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.
As others have said, I don't think you can go wrong with any of these. If I were to pick three, I'd select Ame, Aziza and Zuni, or maybe A16 in place of Zuni. I'd do Ame for the seafood you mentioned - Bar Crudo is also supposed to be quite good, though not high end. Enjoy your visit!
re: Robert Lauriston
Patterson has a reputation as L'enfant terrible but the reality of what he is doing at Coi is much closer to Alice Waters than Ferran Adria. It is true that the current crowd-pleaser on the menu is the slow cooked farm egg, done sou-vide and served with wheatberries, swiss chard, and a Parmesan-potato foam. But the only experimental thing about the dish is the rich creamy texture of the egg. and it isn't really new - the Japanese have done it for 100's of years and call it Onsen Tomago. There are also delicious things that showcase our great Northern California produce, like a simple spinach soup with concentrated spinach flavors made from nothing more than spinach, water, salt and a bit of thickener... or, the current artichoke and puntarella salad with green garlic, spring onions, and farro. Saucing is always very spare and often missing altogether. There is always an effort to concentrate or showcase flavors, but there isn't the level of ingredient transformation or transmutation that you find at places like Alinea and WD-50. It is modern cooking with a distinctly Northern California heritage and feel.
I just moved from Fairfax (born there) in September. It's not certain to me that you're only looking for 3 meal recommendations, so here is a still short list of places I would go to if I were you and looking for an experience much different from or better than what you can find in the DC area:
*Side note: if you have a rental car and the time, must go to Bouchon (order quiche!) in Yountville, and Ad Hoc if you have extra time. Otherwise:
1. Tartine Bakery is my favorite food business in this town, period -- if it shut its doors, I would not be satisfied with any other bakery I've tried as a consolation. I require that all of my visitors taste its carbs before leaving this city. This requires two different trips, once in the morning for hot morning buns (not available later) and brioche bread pudding, then a second time at 5pm for bread that will blow anywhere else's away (not available earlier).
2. Aziza is excellent and has the best cous cous and lamb I've ever had (had the shank, not chop), plus very creative cocktails
3. Incanto excellent Italian all around, but also no one in DC does offal like them
4. Canteen has excellent American fare in a unique setting. definitely get the vanilla souffle.
I haven't been to all the places you're looking at, but here's my take on what some others have recommended...
Piperade is great..think of it as a Californian-Jaleo/Taberna del Alabardero hybrid.
On Coi, if you go, go because it's supposed to be a great restaurant and not because you're expecting to be blown away from a molecular gastronomy point of view (if that's what you're after, it won't hold up to what you can find in DC at Minibar).
For your Italian considerations, Delfina is very good, but I think Incanto is a bit more unique with ingredients. I also think Incanto's food is better than A16's (whose food is still very good...and their pizza is not as good as 2Amys'). If you love pasta and are a fan of Galileo/Bebo, then you should consider Quince.
Californian/American: You're kind of hitting it with Chez Panisse already, but as stated above, I would also recommend Canteen. On Zuni, their claim to fame by most people is their roasted chicken...if you do try it, please let me know how you think it compares to Palena's (if it does). And actually for Zuni/Boulevard/Range, I don't see how they would be much different than Chez Panisse or Canteen.
Slanted Door: I don't get why you would use a meal here when you have so much great Vietnamese food in the DC area? If you're looking for Asian food in a western service/atmosphere, I think Ame looks like the more unique choice.
but as you know all the really good Vietnamese (and mostly traditional) in the DC area is way out in Eden Center and for some that's not so easy to get to...
and BTW in the comparison of Quince and Galilleo are you suggesting the service is abrupt and cold? sorry couldn't help it.