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Looking for excellent tasting menus in SF

I apologize for the lengthy post, as it is my first ever, but I'm trying to be as clear as possible. My wife and I will be visiting San Francisco (coming from ny) at the end of June. She has never been and it's been about a year and a half since I've been out. A major focus of any of our trips is food (and good bars!). We're looking for some restaurants that have great tasting menus with solid wine pairings to accompany them. I've been checking the posts, but I seem to e getting mixed reviews for many of the restaurants of heard about. For example, a few posters pointed out that Gary Danko (one of my initial choices) had great food, but "uninspiring" wine pairings, which is a downside for us.

To give you an idea, we've been to some excellent restaurants out this way. Which reminds me, if you have any questions about restuarants here I'll be happy to answer them. Some of our favorites our Churrascaria Riodizio Tribecca - This is a great riodizio, though a little prices when comared to some of the excellent one Newark, NJ, that offers a phenomenal array of meats with a solid wine list. Another is a good northern Italian Restaurant called I Coppi in the East Village. Strong (not large, but quality) wine list when it comes to Super Tuscans and Brunellos. An excellent Basque restaurant (though it can occasionally be inconsistent) is Euzkadi. The food is some of the best I've had when everything is clicking, though the wine list is nothing special. Babbo is also superb, but just about everyone knows that.

Recently, we went to Philadelphia for a weekend and had one of the best culinary experiences I've ever had at Vetri. The dishes were amazing (one was a scallop crudo served over pickled fennel with pomegranate seeds that taken seperately was only okay, but all three together was an amazing combination) and the wine pairing was some of the best I've experienced. Also, the staff was extremely knowledgable, telling us evernthing anyone could possibly want to know about the particular wines they were pairing with each dish on the tasting menu, why each wine was chosen for each dish, and all the ingredients going to the dishes. And, once I demonstrated a little knowledge about wine and food and pointing out why I thought some of his pairings were done or the intimacies of a particular dish, he started pouring us extra glasses (with no charge) of different wines he thought might work with the dishes (at one point, he poured himself a glass and sat at our table to just talk with us about the qualities of the particular wine (it was an Antinori Solaia that was excellent). With all this said, it was also very expensive (around $500 with tip)

Where at that same time Abode down in L.A. was also ver expensive (close to $1,000 for four of us) and was pretty much the antithesis of Vetri. It was large, unwelcoming, the servers told us almost nothing even when asked to elaborate on something, and were generally unfriendly (though the food was solid, but the wine pairings were lacking). For $250 per person, I expect something more than just good food.

With all that said, can someone recommend some excellent tasting menus in San Francisco.

By the way, when I was last in the city, I went to Piperade and it was great so I'll definitely be going back there one of the nights we'll be town.

Also, if anyone can recommend any good bars I'd like to hear a few. Interestingly enough, we tend to hang in dive bars, play darts and pool, and drink $3 miller lite bottles.

Once again, I apologize for the long post and I am new to this so hopefully i can share my experiences with any of heading out east.

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  1. Best tasting menu w/pairings (in order):
    Fifth Floor

    Note - I am not a Gary Danko fan, believing he has shown little improvement in half-a-dozen years and pandering more to one-time diners (like tourists).

    1. Best tasting menu w/pairings (in order):
      Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton

      Forget about everything else. Not worth it.

      1. Thanks for writing such a detailed post (definitely don't apologize for it!)

        It sounds like you're open to restaurants that aren't necessarily fancy, but have interesting wine lists - I'll relay second-hand that posters more knowledgeable than I have reported that A16 (Neapolitan) and La Ciccia (Sardinian) both have interesting lists with lesser-known varietals.

        Will you be in SF long enough to have time to venture outside the city? My best food+wine experiences have been at Ubuntu (Napa), and Cyrus (Healdsburg). The other restaurant that frequently gets cited for excellent food+wine is Manresa (Los Gatos).

        1 Reply
        1. re: daveena

          Thank you for the posts so far. I've also heard good things about A16, Ame, and Coi... and thanks for pointing that out, daveena. The key for us is how the wine and food come together. Also, living where we do, it's not always easy to find the products of lesser known (but by no means lesser quality) wineries from California. Unfortunately, we will only be in the area for for a few days which does not allow much time to venture out of the city, though we may try to get to Napa for a night so I'll look into Ubuntu.

        2. If wine is an important factor, I would recommend Michael Mina. The tasting menu is excellent and the restaurant has one of the most extensive wine listst I've ever seen. I haven't tried the wine pairing yet with their tasting menu (always ordered 1-2 bottles) but it looks good on their web site.. I believe it's an additional $90/pp.

          3 Replies
          1. re: KathyM

            I really enjoyed the tasting menu with wine pairing at Jardiniere - It was well thought out and the service was excellent.

            300 Grove St., San Francisco, CA 94102

            1. re: suebette

              i sent my bf and his mother (an *extremely* discerning woman) to jardiniere for the tasting menu with wine pairings. they were both blown away. she announced that for her next visit here, she would like another tasting w/ pairings of the same caliber.

              we're going to ame, and i'll be sure to report back.

            2. re: KathyM

              Have to completely disagree about Mina -- one of the worst pairings in the city, IMHO. My recent visit: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/482729

              But it isn't just me: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/375080

            3. I haven't eaten at Coi yet so I would recommend for tasting menus with wine pairings:

              -Dining Room at the Ritz (not sure if the sommelier stuck around after he and the chef were planning on opening their own restaurant)

              Gary Danko can be hit or miss. I ate there several times during a span of several months, eating at the bar and table, and I got to know the bartender and some waiters, so they were able to do a somewhat personalized wine pairing for my courses which overall were pretty good. Since you said your focus was food, then GD would be a decent choice. Also people may say their pairings are "uninspired" but it doesn't necessarily mean the pairings were not "solid."

              Michael Mina, Fleur de Lys, Fifth Floor, and La Folie all don't have a good combo of tasting menu and wine pairings in my experience. For just good food, I would choose La Folie and a bottle from their list.

              1. I thought the tasting menu at Michael Mina was very good. It wasn't as good as TFL or Manresa but then it is approx 50% the price. It's in the hunt, if not leading the pack. The room is nice but it is sort of odd as an elevated lobby without walls towards the lobby.

                1. Fifth Floor is doing paired pairings (two wines per course), which I think is a first. Personally I'd much rather have each course consist of one dish with two wines than the more common two or three (or, at Michael Mina, sometimes six) dishes with one wine. Note that there's a new chef (Laurent Manrique) and radically different menu (Gascon) in the past couple of months, so ignore earlier reports.

                  Cav doesn't have a tasting menu but you could easily organize your own from their small plates and wines by the glass. Very interesting wines and expert advice on choosing them.

                  Cav Wine Bar
                  1666 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                  Fifth Floor Restaurant
                  12 Fourth St., San Francisco, CA 94103

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    One other thought, since you liked Piperade, you should try the chef-owner's tapas bar, Bocadillos.

                    1015 Battery St., San Francisco, CA 94111

                  2. Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton -- I was there in December and it was great. Wine pairings were especially good.

                    If you want a personal experience, try Quince restaurant's tasting menu.

                    for true dive bars, try the 3300 club on 3300 mission st.

                    1. My top choices would be Ame, Perbacco, Piperade, A16 and Martini House (St. Helena). Amazing food and spectacular wine selections.

                      As for bars: Dave's and Zam Zam(SF institutions) OR walk around North Beach and see what you find OR a very fun bar is Bourban and Branch (need reservations and password). For a real neighborhood bar pop into the Philosopher's Club. Nowhere near the hotels, way out in West Portal, but your classic neighborhood bar.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: WineUnleashed

                        One correction -- for Bourbon/Branch, you only need a rez and pswd if you want to sit in the front -- if you go to the door and tell them you don't have a pswd, they escort you through the bookshelf into the back where they have a full bar. Great drinks at B/B -- though ain't no dive. Go the 3300 club on 3300 mission for a real dive bar. Also, Zeitgeist on 199 valencia --

                        1. re: WineUnleashed

                          Just so folks don't get confused, Perbacco, Piperade, and A16 are casual places which do not offer a chef's tasting menu.

                          1. re: Paul H

                            Very true Paul H. But I find the wine selections and knowledge of the sommeliers and wait staff to be excellent at these restaurants. However, you are correct that a distinction should be made.

                            Pointthemoon... correct on B/B. I just think it is a very cool place to check out. I have been to Zeitgeist and 199 valencia.. good recommendations.

                            1. re: WineUnleashed

                              totally agree on B/B -- deserving all the hype for sure -- and while the "reservation less" back can be rather crowded, the whole reservation/password thing does get rather old. that whole area is great for dive bars -- try divas on 1081 post for some suprises ---- if you want to go more upscale try slide, swig, Ambassador, etc....all within a very short radius. There is also a hookah cafe on jones - don't remember the name.