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Aug 7, 2008 03:06 PM

"San Francisco/Napa Trip Next Week: What to Order?" or "Guide Me Through Your Culinary Wonderland!"

So I'm taking my first trip to SF/Napa next week and am planning on checking out a slew of what promise to be amazing restaurants. I've been searching around CH for ideas on what the "must order" dishes are at all the different establishments, and have had great luck with most places (Chicken for Two, Caesar Salad and Burger at Zuni, Foie Gras at Gary Danko, etc.) but still have some question marks. (NOTE: after writing all this and coming back to spell-check, I think I have more question marks than I first thought)

The lineup is listed below, as are what kind of information I am in need of for each place. Please feel free to chime in wherever and on whatever you like (I know it's long and somewhat rambling), and, of course, any info above and beyond what I'm curious about would be greatly appreciated and thoroughly considered. Also, I have no idea what to do for desserts from any of these places, so any idea of the "must-have desserts" at any of the dinner places would be fantastic.

Also, and sorry if this is overkill for a single post, but any late night spots, cheap eats, great burger joints or spots in chinatown would be great to know - particularly a cheap, quick place for lunch in SoMa on the first day, after we check into the hotel (which right below Market Street, on Howard).

Here's the lineup, thanks everyone, and I'll be sure to report back on everything in this thread after the trip!

Monday (dinner)
Delfina - I know the Calimari, Campo, and Tripe are all supposed to be great, but what about entrees?

Tuesday (lunch and dinner)
Zuni Cafe - I'm good on this one - chicken and burgers, and the caeser
Laiola - The menu apparently changes constantly, but is there anything I should be on the lookout for?

Wednesday (lunch and dinner)
Sushi Ran - Looking for particularly great pieces of sushi and also curious about what they cook well...if I've had Nobu's miso-glazed black cod, should I pass on that here and go for the Shaking Beef? Or is the Shaking Beef better at Slanted Door?
Chez Panisse Upstairs - changing menu, I know, but are there any constants that are particularly good?

Thursday (lunch and dinner)
The Slanted Door - dumbfounded and looking for any help
Gary Danko - Definitely getting the foie gras, but what are their best entrees?

Friday (lunch and dinner)
Bistro Jeanty - I'm thinking Pork Belly and Entrecote Frites but could be swayed
Bouchon - I'm clueless, other than that the mason jar full of foie is supposed to be phenomenal (probably won't get it, though)
**I don't want steak twice on this day, am I better off with Entrecote Frites at Jeanty or with Steak Frites at Bouchon and something else at Jeanty?

Saturday (lunch and dinner)
Barber's Q - I'm all set here, doing the pulled pork and the ribs
Redd - totally clueless

Thanks again everyone!!

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  1. Here are some good threads on the best dishes at Slanted Door: and

    I think that people on the board will steer you away from Bouchon for your Friday night dinner -- it's been getting a lot of negative reports lately, and you might be better advised to head to Martini House or Ad Hoc (if you're looking for the Keller influence) instead.

    Chez Panisse upstairs: I've never had a bad meal there, but the salads are particularly amazing to me -- the ingredients, the way they're dressed, everything about them is a delight.

    Delfina -- the first time that I went to Delfina, I looked for advice on the board, and one note that I read from someone said that the fourth entree, no matter what it is, stands out to them (or something like that, I can't find the exact quote now), and when I've looked at their menus and have eaten there, that has rung true for me (on the current online menu, for example, it's duck with figs and polenta, which I would order in a heartbeat). But then, I think you can't go much wrong with their menu, so I would say order whatever looks good to you.

    Have a great trip!

    9 Replies
    1. re: JasmineG

      Oh, I forgot to mention that I double-booked Bouchon with Ad Hoc, as well as Laiola with Canteen. Since both are pre-fixes, I wanted to have backups in case I didn't like the pre-fixe menus on either given day (Canteen is apparently only a pre-fixe on Tuesdays). Thoughts on Ad Hoc or Canteen would be greatly appreciated, as well.

      1. re: stephenkyr

        I like Bistro Jeanty in the afternoon. I love the signature tomato soup, the mussels and frites there with the grilled bread (get a side of bearnaise). I think Bouchon is still having their kitchen remodeled so no more frying -- no more frites -- at the moment.You may wish to call and double-check. I hate sitting at the tables there, because the acoustics on so weird in the dining room -- you can't hear who you're dining with. The bar is the only way to go.

        You couldn't go wrong with Cole's Chop House or Press (I prefer it) for steak in Napa Valley. Other favorites in the valley are the wonderful patio at Martini House, Terra anytime of year, Redd if you're in the second dining room and not the first by the door, Azzurro Pizzeria, Wappo Grill's patio in Calistoga, Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, and the beer can chicken at Bounty Hunter.

        1. re: maria lorraine

          We were at Bouchon 2 weeks ago. Had the salt cod beignets (sp?). They were fried and amazingly delicious, so I'd say there is frying going on! If the place was missing a few steps because of on-going renovation, we couldn't tell.

          1. re: wandasue

            Good to know. Those beignets sound tasty.

        2. re: stephenkyr

          I just had a very disappointing meal at Laiola, first time. Of the 4 dishes we ordered only 1 was barely acceptable. The Patatas Bravas was a huge disappointment overly coated with a thick layer of flavorless seasoning. The potatoes were shriveled and had a bad texture. The bacon wrapped Medjool dates were very unbalanced, the overly sweet dates overpowered the wafer thin bacon and chorizo. The Piperade with Jamon bread was greasy and tasted mostly of bread and peppers the Jamon was lost. The lamb was passable, cooked well but the peas it came with were tad overcooked and not properly seasoned. The cocktails were very watered down. My wife usually gets very buzzed with one cocktail or a glass of wine but she had two and didn't feel anything. From what I read they must be inconsistent.

          I adore Canteen though so may be Sentinel for lunch would be my suggestion. If you do want to do basque/tapas i'd suggest bocadillos.

          1. re: oarnura

            re: Laiola... I've had many of the same dishes... LOVE the dates... and one Margarita there can get me buzzed... I wonder if you were just there on an incredibly off night or if we have very different tastes?

            1. re: whiner

              I could have been an off night. The cocktails were decent, the Margarita Picante was pretty good. But I expect to taste the alcohol the drink is based on especially when the first ingredient on the description is alcohol.

              The kitchen staff made a batch of Patatas Bravas for themselves and it looked much better than the one we were served. The seasoning seemed lighter and the potatoes seemed plumper. Were were sitting in the corner booth right in front of the kitchen, they had it on the pass and were eating from it. :-(

              I just expected the dishes to be executed with a bit more refinement. May be my expectations were unreasonable. I love Range and I end up paying about the same as I did at Laiola and have consistently great meals there.

              1. re: oarnura


                2031 Chestnut Street, San Francisco, CA 94123

                1. re: rworange

                  Just one more bit of information.. Mark Denham was not in the kitchen that day. I just looked up a picture and can attest that the kitchen was under the control of two of the younger sous chefs. That might explain why things didn't live up to all the raves.

      2. Laiola- anything with bacon/Seranno ham. Anything with chorizo. The mushrooms are excellent. Squid is very good. You MUST order the chocolate in sea alt and olive oil for dessert if it is available.

        Slanted Door:
        Apps- spareribs, veggie garden rolls. The gapefruit and jicama salad is also great.
        Mains- Lamb rack and, even better, shaking beef. Also, they used to do a whole fish, but I don't see it on the current menu. The lemongrass tofu with shtaki is also excellent for tofu.

        1. Glad to see you dropped Cliff House from your first itenerary post

          Howard and Market are parallel streets and pretty much run the length of the city. Do you have a cross street? I'm guessing you might be near the Ferry Building rather than Moscone Center.

          If you are near the Ferry Building you could walk over there where there are many, many options. Boulette's Larder is great and there is a view of the bay ... to make up for the Cliff house view. Then again you were considering Taylor's Refresher. There is one at the Ferry Building.

          I see you dropped Canteen, so you might consider a take-out place by the same chef called the Sentinel which is on New Montgomery off Market (across from the Palace Hotel). It has been getting raves on the board. You could take your lunch and walk down to the Embarcadero and have your lunch while taking in a bay view.

          You might consider breakfast at Murray Circle on the day you drive over to Sausalito. They have a little buffet breakfast until 10 am. The real reason you should go there is for the baked goods. They have a pastry chef that just blows me out of the water. If you do make it to Tartine as your other post indicates, Murray Circle will make the stuff at Tartines seem like it is from Safeway. MC has the hands-down best croissant I have ever had in my life.

          Looking at the Chez Panisse menu tonigh which will be different by tommorrow

          I would say go with dishes with tomatoes, corn and desserts with stone fruit. Anything from the wood oven is good. Sometimes deceptively simple-sounding dishes there are amazing. For example, on tonight's menu is A bowl of local summer fruits, $8.25. It doesn't have the jazzy appeal of some of the other dishes, but I'll bet that is one good bowl of fruit.

          If I were ordering from tonight's menu, some of the items I'd consider
          - Heirloom tomatoes with crème fraîche, capers, and chervil
          - Pizzetta with tomato sauce, Monterey Bay squid, and marjoram
          - Corn and summer squash soup with jalapeño butter
          - Lasagna verde baked in the wood oven with morel mushrooms, sheep's milk ricotta, and spinach
          - Grilled Soul Food Farm chicken al mattone with sweet corn, green beans, tomatillos, and red onion rings
          - Kashiwase Farm nectarine and mulberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream
          - Straus Family Farm yogurt sherbet with summer berry compote and langues de chat

          Looking at the Slanted Door lunch menu (which doesn't change as as dynamically), I would still go for the seasonal. Since I've been through all the standard dishes at Slanted Door, I tend to order the seasonal. I liked the shaking beef, but it was a little boring to me. It is just cubes of beef with dishes of sauce on the side. It is the sauce that makes the dish, but it wasn't great enough for me to order again. I am in the minority here. The one standard that I do order often is that grapefruit and jicama with red cabbage, pickled carrots and candied pecans Love it.

          From the dishes always on the menu, I didn't think too much of the green papaya salad. You can get better pho elsewhere. I liked the crispy imperial rolls better than the spring rolls. The five spice chicken and claypot chicken were underwhelming, but I liked the claypot catfish quite a lot. I didn't think much of the spinach with mushrooms. They have fantastic tea, and I recommend ordering one or more.

          So looking at the current menu some of the things I would order ..

          - five-spiced duck confit with organic baby frisée, Santa Rosa plums and sherry-shallot vinaigrette
          - live Atlantic sea scallop and golden caviar with lime-cilantro vinaigrette
          - grilled yellowtail collar bone with grilled organic pineapple and spicy gingered soy sauce
          - grilled Range Brothers' berkshire pork chop with ginger-soy-shallot sauce and crispy potatoes
          - wood oven roasted Alaskan halibut with spicy gingered fish sauce
          - Catalan Farm summer squash with giant oyster mushrooms and toasted pinenuts
          - Allstar Organics sweet yellow snow peas with honshimeji mushrooms

          Chinatown cheap eats ... Golden Gate Bakery is the usual stop for their egg custard tarts and for me the bbq pork bun. In North Beach there's the foccacia at Linguira bakery. A block away is xox truffles ... free truffle with cup of Graffeo coffee ... get the caramel.

          Late nite ideas here

          You can use the above link to search for Redd and read some of the linked reports about what to order. Also you can search for sf inexpensive or moderate for cheap eats. The neighborhoods you are interested in could be added.

          Have a good trip. Hope you report back about what you ate.

          3 Replies
          1. re: rworange

            Sorry about the address snafu - it's 5th and Howard, just below Market, the new Intercontinental. All these places sound great, I'm going to start checking them out now - especially Murray Circle and Sentinel.

            1. re: stephenkyr

              Oh, different neighborhood ... quite a few blocks to the Ferry Building and even a bit of a walk to the Sentinal.

              If you walk down 5th toward market, just beyond market on Jesse is Chez Papa which has had a lot of favorable reviews. If you walk down Jesse to Mint there is Blue Bottle Coffee and you should check out that fancy $20,000 .coffee maker.

              Continuing down Fifth is the San Francisco Center that is a mall with a fancy food court. Out the Door is owned by Slanted Door so that probably isn't a good idea. Wichcraft is an outpost of a NY restaurant and has had mixed reviews.

              If you walk away from Market and up 5th, there is Le Charm French Bistro.

              Split Pea Seduction is nearby on 6th ... and just to let you know 6th is one of the sleaziest streets in SF. There's this really weird alignment of neighborhoods in that area. The ultra expensive Union Square borders the down-on-its-heels Tenderloin. Go one block in the wrong direction and you need to keep your eyes open. And for all the people who want to jump in and post about how safe you feel in the Tenderloin, I just don't feel that way. Certain streets scare me and it's just a little heads up so the poster will have an idea of the nabes.

              A late nite spot a few blocks away is Orson. Very fun. However, I'd take a cab there and back if it is after dark.

              IMO, Chez Papa might be the best for lunch on the day you arrive ... still check out Blue Bottle though.

            2. re: rworange

              Golden Gate Bakery is closed for its annual 4-week long vacation, and I think will still be closed next week.

            3. Also, I'm going to drop Bouchon. Kept it there because I had been hoping that the remodel wouldn't carrry through into mid-August. Recs for other Napa joints (and what's good there) would be fantastic, I'll be checking out Maria's suggestions now. Thanks!

              1 Reply
              1. Zuni: Burgers are only before 6pm and after 10 pm, really good. You know about the chicken and Caesar but the polenta is wonderful. I have not tried the espresso granita but everyone says to order it so I will next time.
                Slanted Door: I love the Shaking Beef, fish is always very fresh and I can't resist the Imperial Rolls.

                10 Replies
                1. re: walker

                  For the record, Bouchon remodel is completed and Bistro Jeanty's menu has been expanded.

                  1. re: lizziee

                    So, do we think Bouchon should still be a go over Martini House, Terra, Cole's Chop House, or Press? Is it same to presume they're back in top form?

                    1. re: stephenkyr

                      My general recommendation to visitors -- especially to NYers -- would be to skip Bouchon and Bistro Jeanty. They're French bistros. You have French bistros aplenty in NY. Terra or Martini House are both more unique -- Terra in its cuisine and Martini House in its quintessential California atmosphere.

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        Just ate at Terra and Redd last weekend. At Terra, the heirloom tomato salad with burrata and the fresh fish ceviche (a special) were standout appetizers. Great mains were the steak, the quail and the black cod. Everything we ate at Redd was delicious, from the creamy corn soup and hamachi appetizers, and the linguini with bolognese, duck breast and even chicken entrees. Really, really good, and we sat in the front room and had a lovely experience.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          Ruth makes a good point about the French bistros.

                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            All points taken. We're still going to do Bistro Jeanty because it seems like a nice lunch spot and I for some reason am rather intrigued by it, but I'm definitely going to drop Bouchon for dinner on night #1 in Napa. The question, then, has now become: Terra vs. Martini House. Thoughts?

                              1. re: stephenkyr

                                Any thoughts about giving Ubuntu a try?

                                1. re: rworange

                                  I thought about it because of how unique it seems and how famous it is, but the girlfriend vetoed.

                                  1. re: rworange

                                    Ubuntu was threatened with a shutdown after the two Fs. They remodeled, which is why they closed for lunches. Hopefully, they'll keep this "A" awhile.

                                    The room temperature eggs on the "front cook line...have spots on them that appear to be fecal matter", says the report. That's a big deal. The reports go into the other specific violations -- employees not able to wash their hands, a cook using a utensil to serve food, then putting that same utensil into his mouth, and so forth. The holding temperatures and improper cooking methods were also cited.