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Boston CH seeks SF advice: Add to: Aziza, For.Cinema, B44....

Disclaimer: As my moniker explains, I am decidedly opinionated about food, but I'm hoping you could still help!.
We come to SF every March and , in between time spent in carmel and elk, we have maybe 4 or 5 dinners in SF area. Would you take a look at my list of good experiences and not good, and if you seem to have my taste, offer away any suggestions you are generous enough to share? I would really appreciate your time:

Positive: Aziza, Foreign Cinema ( we always eat at these two) ;B44, Postrio, Azie,
Cafe Kati, Beetlenut, Yank Sing for dim sum,Sea Salt and Gregoire in Berkeley, Fog City Diner,Cortez, Hog Island Oyster Co., taquerias on mission,Elizabeth Daniel (no more), Chez Nous( no more)

Not positive enough to return:Masa, Michael Mina, la Folie, Quince, Slanted Door, Limon, Plumpjack Cafe, Chez Panisse downstairs, Boulevard,Jardiniere, Buddhukan.

In the past,I have been tempted by what I read of: Farallon,Luca, Coi, Bocadillos,Gary Danko, 5th Floor,MC squared,.A 16, Campton Place, Zuni Cafe, LuLu. O Chame, Oliveto, Furenzu, Zarzuela , Bay Wolf.

In the Napa area, we are huge fans of Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen( and not of Terra.)

To explain further, I am just not interested in 'the best simple roast chicken'(which is why I can't get myself to try Zuni.) I am interested in robust flavors, unusual ingredients and combinations/fusion,particularly Mexican, Spanish and Asian. Boston is Italian saturated so I stay away from Italian if there are other choices. I do like small plates. Every time we have spent the BIG bucks, we have regretted it, so I think we have had our best experiences in more bistro feeling places. We dislike haughty , stiff, over- fussy service and we really enjoy friendly people.

O.K , I'm done!. We arrive in SF this coming Sunday and all our SF area meals will be weekday, not weekend.
I really do appreciate your time on this.Thank you.

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  1. The Daniel of Elisabeth Daniel is Daniel Patterson, the chef at Coi. That's probably the place in the area for unusual ingredients and combinations.

    The just-opened Orson seems to be more or less in that same vein.

    For small plates, I love À Côté, partly because of their huge and adventurous selection of wine by the glass. The menu's online.

    How about ethnic cuisines you don't have in Boston? Check out this topic for some possibilities:


    Please post on the California board about any good places to eat circa Elk.

    A Cote
    5478 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618

    1 Reply
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      hello again, robert. elk food? hahahaha! as far as i know there's nothing worthwhile except The harbor house where we stay. and then in mendocino . but i always post our experiences after our annual trip, so will do again this year. thanks again for your help.

    2. From your temptations list, if you do want to go the big bucks route, Fifth Floor has a new chef and a new focus (inspired by Gascony), and early reports have been very positive. Otherwise, Coi seems like the obvious choice. I would say Bay Wolf falls into the Chez Panisse/Zuni category, so maybe not your thing.

      1. Try rnm...it's wonderful, I think. I've never had a bad meal and the staff is truly excellent.

        A Cote is very fun-- great atmosphere.

        3 Replies
          1. re: opinionatedchef

            That first letter is an "r": RNM.

            RNM Restaurant
            598 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA 94117

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              If you go to rnm, definitely order the grilled romaine salad -- consistently a fav! I'm also fond of their roast duck and last week I had a great hunk of veal there as well as a spectacular charcuterie plate.

        1. I would second(or at this point, third) the Coi recc. Danko was excellent in the past, but IMO, has slid a little.

          1. You can not miss Ubuntu in Napa ... you ... can .. NOT .. miss ... Ubuntu.

            This is one of the most important restaurants to open in the Bay Area. I have rarely eaten better and had such comfortable wonderful service.

            Even if you think this will not apeal to you ...get over any pre-conceptions. This is just one of the best restaurants in the bay area period.

            I'm not clear if you will be in Napa or just referenced Cindy's as an example. If not ... well, poor you.

            7 Replies
            1. re: rworange

              rw, we will be in napa 2-3 nights.cindy's backstreet kitchen 1 or 2 dinners; mustards lunch,....
              Auberge de soleil, jeanty, and terra disappointing.. what about martini's or other? th you for your thoughts.

              1. re: opinionatedchef

                RW's right -- you must go to Ubuntu. I think Martini House is just like all the other haute wine-country establishments and in that regard, not that remarkable. Go to Ubuntu for a lunch and/or a dinner. You will not be disappointed.

                1. re: Carrie 218

                  carrie and rw, i made a reserva at ubuntu but they don't even post a menu.
                  plse tell me more about the menu and what you loved. thanks much

                  carrie, you have BEEN to martini house? all the wild mushroom
                  dishes really appeal to me..... And zuzu's menu looks right up my alley....
                  thank you

                  1. re: opinionatedchef

                    Ubuntu has their menu online

                    If you click on restaurant, at the top of the page next to the words "your restauant" there's a menu link. It is more of a sample They rely on fresh and seasonal. Here's the dinner menu in pdf formant


                    The menu looks sort of simple and not exciting and that unfortuantley put me off from stopping by for a long time ... big mistake.

                    I would order the marcona almonds, lavender sugar, sea salt and then check out the other tables to see what looks appealing. That's what sold me on the beets and the dessert. Actually the dessert of bergomot and white chocolate mousse wasn't even on the lunch menu but it was served at another table. Both dishes were so beautiful and the taste exceeded the looks. I have a reservation with a friend to try the tasting menu at dinner. I'm excited about that.

                    You might stop by the new Oxbow Market (heh, and only two months ago I didn't think I'd recommend it to visitors). It is sort of Ferry Plaza light at this point. Most of the restaurants are fine for locals, but the wine merchant / cheese shop is an excellent place to stop for a drink and snack.

                    1. re: rworange

                      I agree about Oxbow. I thought it would be terminally precious but they seem to betrying to get beyond that. Not that precious isn't available. They want to include locals in the produce. We'll see if it works. However, the best thing is a retail outlet for The Fatted Calf! It is not so obvious in terms of location since it is across the parking lot and around a corner from the market, next to Taylor's Refresher. There is a Peruvian Cafe inside that looks good but I haven't tried it.

                      1. re: zenki

                        It is Venezuelan. I liked it but the consensus on the board seems to be 'eh'.

                    2. re: opinionatedchef

                      Opinionated -- I lived and worked in wine country for four years (and was a "professional reviewer" for that area during my tenure). So, yes, I have been there and it is actually ONLY during their Mushroom extravaganza that I really appreciated Martini House. But those items are usually only available for a short time and would be the only reason I would seek out MH. Zuzu was a perennial favorite and I dined there often, especially craving their paella, sautéed chard with pinenuts, and pomegranate-glazed quail (which I think is now off the menu). Zuzu was a fabulous addition to wine country because we were so inundated with Cal-Mediterranean food that having anything remotely different was thrilling and it was one of the first small plates establishments to come to the area.

              2. If you like robust flavors and unusual ingredients and not the bigbucks, try Burma Superstar and Troya on the same block of Clement, and Helmand Palace on van Ness.

                6 Replies
                1. re: mc2

                  Second all of those. Troya is Turkish (or sort of Cal-Turkish, the way that Aziza is Cal-Moroccan), Helmand is Afghan.

                  Burma Superstar, order the tea leaf salad and the sambusa soup. Some of the Chinese dishes are a lot less interesting.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    There's a Helmand in the Boston area, though, so it's perhaps not as unique as some of the others.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      it's been rumored, esp. after 2001, that many of the Helmands around the US are in fact owned by the same family (and any aspersions are quite unfair). not a chain, just related, delicious and in no way... God why do I bother - still worried the Freedom Fry crowd is out there I guess.

                      1. re: hill food

                        I believe the one in Cambridge and the one in SF are owned by the same family. No aspersions.

                      2. re: Ruth Lafler

                        right you are ruth. th you so much for all your help w this trip.

                      3. re: Robert Lauriston

                        robert ,mc2 et al re: burma superstar- we are definitely headed there for lunch.
                        how about protein dish recs (in addition to the above 2 recs we will definitely order) ? th you. and any of same for troya plse and th you!.

                    2. My recommendation is Bar Tartine on Valencia between 16th and 17th. Love that restaurant. Fabulous place, friendly staff, great food. The bakery is still fantastic as well -- 18th and Guerrero. Wish I were there now!

                      1. Hi opinionated, I remember you from the Boston board!

                        Lots of good suggestions so far in this thread - I definitely recommend trying Burmese of some sort.

                        Also, even though you said you are less interested in Italian, I'd add Incanto to your list since it's different than anything in Boston and really good.

                        Sounds like you have lots of options though.

                        Dave MP

                        1. Lolo- Turkish/Mexican fusion. Fun decor, really great food, and the owners are very personable.

                          1 Reply
                          1. Well, you great SF CHs you, thank you for being so WICKED helpful(apparently the use of that word gives me away as being from ma.)! Your posts have resulted in my adding ubuntu and zuzu to the napa dinners, and now i want to explore adding lolo and burma superstar , troya or orson. But i can find no website for the first two; do you have any links? Are any of them open for lunch? My look into Coi and A Cote - yielded uninspiring menus(for me, that is). sigh.

                            I'm surprised that not one mention has been made of Cortez. We ate there last yr or the yr before and it was excellent and v innovative.very dark and trendy which is not my thing, but exc for the food. no fans among you?

                            Off topic, but do any of you have fond (or other!) memories of Flying Saucer (the miserably hot garage like space with the demented angry chef and the amazing food)?

                            Also, does anyone know why Chez Nous closed? I was very very surprised to learn of that because it was always busy when we visited.

                            9 Replies
                            1. re: opinionatedchef

                              where was Flying S - Guerrero, Church or Valencia?

                              and if I'm wrong on that I'll just go to lurking unless architecture is discussed.

                              re RNM: I lived down the block awhile over what had been a prominent neighborhood civil rights church (imagine waking up on a Sunday in 1993 and Eldridge Cleaver and Connie Chung are outside your door...)

                              by then the ground floor had been the Armpit Gallery for a few years but you could see how it would have made a good churchy space..

                              Butoh and B'way show tunes on a Sunday afternoon? I'm not too amazed the food scene has changed.

                              is RNM where Spaghetti Western was?

                              1. re: opinionatedchef

                                I'm not sure if you can't find websites for Ubuntu and Zuzu or Lolo and Burma Superstar, so I've linked what I could find for all...


                                I can't find any website for Lolo, but based on yelp, they are not open for lunch.

                                I don't go to SF as much as I'd like, but here are a few places on my to-try list based on board recs that fit with your stated criteria:

                                Thai House Express: http://www.thhexpress.com/
                                Bodega Bistro: http://www.bodegabistrosf.com/index.htm
                                Laiola: http://www.laiola.com/
                                Tajine: http://www.tajinerestaurant.com/

                                I think you might enjoy Canteen for breakfast or lunch, and I second the rec for Incanto even though it's Italian. Chris Cosentino specializes in offal and salumi, if you're into that sort of thing.


                                And even though I'm not a raw food nut and I don't get the sense that you are either, I've read good things about Cafe Gratitude and think it would be a unique bay area experience.


                                I personally love Zuni for the whole package, and you don't have to order the chicken to get the Zuni experience. You might consider them for lunch and order some oysters as well as whatever sounds good to you on the menu. The menu might read as "boring" to you, but the clean flavors can be explosive and the exacting execution will be appreciated.

                                I've not eaten at Cortez, but from what I recall of board talk, there have been chef/owner changes and inconsistencies over the past couple of years. Just not a reliably good place in my mind. I'm not familiar w/ Flying Saucer and have no idea why Chez Nous closed. Enjoy your visit!

                                1. re: Carb Lover

                                  hi carb lover- well you are just everywhere, aren't you?!! I am truly a lucky camper with all the helpful links and info you consistently provide.i've printed out all your s cruz posts and of course will be posting all our cal experiences during and after our trip. btw, cortez has a michelin star! and their menu still looks exc so i think it will be v good.

                                2. re: opinionatedchef

                                  Chez Nous was owned and operated by the folks who own Bay Breads. They apparently closed to concentrate more on their baking endeavors. The highly-touted SPQR is in that spot now.

                                  I miss Chez Nous...

                                  Also, Canteen is only open for breakfast on weekends now.

                                  1. re: Carrie 218

                                    carrie- you have been so helpful w/ napa-- th you! you know, the bay breads people are the ones who own cortez! so maybe they wanted to
                                    focus on it and got bored w chez nous? such a loss- that fish soup oh my.
                                    our routine is to pick up our rental car and drive to la boulangerie to stock up before heading to bakery-deficient carmel (except for the monterey whole foods). btw, do try sea salt in berkeley;we'll stop there for lunch on our way up to elk (we take yank sing and gregoire and whole foods foods up to have for lunch during the week!).

                                  2. re: opinionatedchef

                                    There are links to Ubuntu's and Zuzu's Web sites in their Places entries.

                                    Pascal Rigo sold a couple of his restaurants, he said to focus on his bakeries. Chez Nous's replacement SPQR is even busier.

                                    Cortez has changed a lot in the past year or so. It's like a different restaurant.

                                    Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio
                                    1140 Main Street, Napa, CA 94558

                                    829 Main St, Napa, CA 94559

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      robert, i believe cortez is owned by the chez nous bay bread owner.....
                                      plse tell me what you mean; in what way has cortez changed? did you like it before? have you tried it recently? the menu looks exc and they have a michelin star.....
                                      have you tried spqr? thanks you again for all this help. 16 hours and counting!....

                                      1. re: opinionatedchef

                                        Cortez originally had a spacious lounge-type layout, now it's much more like a regular restaurant. More tables, I think, too. The menu was originally small plates only, now they have full-sized main courses as well.

                                        SPQR's great except for the line. Right up there with Incanto, La Ciccia, and A16.

                                  3. robert ,mc2 et al re: Burma Superstar- we are definitely headed there for lunch.
                                    how about protein dish recs (in addition to the other 2 recs we will definitely order) ?
                                    th you. and any of same for troya plse and th you!.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: opinionatedchef

                                      Burmese cuisine has few protein-rich dishes, and I haven't had any memorable ones at Burma Superstar. The catfish curry's probably your best bet.

                                      Or go to Troya afterwards. Lots of nice meat dishes to choose from there.

                                      1. re: opinionatedchef

                                        At Burma Super Star, for protein-rich dishes I would heartily recommend the Ginger Salad which is redolent with peanuts and split peas as well as dried shrimp. Pair that the Vegetable Samusa soup; "Even though it’s vegetarian, this remains our most popular soup to both meat eaters and vegetarians alike. Made with samusas broken up with falafels, lentils, cabbage, and onions." This soup blew me away -- the combination of chunks of falafel with the spicy sumusas.

                                        Then move on to Jyet Kauswer (Garlic Noodles with duck or pork) *
                                        Flour Noodles with fried garlic, scallions, and your choice of bbq pork or duck. The pork is astonishingly tender. I've also greatly enjoyed the Sesame Beef
                                        Strips of beef lightly fried with a sweet and tangy sauce topped with sesame seeds paired with coconut rice.

                                        You should have NO problem getting great protein dishes here!

                                        1. re: Carrie 218

                                          I wouldn't call the ginger salad protein-rich, it's just a tablespoon or two of the nuts and toasted beans, and the beans are more starchy than proteiny. The tea leaf salad is quite similar and more exotic.

                                          The samusa soup is a must, but it's definitely starchy.