visiting from dc: 3 nights, where to go?
I need advice. I have three nights in San Francisco (never been) and I can't narrow down the list of restaurants. I'm hoping for some local input. Looking for what not to miss while I'm here and going to Chez Pannis already. Any suggestions are appreciated!
Without some more information about what kinds of things you like and are looking for in your food, it's going to be hard to guide you more. You've got a great set of restaurants listed there (certainly there will be individual differences on some of them, but overall that's a strong strong group). Any combination of those would be a fabulous trip in my mind. Can you tell everyone more about what you're looking for in terms of cuisine or...anything?
I'm looking for really great places (high end but worth it) that are representative of the area. Want a variety, so maybe something well known for seafood in particular. Any top 3 that are different enough from each other that it won't seem like we just had that kind of meal the night before... does that help?
Here's a tag-cloud to play with to help you decide.
Chez Panisse California, $$$$
Piperade Basque-French, $$
Quince Italian (French-Californian), $$$$
Range California, $$
Slanted Door, Vietnamese (Californian) $$$
A16 Italian, $$$
Zuni Cafe, California, $$$
Spruce, California, $$$$
Delfina, Italian-Californian, $$$
Boulevard, Modern American, $$$$
SPQR, Italian, $$$ (owned by same folks who have A16)
Since you want the meals to be different and are set on going to Chez Panisse, drop Spruce, and Zuni Cafe. Delfina is more Californian than Italian, so I'd drop that, too. I like Piperade a great deal, but it isn't "(high end but worth it)" A16 and SPQR are very popular, but are casual places and also not "(high end but worth it)".
So we are down to Boulevard, Quince and Slanted Door. These are all very good choices, and you can't go wrong. Since there were a lot of "Italian" places on your original list, I'd suggest Quince as one choice, and since you need to do Asian (even if it is a bit Americanized) to do San Francisco, I suggest Slanted Door for the other choice.
Boulevard is very good, but I'd take it off your list, just not different enough from what you get in DC - a very good place, don't get me wrong, if you do go you won't be disappointed, just not ... well you get my point, right?
For "representative of San Francisco" I'd choose Zuni and Slanted Door. But Zuni might be construed as being too much like Chez Panisse at least foodwise, although the atmosphere is quite different. Of the Italian places, I think Delfina is the most "San Francisco" since what they're doing is sort of an Italian approach to local ingredients rather than trying to be "authentic" regional Italian like A16 or SPQR. I guess taking Chez Panisse into account and your desire to have three different meals, I'd go with Slanted Door, Delfina and add Aziza: three different cuisines but all three with a distinctly California twist. But really, as ccweb said, that's a very strong list and I think you'll be happy with any of them.
Given the kind of places you're interested in, I strongly recommend Incanto. The chef worked for a while as a forager at Chez Panisse.
Of the rest, I'd pick Zuni.