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Favorite menu item at Zuni Cafe?

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I'm an out of towner and have a reservation at Zuni Cafe this weekend... I've heard the roast chicken for two is out of this world, but was wondering what are some other favorites?

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  1. Most of the dishes I've really loved there are daily specials that I've never seen twice, for example grilled pork kidneys skewered with rosemary branches.

    Of the regular menu items, I order the fritto misto almost every time I go there, and roast chicken maybe one visit out of four. Oysters and Caesar salad are excellent but I don't feel like that's much of a challenge for the kitchen. The gnocchi are great but there are usually other things I find more appealing. The bowl of polenta is boring. If there's a consommé or brodo, that's likely boring, too.

    1. The oysters have been consistently excellent and their Caesar salad is an exemplar of the dish. The housemade ice creams are also very good. I'm one of the legions of fans of the chicken, it's a great dish.

      1 Reply
      1. re: ccbweb

        That reminds me, the granitas (espresso, blood orange, etc.) are the best around.

      2. Love the burger, polenta, and most pasta offerings, particularly the puttanesca. Oh and don't miss the bloody mary for brunch - it's spicy and fantastic.

        6 Replies
        1. re: vnchile

          I love the polenta. Creamy, with a big amount of mascarpone in the middle.
          Topped with freshly cracked black pepper. I thought it was divine.

          Love the roast chicken. And the burger with blue cheese and frites also.

          1. re: maria lorraine

            maybe some days the polenta is hit or miss. i've had it and thought it was ridiculously bland. but then again, i'm not a grits, oatmeal, or cream of wheat type of person.

            1. re: thejulia

              I mean this with a total lack of snark: if you don't like that type of dish (soft polenta), why would you think that your not liking it in a particular restaurant would mean the restaurant's dish "missed." I haven't had the polenta yet, myself, though I plan to as I am a grits, warm cereal sort so I can't offer a comment myself on that dish yet.

              1. re: thejulia

                The polenta is lovely for what it is, but I can make it just as good or better at home (Anson Mills Coarse Polenta Integrale). And really I'd rather top it with meat sauce or squab.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  That does sound tasty -- polenta with meat sauce or squab.

                  I know you don't care for Zuni's polenta, Robert, but when I had it, it was a revelation, and I'd never had a better version. And I've made pretty great polenta for 20 years, often serving it with braised lamb shanks, or roasted chicken, or marinara or all by itself. After experiencing Zuni's polenta, I went on a quest to duplicate it exactly, and have. But I love having it there.
                  I know your mileage varies.

                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    Polenta doesn't get much better than Zuni's. It's just a boring dish compared with other things on the menu, so I wouldn't recommend it to a tourist who has only one meal.

                    Unlike some of their other dishes, such as chicken (not the same without a wood oven), it's very easy to duplicate at home by following the directions in Judy Rodgers's cookbook.

          2. Roast chicken w. bread salad, raw oysters, the burger and the caesar. Often times the simplest things are the hardest to do right but Zuni does get it right, at least everytime I've been there (about 8 times in the last 2 years).

            1. I've enjoyed the roast chicken and the caesar salad. But I loved the ricotta gnocchi served between, delicious, rich sauce but light as air, served pipingly hot. And while it was just me and my mom sharing dishes, they split the salad and gnocchi courses in the kitchen.

              1. My favorite Zuni meal is a Caesar salad, the fab roast chicken and espresso granita...just thinking about it makes me hungry!

                1 Reply
                1. re: dinnerout

                  That's exactly what I had at Zuni on my last trip to SF. I'm still craving for the espresso granita everyday.

                2. Wood oven pizza at lunch, and we were very pleasantly surprised by the desserts last time we were there for dinner--the granitas and ice creams were both appealing, so we ordered both, and then a citrus tart was also looking awfully tempting. Everything was superb, but people who love post-modern presentation will be disappointed--these desserts are there to satisfy and please, not to wow.

                  Note that our dinner followed by too many desserts was at least 8 months ago, and I'm amazed I can remember the three things we ordered--it must speak to how perfect the flavors were.

                  1. I was just there two weeks ago and between the three of us we ordered 4 appetizers and the roast chicken. The dishes that stood out the best were the house cured anchovies appetizer and the roast chicken. my mouth just started watering thinking about it.

                    i even have a picture of the chicken (which i tried to attach, but failed somehow) it was that delicious.

                    1. The bread salad that came with the roast chicken was just absolutely INCREDIBLE. As far as I'm concerned, that alone is worth the trip to Zuni.

                      I also liked their chanterelle mushroom risotto.

                      1. it's just such a darn nice space. the food could be crappy (and it's not) but even so it would still be a good place to eat. It does largely exemplify what CA does best, simple and direct.

                        there are other places that take the idea elsewhere.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: hill food

                          If the food at Zuni were crappy, it wouldn't be so full of happy customers, which is part of what makes it fun.

                        2. The roast chicken with bread salad and apple tart. Oh yea.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: pasoguy

                            Probably won't see an apple tart this time of year.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Why not? There are still great apples at the farmer's markets, even if they are coming from cold storage.

                          2. I can't bring myself to have anything there but the burger... it's one of the best I've ever had. Well worth waiting till after 10pm for (since they only serve it on their late night menu for dinner)!

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: courtneyp

                              Doesn't Zuni offer the burger for lunch, too?

                              1. re: nosh

                                I've had it for brunch.

                                1. re: nosh

                                  Zuni serves the burger before 6pm (5pm Sunday) and after 10pm.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    I just tried to access the Zuni website to get a sense of prices and it is under construction. I don't mean to bean count here, but can anyone give me a ball park for lunch there? Let's say we're having the burger and the chicken (if that is available at lunch) with a caesar salad and one other app. No drinks because we have to stagger around SFMoma when we're done :-). Also please advise re the need for lunch resos (this will be a Friday in April). Many thanks for the technical help.

                                    1. re: grayelf

                                      Try http://sanfrancisco.menupages.com/
                                      Zuni search. Don't know how current the menu is but it should give you a ball park figure. The chicken is great but takes time.

                                      1. re: grayelf

                                        Reservations are a good idea unless you're going very late. From a receipt from dinner there last week:

                                        ninigret cup oysters $3.05 each
                                        escarole $8.25
                                        gnocchi $13.50
                                        crostini $10.50
                                        chicken for two $48
                                        hamburger $16.75
                                        fries $6
                                        granita $6.25

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          Again, thanks for the help.

                                    2. re: nosh

                                      Yes, they do. To clarify, I meant that they don't server it for dinner until after 10pm.

                                  2. Thanks for all the suggestions everyone! Lunch was great. Unfortunately I couldn't convince hubby to wait for the roasted chicken, so I wound up ordering the burger with mountain gorgonzola. It was terrific and so was the balsamic bloody mary! The atmosphere there was great, between that and the food no wonder everyone loves it so much!