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Help? Special occasion restaurant for mom's 85th in SF w/a view, perhaps?

  • m

Looking for a suitable spot to celebrate my Mom's 85th this summer. Considering a stay at the Argonaut which is near the Wharf, Cannery & Blue Mermaid restaurant on-site. Anyone ever try this place? (hotel or restaurant, per chance?) The Blue Mermaid might work for one night but looking for an esp. nice spot for her actual bday night.

Any fave restaurant that could work for all ages...and perhaps not be too, too noisy? (or have a private room?) My mom's hearing is getting tough for really noisy restaurants.

Open to all suggestions! And the grandkids are mostly teens now,
so can eat about anywhere but we *would* have one 5 & 9yr old too w/us. Any nice dining close-by? (to eliminate need for driving all but my mom who uses a cane/walker much of the time?) Or, am open to further afoot too if you think Sausalito or Tiburon makes more sense. Other ideas? Greens? Scoma's or Alioto's?? Other? Thanks so much!! :-)

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  1. I think the chef who was trying to do something above-average at Blue Mermaid is gone.

    1. With a view, the Carnelian Room (gentlemen must wear jackets). With great food, a nice ambiance and kind of an old-fashioned elegant (but not formal) setting, I love Cafe Majestic. Each are a quick cab ride from the Wharf.

      At the Wharf, maybe Ana Mandara, if Vietnamese food is ok with the group.


      2 Replies
      1. re: waldrons

        A second for Cafe Majestic. The dining room is lovely and rather quiet. It would be a short cab ride from your hotel.

        1. re: dinnerout

          Or you could stay in the Hotel Majestic and just take the elevator to and from dinner.

      2. Given your situation, I have a soft spot for Julius Castle - despite all the naysayers.

        2 Replies
        1. re: swag

          Julius' Castle closed, changed hands, was remodeled, and reopened last May. There have been no reports here since then.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            I believe Julius' Castle closed again a few months ago. Something about a dispute with the landlord.


        2. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/18621

          The Garden Court. Regardless of the food, the breathtaking interior Belle Epoque architecture, vaulted stain glass ceiling, furniture, flowers etc. is just unfogettable and the food is perfectly fine. here's a post about various " mom's 75th" etc.at the Garden Court.

          A few yrs ago, we were there while an 85th bday brunch was happening and everyone was so happy with the space... best of luck.

          3 Replies
          1. re: opinionatedchef

            Thanks for the suggestions everyone! I was wondering about the Vietnamese place as it sounds pretty. However, my mom is fairly conservative in her tastes, as well as some of the grandkids, I'd guess.

            Julius Castle I haven't been to in 20 yrs...has anyone eaten there recently?
            It does seem quaint & a place with great views.

            The Palace TOO is a wonderful suggestion, altho' I'm not sure yet whether
            better for tea or dinner? Brunch won't work, unfortuantely, as we'll be in town
            probably Thurs/Friday nights...leaving Saturday. Hmmmm....
            Thanks again to all!

            1. re: mtm

              It's best to go to the Garden Court during the day, so you get the full effect of the glass ceiling.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                beautiful point. what an exquisite place. i just want to live in that space; it is so beautiful and restful. nothing like it in the u.s. that i have seen.

                you know, with once-in-a-lifetime bdays like this, people are not going to remember the food; they're going to remember the people and the space, because everyone is so busy chatting and laughing, the focus on the food takes a second seat......

          2. If you don't mind something spendy, Gary Danko is reliable and there's nothing too challenging on the menu. I've taken teens there, who liked it a lot. Very convenient to your hotel. The menu, from which you can order 3-5 courses, is very flexible (you can double up on courses you like and skip those that are less attractive--I usually double seafood or app and skip dessert). If all else fails, the youngest could have one course plus two desserts. No view, however.

            1 Reply
            1. re: lexdevil

              Thanks again for the further ideas! Notes taken on the Garden Court.
              Will check into tea there. :-)

              And Gary Danko I'll look into. Have never eaten there,
              but have heard nice things. Thanks!

            2. Price range and number in party would be helpful.

              I don't agree with Gary Danko for someone with conservative taste in food.

              I think a private room or perhaps a private area would be helpful for someone who has difficulty hearing.

              If you shared something of your mother's taste in food plus the above, I bet we could do a better job with suggestions.


              11 Replies
              1. re: Fine

                Gary Danko... not conservative ... it is one of the most conservative, staid, boring places in the city. Really, I'm curious why you would say that. GD is far from cutting edge. It is the same menu since it opened basically with seasonal garnishing.

                1. re: rworange

                  Reminds me of a discussion many years ago between two friends with vastly different views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: One commented, "It all depends on when you start your history."

                  I LOVE ethnic food of almost every variety, preferably as authentic as current health considerations/awareness permit. I'm less fond of most "cutting edge" food since more often than not, IMO, it's more inventive than delicious. (I have, I guess, a high threshhold for boredom.)

                  I grew up on certain items prepared certain ways and altered some in my own culinary growth process over decades while leaving many others the way I first enjoyed them, after trying other approaches. That includes eating domestic poultry and all fish juicy but cooked through.

                  When I have to argue with someone many years younger than I in order to avoid a bloody squab and worse, still, have him (virtualy always a him) assure me with a straight face that cooked through it will be too tough to eat, I don't retain a fond memory nor do I "hurry-on-back."

                  When my B-H says please don't serve me bloody pork and gets an argument, well ....

                  I ate twice at Gary Danko and the first time the maitre d' took an immediate and obvious dislike to me (and it was my b-day) because I had the gall to assert my preferences. And it was over something like the above. (As I recall, I had had them fax the menu and when he started into his automated rap, I interrupted as politely as possible to say I'd already read the menu and had only a few questions.)

                  The second time, everything was so messed with that the central item might just as well not have been on the plate since its flavor was obliterated.

                  Now the kitchen may not be foaming, sous-viding, or whatever is floating boats this week, but I do associate Danko with anything-but-conservative (as he would I'm sure say is as it should be) preparations but rather what, I guess, is called "Modern American."

                  1. re: rworange

                    Morton the Mousse's "holy trinity" recommendation of seared foie gras, beef, and chocolate soufflé sounds anything but boring to me. I'd probably add the reportedly great cheese course.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Appropriate ... holy trinity ... like the Catholic god ... never changing ... always was, is and will be. I was just responding to the comment about it not being conservative.

                      Anyway, actually Danko might have be a good choice for a lot of the requirements ... nearby, special occasion not too loud etc. However, the private room only seats 10 and there is no view in the place which for this thread I'm getting a stronger and stronger feel is a big requirement. The website has lots of photos of the place so the OP can see if it is appropriate.

                      Boulevard which is mentioned has a private room that seats 20 - 64 but it is downstairs without a view.

                      I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest a place that will make all groan ... The Waterfront

                      I'm going with that given the OP's mention of Scoma's and Alioto's. Alioto's has a nice view, but the restaurant is a little shabby and there are stairs to negotiate. IMO, Scoma's is slightly better but still so-so.

                      Scoma's though doesn't take reservations. However their website indicates they can be contacted for large groups.

                      The downstairs view is only so-so ... a little fishing marina. There is an upstairs which I'm guessing has the good view but I've never been to and that involves steps and I don't think they have an elevator.

                      I'd put The Waterfront food-wise above any of the Fisherman's Wharf places and the view is spectacular.

                      In that case I'd change the hotel stragegy and either stay at the Hyatt Embarcadero or Americano which are nearby. At the Hyatt, Sens is really close by ... just out the door ... so that might be an option for the dinner that is not the immediate birthday. With the Americano there is Boulvard not far away that could be nice for the non birthday dinner.

                      I've never seen it, but Slanted Door has a small private dining room that seats 20 that has views of treasure Island and the bay. I think that despite it being Vietnamese in theory it leans more toward California Cuisine and might please even the picky eaters. Here's more info

                      On the current menu there are dishes like ...

                      - barbecued Niman Ranch pork spareribs
                      - wood oven roasted Niman Ranch pork belly with brussels sprouts, black chanterelles and balsamic reduction
                      - Louisiana crayfish with giant oyster mushrooms and yellow chives
                      - asparagus and Dungeness crab meat soup with white pepper and sesame oil
                      - grilled Australian free-range lamb rack with crispy potatoes and tamarind sauce
                      -local delta asparagus with black trumpet mushrooms
                      - Crème fraîche blancmange
                      - Meyer lemon tart

                      In the case of Slanted Door as with The Waterfront, the Hyatt or Americano would be the hotels to stay at ... and reguest a room with a view for mom ... spectacular.views.

                      It is also a nicer nabe than Fisherman's Wharf, IMO. Doesn't have all those tacky tourist stores and carny ambiance while still affording lovely bay views.

                      I hope the OP is giving herself some time to schedule this. A group of 16 isn't something you want to book last minute anywhere.

                      An early happy birthday to your mom. Hope you will report back on where you went and how it was.

                      1. re: rworange

                        The private room at Slanted Door is the nicest part, since it's quiet. However, it also has the worst view in the place, since it's just the rearmost part of the dining room, separated by a glass wall.

                      2. re: Robert Lauriston

                        It's certainly not imaginative or innovative, nor particularly local or seasonal, and I think it's correct to call it "conservative." That doesn't mean it's not delicious.

                    2. re: Fine

                      Size in party...about 4 teens, 2 kids, and 11 adults.
                      Tastes? She will try things, but just doesn't like spicy or
                      ethnic cuisines as much as the rest of us. So...
                      straight continental or Italian works great for her. Might do one
                      casual night at the Blue Mermaid if staying at the Argonaut (if we can swing it for such a large group). Might not be the best seafood, but it's convenient
                      for our arrival night. So, with that said, another night out at a primarily
                      seafood restaurant might not make the most sense...so might not
                      do Kuleto's spot at Ghiradelli. (unless people here say the Mermaid is awful)

                      Otherwise, considering Greens...maybe Boulevard, altho' I'd love it
                      if most could walk to dinner. (everyone but my mom of course) ;-)
                      So something at Ghiradelli *would* be convenient. I'll try looking at Danko's menu, but if the place is sterile or boring at super high prices (like some
                      think) would prefer something more atmospheric, I think. The Vietnamese restaurant at Ghiradelli I suppose might be an idea, except for my mom's
                      rather reserved eating style. BUT...I probably could find her some fairly
                      basic food there, too, more like Chinese which she prefers. I myself
                      love Thai & Vietnamese & Singaporean, etc. Will think about it some more.
                      Thanks to everyone!! :-)

                      1. re: mtm

                        I'm not from SF so won't venture into recs re food but allow me to chime in on the Garden Court at the Palace Hotel. I think you would be hard pressed to find anything like it outside of Europe. It captures the spirit of surging wealth and promise of when it was originally built. Even though the whole hotel had to be rebuilt after the 1906 fire, they were able to preserve/recreate this one stunning room, down to the original 1875 crystal chandeliers from Austria. We had read about it and although we could not fit in tea there in November 07, we made a point of visiting as looky loos. It was a sunny day and the ceiling is made out of 72,000 panes of glass. Need I say more?

                        1. re: grayelf

                          yay greyelf; thanks so much for all the backup info! so helpful!
                          when do you depart for sf and where will you be visiting from?

                          1. re: opinionatedchef

                            You're very welcome! Was it how much my post sounded like a guidebook entry that tipped you off to the fact that we are on the verge of a return trip? :-) We're coming from Vancouver in mid-April. Here's a link to the incredibly generous and informed outpouring of suggestions and help from CH 'Hounds that I received when I posted my now-greatly-metamorphosed itin not long ago:


                            Only 15 more sleeps till we leave, woohoo!

                            1. re: grayelf

                              I'm beginning to be afraid that nothing will live up to all the pre-trip anticipation!

                    3. You should have mentioned the party of 16 in your original post. That limits your options. This opentable list might be helpful:


                      9 Replies
                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        I thought of recommending Farallon, though I don't know the size of its separate rooms.

                        Where's Jack's when we need it?!

                        I know absolutely nothing about the Blue whatever OP keeps mentioning except I break out in spots each time I see the reference: Combining the almost-universal bad food of motels with the equally unreliable Wharf seems a terrible waste of air fare or whatever. Goodness, you're going to be in SF--take advantage!

                        I've never been to Town's End but have the impression it's less edgy than many. Anyone else?

                        Or, what about Shanghai 1930 since your mother enjoys Chinese? Haven't been there in ages but it has some plusses. (Can't recall if it has wheelchair access, which would mean not having to cope with stairs.)

                        Or Kokkari, with its pretty-familiar-to-most menu, even though it's Greek. The food is generally quite good and it has a nice, small private room downstairs, accessible by elevator.

                        I think that if you stay at the Wharf and want a nice and accommodating special-occasion place you're simply going to have to bite the bullet and plan on at least some members of the party cabbing.

                        Far better, IMO, to have a lovely, well-planned meal with welcoming hosts than have one that leaves most members of the party with indigestion and without happy memories.

                        Everyone quotes Calvin Trillin on not eating in restaurants more than X feet above ground that rotate but he's also commented negatively on places with a view as well, something most food lovers know from first-hand experience: If you can fill the place with view-seekers, why spend any more than you have to on the kitchen?

                        I guess I think about food somewhat the way I think about grammar: Even those who aren't particularly knowledgeable or aware will nonetheless get more out of it if it's done right. So, I respectfully disagree with the poster who said food wouldn't matter that much on this occasion.

                        I thi

                        1. re: Fine

                          Town's End is a nice neighborhood spot but no where near special occasion. The view is limited. Farralon has three private dining rooms seating from 18–120. The website is on this place link and has pictures of each of the rooms. Unfortunately the smallest room is the least pretty ... and I personally don't care for Farralon. One of those private rooms is really, really pretty though.

                          1. re: Fine

                            I like the food at Jeanty at Jack's a lot. The upstairs rooms haven't changed much. Great setting for a celebration.

                              1. re: wolfe

                                I believe they have an elevator - not too large, but enough to get mom upstairs I would think. Though I would check as I think the elevator is on the older side. I like the food there a lot as well.

                            1. re: Fine

                              Wasn't it Herb Caen who said, "the better the view, the worse the food"?

                              1. re: Kim Cooper

                                Mr Caen must have lived in Vancouver :-).

                                1. re: grayelf

                                  We've split some discussion about recs in Vancouver into a new thread on the Western Canada board. You can find that topic here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/506979

                                  Please keep this discussion focused on great chow in the San Francisco area.

                          2. I've been to Bisto Aix, a French-style restaurant, in the Marina on two separate occasions with large groups (12 and 20). Both times, we sat on the back covered patio. It was quiet, with nice jazz playing in the background. With the smaller group, we each ordered off of the menu, and with the larger (which was a corporate event) we had a choice of salad, entree, and dessert. The staff was incredibly helpful, and both times I enjoyed myself and the ability to converse freely with my friends, family, and colleagues.

                            PS- their pizzas are crispy and tasty, and a great option for children.

                            Bistro Aix
                            3340 Steiner St, San Francisco, CA 94123

                            1. ...further afoot...

                              For an ocean view, The Cliff House is spectacular. It is, however, very pricey.

                              The House of Prime Rib, on Van Ness, doesn't offer a view, but they create a succulent basic-meat-and-potato dinner. I've been there once in a private room, but I don't know what limits they put on the size of the group.

                              The North Beach Restaurant is probably "walkable" for the younger folks. No view, here, either. But, it has an array of Italian/American dishes, and a SF "feel." (Note: Any updates on this welcome...I haven't eaten there for 4-5 years.)

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: CatyL

                                Reports on the food at the Cliff House have been mostly negative. And there's no view at all when it's foggy. And it's a long schlep.

                                The most recent report on North Beach Restaurant was pretty grim:


                              2. Wow! Thanks everyone!
                                Haven't checked back thinking I'd perhaps exhausted patience
                                by asking for more ideas. :-)

                                I agree, it's time to abandon the idea of 'views'...will enjoy those
                                just walking around the Argonaut and from some rooms.
                                Should put higher priority on the food, and the possibility
                                of a private dining room, for my mom's comfort. (and my sister
                                says it's just impossible w/a larger group in main dining rooms
                                to hear ANYthing anyway)

                                If staying at the Argonaut, I suppose some could take a streetcar there?
                                Just drive my mom who is 85, etc? It sure looks gorgeous,
                                and I can't believe I STILL have not gotten there. Been close a few times,
                                but it's not a walk-in kind of place. ;-) I wonder if it's private dining
                                is real step down in ambience, or not? Anyone know? Also, I haven't been
                                I think because on the surface their menu does not look too vegetarian-friendly.
                                But I would think they could improvise.

                                Union Square too would be reachable by cable car for more from the Argonaut,
                                correct? Lots of dining there, I know. Thoughts on Grand Cafe or is it Scala's
                                at the Sir Francis? I'll check into Farallon, too.

                                Kokkari reachable from Argonaut easily, or not so much?
                                I appreciate the history of a Tadich grill, but would probably prefer
                                to avoid the financial area for this trip. Hmmmm...
                                sorry for the referral to too casual spots like Alioto's or Scoma's, but I just know
                                they are close-by. Greens used to be quite innovative & does have
                                some ambience, but...? Any recent reviews? Thanks so much!! :-)
                                I need to look up Cafe Majestic, too!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: mtm

                                  This may sound kooky but what about Fog City Diner? Seems to be good for most ages and has a fairly enclosed area with a view of the Embarcadero which could be nice for the city feel of it all.