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Oct 16, 2008 12:18 AM

Another New Yorker(/~Seattlite), Solo, for a Week, with Specifics

I've done my research (including reading similar threads), and have a list for comment. But first, some background/context:

- I'm a native NYer, who has also spent lots of time in Seattle. I'm interested in great food, but great San Francisco/California/West Coast food specifically.
- It's my second trip (ever) to the Bay Area. On my first, 18 months ago, I hit Chez Panisse Cafe (one of my best meals ever), Manresa (very good, but not memorable; I was more focused on the company than the food), Greens (good enough food and very pleasant experience) and Pesce (not my pick; totally forgettable). I also had an unsatisfying Farolito burrito (possibly because I ordered unwisely), and an interesting quick lunch at El Balazo.
- My preferences lean toward the local/seasonal/let-ingredients-speak-for-themselves approach, which isn't to say that I'm uninterested in creativity. I'm a partisan of (New) American food first (and influenced by Northwestern cuisine). At least historically, I've tended to prefer French (or Japanese, or Mediterranean) influences to Italian (or Chinese, or Spanish). And I have some picky preferences: I eat little pork or offal (here and there as an accent is ok), and essentially no duck (including foie gras), and try to limit my refined carb intake (pizza, pasta, etc).
- I'll be staying around the Embarcadero, probably near the Ferry building at first and later by the wharf (yes, I know). I'll be solo for the most part, but won't necessarily feel limited to the bar if a place is willing to give me a table.
- While I'll happily wear a suit for the right food (yes, I understand SF casual), I'll be on vacation and will tend to prefer places I could theoretically show up to in running shoes or hiking boots without too many looks askance. Similarly, while cost is not a huge concern, I'd rather pay only if it's worth it.

Where I'm thinking about:

The No-Brainers - I've already got a reservation at Chez Panisse Cafe, and am set on Zuni and Canteen, assuming I can get a reservation at the latter. I may play Zuni by ear, trying to go for a quieter lunch or a late-night (weekend?) dinner - is one preferable? The caesar and burger sound tempting, but I'd be more interested in seasonal fish and salad dishes.

The Big Dinner(s) - I'd like to hit one Serious Restaurant, probably on a Monday or Tuesday, and could do a second if I felt really compelled. By dint of institutional status and location, among other factors, I'm leaning slightly towards Gary Danko. I understand that some would say that the place is not sufficiently local, ingredient-wise, and therefore nothing I couldn't get in New York (perhaps referencing restaurants I have found overpriced and/or unsatisfying in the past). My response is to ask if it isn't distinctly Californian in its cooking/approach? Moreso than Michael Mina, say? Or should I look for that to the stodgier-seeming Boulevard (or One Market)? My prime alternative to Danko is Ame, which sounds more adventurous and maybe a little cheaper, though sparse in atmosphere. The Dining Room seems a bit too formal for what I want, and more expensive, and Siegel seems to be fond of ingredients I don't like, but I have to admit that their current a la carte menu might be the most attractive-sounding of the three.

The More Casual Places - I figure I should try one of the casual-ish Italian places. SPQR's menu seems the most appealing, though the less interesting-sounding A16 might end up more convenient (for lunch?). Delfina has been built up the most in my mind, but did not look especially attractive when I walked past last time - the Pizzeria looked happier in late afternoon/early evening. I'd consider substituting the more-out-of-my-way Incanto, but it would take some convincing. Quince intrigues somewhat, but seems a little formal/pricey. As for other cuisines, Range certainly seems like a good value for food quality, perhaps preferable to Delfina if I'm in the Mission, though the menu seems somewhat ordinary. Is it possible I'd prefer Bar Tartine or Foreign Cinema to either given my food and casual-ness preferences? I feel some compulsion to try Slanted Door, given its convenience to where I'm staying and how much it's talked about, but I'm not sure I'd be into the vibe of the place - is it calmer if you eat outside? What about the takeout option? Am I better off at Hog Island? Also, any thoughts on the lounge at Coi or Mina's Clock Bar?

Lunch/Brunch/In-Between Meals - Is it worth losing daylight hours I could be using walking around to brunch at Dottie's or Park Chow or Zazie (I'll try Canteen if I can't get in at dinner)? To lunch at Tadich or Swan Oyster Depot or, if I'm in Sausalito, Sushi Ran? Is it worth eating something at Park Chalet or the Bistro at the Cliff House to borrow the real estate for a while, or am I better off with picnic food/snacks? Is a lunch/snack at Pres a Vi any preferable to a quicker option (like the Art Institute Cafe or Greens to Go or the Warming Hut)?

Wine Country - I may have a chance to grab a quick lunch in downtown Sonoma or Yountville. I've pegged the girl and the fig and the bar at Redd, respectively, as the most interesting-sounding options. Unfortunately, I'll be carless and it doesn't seem that I'll be able to get to the amazing-sounding Ubuntu.

And finally - what's your favorite place for a (chicken?) burrito and aguas frescas? If I'd prefer to commit the unpardonable sin of eating brown rice in a burrito, should I just forgo the "Mission burrito" formula and go to La Taqueria instead?

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  1. I think as a solo diner, both Boulevard and Tadich are good choices. Tadich has a classic long bar to sit at, and Boulevard has a counter overlooking some of the cooking action that's fun. Both are very near the Embarcadero, so easy for you to check out. While you're checking out Tadich, you might want to take a look at Perbacco next door and see if you want to add it to your list of Italian possibilities.

    No one ever has anything good to say about the food at Beach Chalet. There was a surprisingly enthusiastic report on the Cliff House recently, though. Personally I'd take a picnic and maybe just have a cocktail inside, but I'm cheap ;-)

    8 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      I'd forget about the Beach Chalet; picnic sounds good.
      I love the crispy tacos at La Taqueria, Mission/25th -- you know there's no rice at the place, I don't know the reason. Excellent quality of everything.
      Everyone I've talked to who has been to Gary Danko loves the food, etc. and would return.
      I love the caesar salad at Zuni and they don't close between lunch and dinner so it's nice and quiet then. If you eat fresh, raw shellfish, they serve this.

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        Thanks. I specified the Park Chalet rather than the Beach Chalet because I understand the food to be a notch better.

        I'm aware that Perbacco is often recommended, but it seems to me just an ordinary Italian place, nothing especially interesting or that I couldn't get in NY. Am I wrong?

        Also, I should specify that I'll be roaming all over town during the daytime, often in search of views or less urban parts of the city.

        1. re: foodneb

          I'd say the food at the Park Chalet is indeed a notch better than the Beach Chalet. I had decent risotto there. Still, I'm in no hurry to go back. If the weather is nice, picnic.

          At the Ferry Building, I'd go to Hog Island and sit outside.

          1. re: foodneb

            Oops. Sorry, misunderstood re Beach/Park. Okay, if you're going to be in that part of town (the Outer Richmond), why not try Aziza? I don't believe there's anything like it in NY.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              Aziza does sound interesting, but I was looking at the Beach Chalet for a quick lunch/late afternoon snack - app and beer? - while walking around Golden Gate Park. Is the De Young cafe a better idea? Would Aziza be worth considering for a dinner up against, say, SPQR?

              1. re: foodneb

                App & beer at Beach Chalet would be good, great view -- don't go for a real meal. I don't really like cafe at De Young. Are you going to go to the newly reopened Academy of Sciences across from De Young? There are places to eat in there, a casual one is Academy Cafe run by Charles Phan of Slanted Door fame. Admission fee is $24.95 but it's wonderful, many beautiful big tanks of fish, penguins, alligators and Planetarium, rain forest with butterflies. You could walk to Aziza after being at Beach Chalet/Ocean Beach.

                1. re: walker

                  I am in fact going to the Academy of Sciences and was unaware of the cafe - very good to know

                  1. re: foodneb

                    Just today someone told me they got there at noon and the line was way too long so they just went to DeYoung, instead. I suggest you get there shortly before they open. Of course, I'm sure, weekend days are the worst.
                    There's also a more expensive restaurant called the Moss Room and Loretta Keller is in charge -- she owns Coco 500, used to be called Bizou. Very good rep.

        2. I'd definitely take Bar Tartine over Delfina considering your preferences , even the gnocchi at Bar Tartine were a league above Delfina's.
          You probably won't want to sit outside at Slanted Door in October. The main room is admittedly quite noisy, but the communal table toward the back set aside for walk-ins is actually pretty quiet and airy with all glass walls. For brunch I'd definitely do Hog Island at the bar while enjoying the view and people watching, especially given your proximity. Enjoy your trip!
          I'm coming to your fair city soon after a year's absence and can't wait for the culinary adventures!

          1. Wow! Lots of good research and lots of questions! In no particular order...

            If you prefer French (or Japanese, or Mediterranean) influences to Italian (or Chinese, or Spanish),and don't particularly like pork or offal don't waste your time trekking to Incanto.

            Gary Danko is a fine choice. They mostly use local ingredients, and the cooking is much more Californian than French and less NYC-ish than Michael Mina. Plus they serve the entire menu at the bar and it is a perfectly tranquil way to spend the evening.

            Quince doen't have a bar and I think you might feel a bit uncomfortable as a solo diner there. Of the places you list as The More Casual, Bar Tartine is the clear standout in terms of quality and creativity.

            You can't eat outside at The Slanted Door, you've got to rush right into the hubbub and commotion and pretend like your are in NYC. It's very good, ingredient-driven, and certainly unlike anything you can get in NYC. I'd much rather eat at the bar at Slanted Door than at Hog Island. Hog Island's prices have crept up to the point where I don't think it is a good value. The lounge at Coi is an excellent idea if you are looking for something you can't get in NYC.

            Definitely stop at Sushi Ran if you go to Sausalito. It is an excellent place.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Paul H

              Thanks, both of the above are very helpful. Does the lounge at Coi take walk-ins? I didn't realize you could get the full menu there(?) - if I want to spend less, is the lounge menu at least somewhat adventurous?

              1. re: foodneb

                If there is room, Coi will certainly take a walk-in for lounge dining. Also, though it might not be official policy, if you ask for the tasting menu and then ask to order a la carte off of it, I'll bet they'll say yes.

            2. If you have a chance to eat lunch at Swan Oyster Depot, don't pass it up. It's easy to get to, as it's right near the end of the California Street Car line (you *will* be buying some kind of Muni pass; right?). It's certainly not cheap, but on the other hand the ingredients are basic and predictable so you cannot go too hog wild. Basically oysters, clam chowder, crab or shrimp salad, smoked salmon and other fish. Once while I was standing in line outside (almost unavoidable, as they have only 16 or 18 counter seats), I saw some fresh, plump scallops in the window and wondered what they did with them (as they don't really cook, per se). Turns out they had two preparations: one was sashimi-like, with garlic and sesame oil (IIRC), but the one we chose was a kind of scallop carpaccio, each raw scallop sliced in half and then drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice, and capers and chopped red onion sprinkled on them. Absolutely delicious. Sourdough bread and Anchor steam to accompany, and what's not to like?

              They only take cash, and they're only open until 5 (and closed on Sunday), so I would recommend having a really light breakfast and getting there for an early lunch to avoid the line.