Intimate birthday meal
I'm visiting my fiance this weekend for his birthday, and I am on the hunt for a restaurant that serves tasty, fresh food in a vibrant yet down-to-earth and intimate atmosphere... Hopefully around 15-25 for entrees. I looked through the SF Gate Top 100 list, and I just didn't know where to begin! Delfina's perhaps? Bistro Aix? Also, we won't be able to eat at 9pm at the earliest...All suggestions are welcome. I'll be moving to San Francisco in eight months, so I am eager to explore the culinary scene!
The suggestions so far are excellent. If you can't get in at any of those places try Piperade. I've usually been able to get in there on short notice, and the restaurant is simultaneously lively and intimate with delicious Basque food and wine. It's just a very civilized place for a special meal--quite neighborhood and restaurant, white tablecloth, low noise level, but still mellow and unpretentious.
Mezes (Greek), Pesce (Italian with a seafood bent) and Coco500 (Californian) are a bit noisier but still lovely--they're all on my last minute go-to list. Further down on the go-to list are Fresca and Mochica (Peruvian). Ame will most certainly be out of your stated budget. I had a wonderful lunch there, but at $50 a head we were far from full.
Delfina would be tops on my list in terms of food, but I wouldn't call the setting intimate. It's down to earth and vibrant to be sure, and if you get there before 5pm and stand in line you can almost certainly get two seats at the bar. To make 100% sure on weekends, I'd get there half an hour early--not sure if that's feasible for you this time around.
Canteen was the first thing that came to my mind too (though it's on the casual side), as did Bar Crudo. A16 is also a lot of fun and vibrant with great food, though it isn't that intimate, and it would fit your price range, and they often have late reservations (check OpenTable). Bar Tartine also has great food and a fun crowd, but I don't know when their last reservation is. Enjoy!
You may want to combine open table with the top 100 list since you're looking for this wknd.
Even tho Delfina isn't on open table, they'd be hard to get into on short notice.
I've had luck getting a table at Canteen last minute (they had a cancellation). It's definitely down to earth and intimate. I should mention that Canteen also isn't on open table but so worth the phone call!
I just did the suggested search of Open Table for the SF Gate Top 100 and it looks like you will have quite a few to choose from - though some will be out of your price range, I think. Bar Tartine, Bar Crudo and Aziza are available - so are Ame and Aquerello but I think those two will be too pricey. Even Zuni has availablility it looks like! I would go via Open Table for sure at this late date or you will be making a lot of calls. Actually, I always use Open Table when I can!