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Mar 17, 2009 07:31 AM

Best restaurants in SF

Sorry for the repetitive topic, but I'm coming from Manhattan looking for the best high-range restaurants in San Francisco.

Just give me names and I'll do some research. Thanks

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  1. Gary Danko, Dining Room at the Ritz, Masa, Michael Mina, Aqua. When searching those on this board you will usually get comparisons. Out of town but close, under 2 hours out, Manresa, The French Laundry, Cyrus.

    5 Replies
    1. re: wolfe

      We ate at Gary Denko last week. Gotta say, the food was absolutely outstanding. Each bite was delectible. However, the way the structure the service distinctly gave us the sense of being in Disneyland -- a variety of servers with no distinction as to rhyme or reason (at least to our party) stop by. When we asked one server his top 2 fave desserts, he replied "Just a minute." then a few minutes later, along came a second server who came to the table and said, "My favorite desserts are..." as if one were interchangable for the other. Wierd.

      1. re: escargot3

        At restaurants with that level of service, it's common to have runners and other staff who assist the waiters but don't take orders, though they should say "let me get your waiter" rather than "just a minute."

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          That's my point. We actually didn't have "a waiter".
          There were frequent visits by a sequence of different people. And only the "sommelier" was identified as having a specific role - and he didn't help to select the wine, he just came to open the bottle and tell us about it.

          1. re: escargot3

            Typically the person who takes your order and answers questions about the menu will be the "captain" or your waiter. The additional people who bring the food and often times recite the ingredients will typically be "runners." Gary Danko's restaurant seems to train their front of house staff very well and usually service is polished and seamless.

        2. re: escargot3

          That's funny. In that case, it's vaguely possible the waiter had never tasted all the desserts, and brought you someone who had been there long enough to have sampled them. That's not uncommon if it's a new staffer, or the restaurant is stingy so that the only food they've ever sampled is the company meal.

      2. Also well thought of top fine dining are Quince, La Folie and Fleur de Lys,

        1. Adding Coi to the list.

          1. Restaurants at the very top include:
            The French Laundry, Manresa, Cyrus, Coi, and The Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton

            Next tier:
            Michael Mina, Aqua, Masa's

            Final tier:
            Quince, La Folie, Fleur de Lys

            (links added)

            Manresa Restaurant
            320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

            373 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133

            The French Laundry
            6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

            La Folie
            2316 Polk St., San Francisco, CA 94109

            Quince Restaurant
            470 Pacific Av, San Francisco, CA 94133

            Cyrus Restaurant
            29 North St, Healdsburg, CA 95448

            Fleur De Lys
            777 Sutter St., San Francisco, CA 94109

            252 California Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

            The Terrace at the Ritz-Carlton
            600 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA 94108

            Michael Mina Restaurant
            252 California St, San Francisco, CA

            Masa's Restaurant
            648 Bush Street, San Francisco, CA 94108

            39 Replies
            1. re: Paul H

              This is a repetative question and the top of the heap doesn't change much in SF ... though the staff sometimes changes. Here's my list of what is at the top ... strictly in SF. They are all Place record links so there is no need to add the links for missing restaurants here. Click on any name in this list and you will get the website, hours, and linked reports.

              What some people here are confusing is great food with top level.

              IMO, I wouldn't put Aqua or Quince at the top. They are the next level down though probably better food than some of the top of the SF food chain. I'm not a fan of Aqua and I think the signs are there that with the expense-account days waining and Aqua eliminating lunch, its days might be numbered. In this economy, when people are watching the dollars, they don't want snooty, indifferent service unless the food is so incredible to put up with it. Some they might think so about Aqua, for me Aqua is a no.

              Campton Place, Fifth Floor, Silks also belong at the top. However, with Campton Place and Silks, they have had maybe the most rotating staffs.

              I think I may have put Luce in that list based on one report. Not sure if it qualifies. I'm on the fence on whether Acquerello belongs there or in the next level down.

              I had Zinnia in there for a while based on the reputation of the chef, but just removed it since it hasn't seemed to deliver. In the next tier down, one place that doesn't get much mention is Chez Spencer. However, I think it might be a more good for locals type of place than something uniquely San Franciscan... though you are not exactly talking uniquely SF with the Michael Minna chain which I would skip if you are near one of the many located througought the US.

              1. re: rworange

                It is very strange to list Fifth Floor and to omit Aqua, as they are both run by Chef Laurent Manrique and Aqua is the flagship and Fifth Floor is currently French country food (though of a very elegant type). Not everyone is down on Aqua. I like it, and a recent visitor who has eaten at a lot of the top places in the USA also was impressed..


                The only time in the last 10 years that Campton Place has belonged at the top is when Daniel Humm was cooking there. Silks, no way.

                1. re: Paul H

                  Thanks everybody!

                  I'd love to do the 20 dish tasting menu at The French Laundry but I'm afraid I won't have a rental car when I'm in San Francisco. So I have to stick with restaurants directly in the city.

                  1. re: cmm3

                    I liked the Ritz much more than French Laundry.

                    1. re: rworange

                      can you elaborate on this praise for the Ritz? I'm trying to decide whether to make the ride out to F. Laundry while on a short trip to SF.

                      1. re: epop

                        Check this link which is better than the duplicate on the upper right.

                        1. re: wolfe

                          thx, Wolfe. Tough choices...

                    2. re: cmm3

                      If you can afford the french laundry, you can afford a rental car (what, $50) or even a town car to FL - should cost you only $200 / $300. Unless you're a dedicated non-alcohol person, it's rough getting out of TFL for under $500 - and then you're good to drive anyway. All rental car places have downtown offices. Penny pinching and TFL don't go together.

                      Go read all of uhockey's recent posts.

                      1. re: bbulkow

                        It has more to do with timing and a wish not to be in a car. I hear such mixed things about FL, from "way overrated" to "best meal ever."

                        One of my worst meals ever was at Keller's Bouchon in Vegas, btw.

                        1. re: epop

                          Epop. If you're looking for "best" in terms of cuisine and unique flavors and innovation in the kitchen and if you're going to be comparing it to NY, get the rental car and head south to Manresa. The cuisine is far superior to TFL in terms of taste and innovation. The service, decor, and wine list is more casual and less impressive than TFL but in terms of cuisine alone, Manresa is the best I've found in SF and I would even say it tops my favorite NYC restaurants. Coi is the only contender that I have not tried and I'm told it's the best in SF proper. But Mina and The Dining Room fall short of NYC high end standards.

                          If we were to use the Michelin Guide for reference, the cuisine at Manresa is a 3 stars with 2 star service and wine list. TFL is 2 star cuisine with a 3 star wine list and 3 star service. The service at TFL is fawning and borderline hovering which is not to my taste. I prefer the service at Daniel where they magically appear when you need them and vanish when you don't.

                          Search Manresa. Get the Chef's tasting with premium wine pairing. Even the wine parinig is unique (eg sweet white wine fortified with cognac to pair with the smoked foie gras). You will not be let down.

                          Here's a link to my side by side comparison of the two.


                          1. re: Porthos

                            I think it is fair to note that Michelin has rated several of the restaurants in this list:

                            * * * The French Laundry
                            * * Coi, Manresa, Meadowood, Cyrus, Aqua, Michael Mina
                            * Acquerello, Ame, La Folie, Masa's. The Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton (plus 16 others)

                            I like both Manresa and The French Laundry, but if I were asked to choose between the two, would be hard pressed to do so. The food at TFL really is about finesse and elegance, just as Keller is always saying. Manresa is more creative. A true aficionado needs to visit both. If I had never been to either place and had a chance to visit one of the two on a given evening, I'd choose TFL, as it is (even now) notoriously difficult to get into.

                            1. re: Paul H

                              Correct. In MY opinion, Manresa's cuisine is 3 stars and TFL's cuisine is 2 stars. The truffled egg at TFL is all finesse, elegant, and delicious. However, TFL really doesn't offer much in terms of elegance and finesse that you can't get in NYC which is relevent since Epop and the OP are well versed in Manhattan high end.

                              I thought the cheese course at TFL was just downright bad. Poor presentation and little thought going into what was on the plate. And I'm pretty sure they forgot to give me the poached lobster dish. Maybe if I had the poached lobster, my opinon would change? But then again, a 3 star restaurant shouldn't be omitting a poached lobster course.

                              Your point about visiting TFL for the sake of experience is well taken. But in terms of preference and taste alone, which do you prefer?

                              1. re: Porthos

                                Having been to both Manresa and TFL multiple times, I have high respect for both. While I have had higher highs at Manresa, TFL is more consistent. Both characteristics are important in a top notch restaurant. Based on my experiences, I find it difficult to absolutely rank one above the other, which given the relative reputations of the two places, is quite a coup for Manresa.

                            2. re: Porthos

                              The Michelin guide actually gives Manresa two stars ("excellent cooking and worth a detour"), but I agree that it deserves three ("exceptional cooking and worth the journey").

                              They have their own garden and make spectacularly good bread in-house (almost identical to Tartine's, where the baker used to work).

                              We got both wine pairings and I mostly preferred the ones from the cheaper batch. Truly great sommelier.


                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                In the interests of full disclosure, (1) TFL also has its own garden, and (2) Robert has stated many times that he's never been to TFL and has no desire to.

                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  Yeah, TFL has a garden, though from the reports I've read the menu doesn't seem nearly as driven by what comes out of it as Manresa's is.

                                  I'm sad I didn't get there before they switched to tasting-menu-only and jacked up the prices. Actually I did eat there once, but before Keller bought it from the Schmitts.

                              2. re: Porthos

                                Thanks for the clear words on both, Porthos and Paul H.
                                I happened to see Kinch on Iron Chef and was stunned by his creativity, having never heard of him before. I told myself that I have to go to his place (I never had that feeling before from watching the tube).

                                Keller annoyed me after a horrific meal at the Vegas Bouchon, for which he barely apologized. But I realize TFL is a different story.

                                Any places in SF with stellar seafood? Not sushi. I love Aquagrill in NYC, for all its variety. Plus their chef cooks well. Nothing of that extensive quality here in LA.

                                I am flying up there for no other reason than the meals.

                                Thank you so much for taking the time. Kind of you both. Epop

                          2. re: cmm3

                            I think which restaurant to choose depends on what the diner is looking for. If you're looking for a French Laundry type experience in SF, the Dining Room is probably a good choice. I just went as a party of 4 and for each course, 2 people got 1 dish and the other 2 got a different dish. For example, 2 people got an asparagus soup and 2 got a carrot soup. Since all of us are uncouth little plate sharers, we got to taste about 20 different dishes. There was no printed menu because the chef apparently changes it constantly, which is unfortunate because in several instances one of the dishes is significantly better than the other. The Dining Room almost always has a foie dish (this time with a huckleberry reduction), and while foie bores me, it is a highlight for many people. The fowl courses were quite good (duck and quail), but the meat courses (beef and veal) were kind of bland. There is a candy cart. Service was excellent, as you should expect. The dining room is pretty old fashioned and uptight.

                            We all enjoyed our meal. The consensus of the dining companions was that the experience at the French Laundry was better, but perhaps not enough to justify the significantly higher price tag. However, when you get down to it, most tasting menus are pretty similar (amuse, raw fish prep, raw shellfish prep, soup, cooked fish, fowl, foie, meat, meat, fruit dessert, chocolate dessert, blah, blah).

                            If you're looking for a "not in NYC, fine dining with foie and rich ingredients in every dish tasting course experience" I would have to recommend Coi. Patterson is very original, and his tasting menu is very light. There isn't much meat, he's really fond of goat cheese, and the room is cozy modern (or claustrophobic, depending on your point of view). There is usually at least one thing you're going to love and something you're going to hate and both will be incredibly memorable. The first time, I loved the fresh yuba in a very light, complex coconut curry and I hated the blue goat cheese flan for the cheese course. (I admit that I am not a fan of strong cheeses. The friend from Wisconsin, on the other hand, was in heaven.) Another time, my favorite was a grilled matsutake mushroom with pine needle potato puree (which was like a food haiku ode to fall) and I was very negatively impressed (but impressed nonetheless) with a jerusalem artichoke soup amuse which tasted like a dirt milkshake. Love his olive oil milkshake and cookies every time, though. Plus, I've seen him wandering around at the farmers market, shopping!

                            And maybe they are not top tier tasting menu kind of places, but I think Quince, Ame, and Aziza are very unique SF only restaurants.

                            1. re: sfbing

                              When it comes to fine dining I have a fear of the same old. People can be creative in the same ways. For example, I designed an elaborate meal with the folks at Daniel in NYC. We had many courses and a humungous bill but I felt like the execution simply wasn't stellar. The wines were tremendous but they didn't make or choose those. So I told myself I wouldn't go back there, especially if I was paying. Sure, it was a pretty good meal but that's not good enough. I think the problem at times is that the chefs are confused by how far they can go. Daniel has a very conservative clientele, I imagine, with limited palates and experience. So he has to play to that. But even the classic executions sometimes aren't on the level I expect. This same issue comes up time and again.

                              Coi sounds like it is a unique place. I like everything dairy but goat cheese so I'm glad you mentioned that. Thank you, sfbing.

                              1. re: epop

                                The goat cheese only occupies the cheese plate--so it is thankfully not in multiple dishes on the menu.

                                I should add that when the staff realized that I wasn't a goat cheese fan (I am often embarrassed to admit my nonlove, so I had given my cheese to a companion and hadn't said a thing), they gave me a plate of nectarines.

                                So they can substitute, especially if you mention it to them when ordering.

                                1. re: epop

                                  The current menu has an "upside down goat cheese tart" which is one of the highlights. On top is an airy wavy wafer (think of a small tostada shell, but empty) made from black olives and some mysterious but tasty binder. It sits atop a mousseline of goat cheese which in turn sits atop a small disk of Andante goat cheese. There are also dressed microgreens. Excellent. Too bad about your aversion to goat cheese.

                                  1. re: Paul H

                                    That tart sounds great though. It isn't a total aversion. Certain French goat cheeses I still adore. It is just that I greatly prefer the sheep...

                                    Looks like 3 nights... TFL, Manresa and Coi tasting menus then off to NY. I would prefer to spread it out over a week but life won't let me.

                                    1. re: epop

                                      Andante's goat cheese is up there with the best French. Though you can get it at Blue Hill and Murray's.


                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        It's even available at some Whole Foods locations, and over a half dozen other SF establishments. No idea if it's the same grade.

                                        1. re: sugartoof

                                          My point is that it's available in New York, so cmm3 could get some at home.

                                      2. re: epop

                                        In my opinion, you've picked the three best places in Northern California. Please be sure to report back!

                                        1. re: Paul H

                                          I certainly will report back. My only worry is doing these 3 on successive nights. I will have to walk 10 miles each day before.

                                          1. re: epop

                                            no chance on getting into TFL on this trip so it looks like Coi and Manresa and some Chinatown explorations as a respite.

                                            1. re: epop

                                              Epop. Cyrus has been touted by some to be on par and even surpass TFL in some aspects. Chinatown would probably be a good break from all the high end stuff though. Koi Palace would be even better. Get the alaskan king crab 2 ways if it's available.

                                              Btw, I just saw your request on an earlier NYC'er to SF thread. Sorry I took so long. My top 5 favorites in SF are:

                                              1. Manresa.
                                              2. Koi Palace- the high end dim sum and seafood at dinner beats out the best in LA and NYC.
                                              3. Bar Tartine- not eye opening but comforting, and just plain delicious. It always seems to please NY'ers. The bread is delicious.
                                              4. Canteen- 1 superstar chef and his 1 sous chef personally cooking your entire meal. Someone described it as high end comfort food and I agree.
                                              (5). Oliveto for the truffle and whole hog dinners but since your visit won't coincide with those events...
                                              6. Incanto for pasta and offal. I do like the pasta at Lupa and Babbo more but at the same time neither Babbo nor Lupa offers a pasta with cured tuna heart and egg yolk. You could also substitute Zuni in this spot if you make it a point to order the burger AND the chicken ;-).

                                              I haven't been to Coi or Cyrus but a very reliable source (Daveena) speaks highly of both. I would avoid Michael Mina, Dining Room, and Gary Danko on the high end. In Yountville I also like Redd if you're going to be in that area. Again, not really eye-opening but super tasty and a relative "bargain" with a wine pairing that includes local wineries.

                                              The list is by no means comprehensive but I think these restaurants show off SF's strengths and each offer something unique that you can't get in NYC or LA with minimal overlap in style.

                                              1. re: Porthos

                                                Yes, Porthos, the high end break is a must. I like the sound of both Koi Palace (really?? better than anything in Monterey Park? Amazing.) and Canteen. Manresa is probably the meal of the year that I am most excited about.

                                                Again, Thanks for taking the time. I respect your opinion a whole lot. We differ on Mori vs. Zo (which confuses me every time I go to Mori) but that's a detail... Epop

                                                1. re: epop

                                                  I think it's safe to say our tastes line up pretty well and I'll try Umami Burger first before FO based on your recent experience. I think we also differ on the noise level at Mozza but that's about it ;-) Mori reminds me the most of Yasuda-san in terms of skill but Keizo has the selection. If only we could fuse the two!

                                                  Anyways, back to SF. At Koi Palace, the king crab 2 ways will convince you (as will the 18 tanks or so of assorted live sea creatures). Bring backup since the king crabs start around 5lbs and go up from there. The roast suckling pig is also delicious. The abalone preps vary from good to very good and are quite reasonably priced. I think the quality is better than Elite and Sea Harbour and surprisingly, it's actually better priced. The dim sum is also more creative than Elite and Sea Harbour. If you go for dim sum, make sure you get the whole dungeness crab soup dumplings (non-existent in LA or NYC). It's what dreams are made of. I actually try to convince people to go for both dim sum and dinner. The wait for dim sum can get crazy. Call an hour in advance and ask for a number over the phone. You'll still wait about 30-45 minutes but it beats 1.5-2 hours if you don't. And try to get seated by the kitchen for dim sum (near the fish pond) since many unique items that come out of the kitchen are not on the menu and they disappear fast.

                                                  Canteen is great. The brioche dinner rolls are insanely good. And yes, you can ask for seconds. Again, nothing like it in LA.

                                                  Shoot me an e-mail. I'd love to hear your NY lineup.

                                                  1. re: Porthos

                                                    Thx for the clarification on Koi Palace. Sounds like my kind of place.

                                                    MoriZo, ok. Got it. I like walking between the two. I sent an e-mail to what I think is your address.

                                                  2. re: epop

                                                    epop - Koi Palace is good, but not better than the best of Monterey Park; however, Koi P is very old and very consistent. I've found quality Chinese food depends on who's in the kitchen (or not). I always have to call my mom or someone in the Chinese Mafia to find out who's where.

                                                    1. re: Claudette

                                                      Thx. Porthos highly recommended Koi P, as better than anything in Moneterey Park, place I love.

                                                      Maybe you two could debate that one...

                                                2. re: epop

                                                  Keep your name on a wait list. It doesn't happen often, but people do clear and get a phone call.

                                        2. re: epop

                                          Check out this blog post on Coi. It's real simple, but I think interesting.

                                          If the problem is the chefs don't know what you want, you can explain it.

                                          If the problem is execution, as you say, check out manressa and coi.

                                          TFL tries to keep it real, but I think sometime they have the problems as you say.

                                2. re: Paul H

                                  I see I forgot Gary Danko, which belongs in the tier with Michael Mina, Aqua, and Masa's

                                  Gary Danko
                                  800 N Point St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                                3. Yes don't forget Gany Danko IMO best in SF. You can forget the French Laundry cause you aint geting in anyway. And across the bay Chez Panisse aint bad.