast. I personally prefer it to Pt. Reyes and Bodega Bay, and Big Sur and Mendocino are much, much farther away.

                      Half Moon Bay has several decent restaurants, including the fairly upscale Cetrella, Pasta Moon, Gibralter, etc. Personally, I always head to Pescadero, which has a beautiful beach, a marsh with walking trails, a lovely little main street with places to pick up food for picnics, and the famous Duarte's Tavern, which has some delicious local offerings like artichoke soup, fresh local fish and olallieberry pie.

                      Harley Farms goat cheese apparently now has a tasting room, too, and you can goggle at the amazing variety of heirloom beans and other legumes at Phipps Country.


                      Farther south, the "destination" place I'm obsessed with that would definitely be a treat to someone from London is Fiesta Tepa-Sahuayo in Watsonville (which is sort of on the way to Monterey). If you're within 30 miles, don't miss it.

                      Duarte's Tavern
                      202 Stage Rd, Pescadero, CA 94060

                      287 Stage Road, Pescadero, CA

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        Yeah, I agree with you that I'd rather go to Half Moon Bay and South than North ... and if it is a few days then head down towards Santa Cruz and Monterey.

                        Pescadero is a great place and you could see I'd say Duartes is pretty close to an Amercian version of an English country pub ... nothing English about it ... however, a place where locals hang out to eat.

                        Down further is Swanton Berry farm for amazing berries and a lovely farm.

                        The drive down route 1 through Devil's Slide is so scenic and not as annoying as the drive along Route 1 north ... I'm not a fan of slow twisty roads for long, long stretches ... and there are surfers in Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz.

                    3. re: Caroline N

                      Reservations: given how much we love to eat, reservations can be tricky for any restaurant recommended by this crowd. Check out , which is what many restaurants use. It's the best tool for day-of reservations and scouting around.

                      On the London smart/casual meter, everything in san francisco is casual. Polo shirts allowed, but business casual is typical - by which we mean a sportcoat and dress shirt. Due to our affliction of wealthy software engineers, many restaurants pride themselves in excellent service to the underdressed. I once ate at Aquerello in a dirty tee shirt.

                      Regarding Moose's - they've suffered a serious change in ownership, and are a shadow of their former self. Gone are the glory days when you'd catch the mayor at the back table. Given all the other meals you could enjoy and/or afford, sneaking out wouldn't be a bad choice. Zuni/Defina/GaryDanko/RitzCarleton/Minna/ the list goes on and on.

                      Boulevard is one of the city's excellent restaurants, and I did see Willie Brown last time I was there, although he's an ex-mayor.

                      A shortcut to actually doing your homework (ie, pouring over all the board posts asking for traveller's recommendations) would be to pull out a Zagats guide and pick anything with a food rating 25 or greater and have an excellent meal. Not that I'm a fan of Zagat's, they have their problems, but it's a shortcut to the commonly-considered-best restaurants in the city. Given that Pizza Express and Boulevard are in the same price range for you.

                      Doing your homework would be preferred, though. What restaurants do you like in London? What's your favorite east end curry joint? Then we can start talking.

                      1. re: bbulkow

                        Business casual means a shirt with a collar.

                        The highest-rated East Bay restaurant in the 2008 Zagat is Erna's Elderberry House, and Zachary's is in the top 20 for food ratings.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Are you suggesting that the OP go to Erna's Elderberry and Zachary's? I'm pretty sure your intent is to point out how misleading Zagat can be but your post might be confusing for someone out of the area.

                          1. re: HungryGrayCat

                            Right, I'm suggesting that any guide that puts those two places in the top 20 belongs in the recycling bin.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              I would never trust Zagat's for "The Writing Style" or what they find "Interesting" or the "Curious" use of "Punctuation"...

                              1. re: hill food

                                The quotes indicate that one of their editors has pulled those phrases out of comments submitted by readers.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  Yeah, and if they only did it for phrases that used unique or distinctive phraseology that would be reasonable. But when they put quotes around the word "fun" or "delicious" it's just silly and annoying. What's more, I don't believe they're quoting a specific person, because they must get dozens of comments using those words and phrases.

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    The Zagat editors in theory provide only factual information. "Fun" and "delicious" are value judgments culled from user comments, hence the quotes.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      Yeah, but it's still silly. If they're really worried about separating the "facts" from the "opinions" they could structure their entries into a section for factual information and a section summarizing reader opinions.

                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                        They do. There's factual information at the top, then a summary of readers' opinions. The use of quotes allows them to compress a range of sometimes contradictory opinions into the very limited available space.

                                        The Zagats are doing very well, they'd be foolish to tamper with success.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          I still think the use of quote marks when the words aren't being attributed to a specific person are silly and pointless. They're opinions, we understand that, we don't need dozens of quote marks to remind us of that.

                        2. re: bbulkow

                          When was the last time you ate at Moose's? The chef, interior, and owners are new.

                          While we know the executive chef, we didn't give him warning that we were coming, we ordered the set standard menu, and the executive chef at Moose's doesn't cook during service, so I think our meal was reasonably representative of what anyone would get. We thought it was pretty good.

                          1. re: SteveG

                            SteveG, I think I ate there about 7 months ago. They said they had just re-opened after a change with new chef, interior and owners.

                            I liked my meal there, but I found it standard-good, or what I'd call "pretty good". I can't remember clearly a single dish right now - not true of the great meals I've had recently.

                            15 years ago Mooses was home to two "top 10" meals, and I'd have put it against any restaurant in the city. (Of course, I'm older and far more travelled now)

                            All I'm suggesting is it's nowhere near that pinnacle - do you disagree? Are they the equal of the board favorites? Quite the scoop if so!

                            Regarding my comments about Zagats - I was being snide but less obviously than Mr Lauriston. I blame the fluid in my lungs and this damnable illness. Please disregard.

                            1. re: bbulkow

                              The first time, we had the set tasting menu (all items are listed on the menu so it's planned ahead of time) with wine pairing, I thought it was excellent for something like 5 generous courses for $70 to $80 for food. The second time we were there the set tasting menu page wasn't in the menu, so we ordered normally and the food was good, not great. I don't know if they're still doing the more edgy tasting menu or if they've decided to just focus on a standard meal given the volume of North Beach tourists they have walking in the door.

                              My main point was just that the OP is going there as something arranged by her "trip organizers," and I'm hard pressed to think of a restaurant that size in North Beach that would be more satisfying. Is it as good as it was 10+ years ago? I don't know, but it's way better than it was 5 years ago.

                              1. re: bbulkow

                                If you were last there seven months ago, that was before the most recent makeover, at the end of November.

                                I don't see any set menu on the current sample menu.

                                What on earth is "risotto carnitas"?


                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  Big chunks of braised/browned pork shoulder on top of risotto. I didn't get to taste it, so I don't know if it used a pork broth or chicken broth.

                                  Reminds me of the potato puffs that came with something in our tasting menu--like refined tater tots that actually tasted great. I think they were what Gregoire tries to do with its potato puffs, but when I had them at Gregoire they were greasy, not very light, and not seasoned well.