Alas, simply need restaurant recommendations and insight.
So, this is probably the most common and boring type of post, but here goes:
I'm visiting San Francisco for the first time at the end of the month and pretty much have the places that I'm interested in checking out already lined up, but I was just wondering, from locals, if they are indeed worth spending my limited dinning time in the city on. The contenders are: Zuni Cafe, A16, Boulevard, NOPA, Jardiniere.
Any other suggestions are welcome. Being a New Yorker, I'm all too aware of how some restaurants can simply be tourist traps, so wadda ya think?
Also, every wine list I see rather conspicuously displays their corkage fee. It seems strange to me as restaurants in New York seem to discourage corkage. Is it more acceptable to bring a (special) bottle along in the San Francisco restaurant world?
None of those places are tourist traps. As for other suggestions, I recommend that you read the "read list" topic at the top of the board and make a more focussed request.
San Francisco is very wine-friendly. Virtually all restaurants allow you to bring a bottle, as long as it's not on their own list, although corkage charges vary widely. You may get some attitude if it looks like instead of bringing a "special bottle" you're just trying to be cheap.
re: Ruth Lafler
I wouldn't characterize SF so much as wine friendly as wine-driven. You are EXPECTED to spend money on marked-up wine, and "corkage" is a sort of shakedown. If you are a non-drinker drinker (or simply a beer drinker like me) you'll get enough attitude to keep you away from fine dining spots altogether (which is part of the plan, of course).
re: Xiao Yang
And beer isn't marked up? Actually, I think for what you get, beer is more marked up: the actual mark-up is at least as high (more than three times retail), plus they don't spend nearly as much on training, serving and barware for beer as they do for wine. As for corkage, the rationale for corkage has been discussed extensively on chowhound, and if you haven't been convinced by those arguments, I'm not going to try again.
re: Xiao Yang
As somebody who has had a rather bruising relationship with alcohol over the years, I have had plenty of experiences when I've been in a fine-dining establishment and simply ordered something like iced tea. Granted, I have usually been with people who did order wine (or drinks from the bar), but I have never received attitude from the servers.
I think you have done a pretty nice job, both in style and geographically within the City.
Zuni Cafe is, in my opinion, uniquely San Francisco. The food is excellent, it's popular and the space is kind of 60's. I would definitely include it.
A16 is in the Marina just a few blocks from where I live. It's always jammed and always is reviewed favorably by the press. Frankly, though, having been there several times, I just don't get the hype. The pizzas, I admit, are great and I have friends who rave about other dishes but for Italian, I'd choose Perbacco, Incanto or Delfina over A16 any day.
Boulevard is probably my favorite restaurant in the City. I always take out of towners there. Keep it on your list.
I've only been to NOPA once and, though it was good, it didn't knock my socks off. I'll try it again. Again, I know the reviewers all give it high marks, and it is good, but maybe someone else could suggest something else.
Jardiniere is also excellent and is located in the area near the symphony hall and opera house and there are no performances this time of year so it probably won't be crowded.. I'm sure others will have thoughts about it and I do know they have recently made adjustments to the space somehow. I think they may have live jazz some nights.
If you do decide to dash one of the above or add to your list, I'd suggest Quince, Kokkari, Fleur de Lys and I might think of others later.
As to corkage, in this area it is perfectly acceptable to bring your own special bottle of wine. It is generally not considered good etiquette, though, to bring a bottle that appears on the restaurant's wine list or the bottle you may have picked up on the discount shelf at the local supermarket.
Incidentally, my wife and I are coming to New York City in September and if I put a post, similar to yours on the Manhattan board, I'd appreciate your input.
The Opera "summer season" is actually heating up again; they'll have 2-3 Operas running during the last couple weeks of June. So expect Jardiniere to be crowded before about 8. All of your choices are good picks. Jardiniere did change its concept pretty significantly last summer so be sure that any opinions you are basing that choice on are after the change. I haven't been during that period so I can't give an opinion.
Dude, go to Berkeley!
If you are looking for true "California" cuisine then go to the place that started the revolution...Chez Panisse. Hit the Cafe so you can choose what ou want to eat. Very nice relaxed atmosphere and insane food. You can bring wine but they have a very interesting list.
No tourist traps on that list. Zuni Cafe, A16, Boulevard, and NOPA are all local favorites.
Jardinere gets a lot of bridge-and-tunnel traffic since it's the closest fancy restaurant to the symphony and opera, but it's popular with locals too.
NOPA is to me a bit of a knockoff of Zuni so I might skip it.
Given the kind of taste suggested by your selection, you might consider Incanto in place of NOPA or Jardiniere.
In SF, restaurants that want to discourage people from bringing their own bottles jack up the corkage.
re: Robert Lauriston
Waht do you mean "Jack Up"? Most places have 20-40 dollar crokage fees. If you are bringa a bottle of wine that retails for 40 dollars or more then it makes total sense to bring your own bottle as most places charge 75% - 100% markup on retail. Therefore a 40 dollar wine you bought at K and L would be 70- 80 bucks on the wine list and you would be better served paying corkage, esp if you are bringing a bottle that cost more than that.
Standard corkage in SF is around $25. Restaurants that want to discourage people from bringing their own bottles charge more and impose other restrictions. Some outliers:
Fish and Farm: $5 California, $10 imported
Acquerello: $35, max. 2 750ml bottles, must not be on their list
French Laundry: $50, must not be on their list
Pizzeria Delfina: not allowed (most wines are $18-30)
good call on the restaurants. dial back expectations on zuni and a16: think comfort and you'll be spot on. boulevard is a business destination for both lunch and dinner. you'll like it. jardiniere has maybe the best gnocchi in town. it, like boulevard, is a bit more swank than the other two but by no means stuffy. haven't been to nopa.
i recently had good meals at cafe majestic (older crowd, jackets on most) and laiola (very relaxed, small plates kind of place that is very popular in the marina district).
consider drinks and nibbles at the upstairs bar at epic roasthouse. shoot for dusk.
Boulevard has great food but is a fairly pricey fine dining option. An often overlooked restaurant in that caliber is Campton Place in the Campton Place Hotel. I'm not a big hotel restaurant diner, but I think there's excellent food to be had there. I also don't get the hype around A16. Some other places that I think are good options for an out of towner, mainly b/c they are unique dining experiences:
1) Foreign Cinema - I like the food and the concept
2) Slanted Door - is touristy but you'll probably not get better Vietnamese food anywhere else
3) The House - best Asian fusion in the city (in my humble opinion)
The restaurant that I'm most excited to go back to these days is Terzo in Cow Hollow.
wdot, you're right, Terzo is fantastic. When they first opened it was almost all small plates. They have pretty much given up on that format and now have large plates, some of which are just larger portions of some of their more popular small plates. I like the atmosphere there, as well. I'm not a big hummus fan, but I never go there without ordering their house made version.