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Trip to San Francisco from DC

I'm a DC hound who will be in San Francisco for 5 nights in early May and was hoping to get your help for some recommendations for dinner. We like restaurants relying on fresh ingredients prepared in unique ways. One night we'll do a splurge restaurant - what is the best restaurant in the area keeping it to around $100 per person. (If anyone here is from DC, something Obelisk-style would be great). Other nights we'd like to keep it to $50 per person and under. We like all kinds of cuisine, especially innovative. An American, French, and Italian restaurant would be great. Also, places to get the best ethnic cuisine in the area - we're open to all kinds.

I've searched the boards already and Gary Danko, Aqua, Aziza, fleur de lys, and Coi all looked good. Any recommendations on which ones to choose?

Also, the menu at Redd looked very good and the fact that it was on a vineyard sounded good because we were planning to visit one anyway. Any thoughts?

Lastly, are there are any good sandwich shops making their own bread to grab a quick lunch or bread&cheese during the day?

Thanks so much for the help!

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  1. Where will you be staying and where will you be when you are grabbing your quick lunch?

    2 Replies
    1. re: wolfe

      Staying in Union Square, but will be going all over the city to site see and such, so location isn't particularly an issue. Lunches will be during the week probably around 2pm or so.

      1. re: dcfoodie13

        I'd make lunch at Boulevard a must and would strongly consider Gary Danko for a dinner - both are excellent. Aqua's food was spectacular - the best seafood I've had outside of the remarkable Providence in LA, but the servers and room were so.....rigid.....that it kind of made the experience less "fun" than the more lively Danko and Boulevard (seriously - the bread, the chicken, and anything made with eggs or Chocolate....wow)

        If you're making your way North to Redd, try Bouchon for lunch (and if you've been, offer comparison to Central Michel Richard)

    2. Aziza is a good choice, and you can definitely make it out of there for $50 a person, depending on how much you order (and how much you drink). Bar Tartine, a place not on your list, is one of the first places that I think of when I read "fresh ingredients prepared in unique ways" -- the food is delicious and the ingredients are great. Canteen is also a good idea for one of the midpriced meals.

      Some visitors have recently loved Gary Danko, you can do a search and read some of the more recent posts about it. Aqua is pretty boring, in my opinion, and not really like Obelisk; you might like Perbecco, which is right next door.

      You should definitely stop by Acme in the Ferry Building -- they make excellent bread, and have sandwiches at lunchtime (they go fast). You could also get bread from Acme, cheese from Cowgirl Creamery cheese shop, and meats from Boccolone (all in the Ferry Building) for a great lunch.

      1 Reply
      1. re: JasmineG

        Second for Aziza... It is more California-fied and delicios than Lebanese Taverna (which I loved when I was in DC 6+ years ago). The flavors are fantastic as are the cocktails. The outlying neighborhood is also fun for a walk around while the businesses are open. Many ethnicities that don't have much presence in DC (or didn't when I lived there).


      2. Coi is a little out of your splurge range at $120 for the tasting menu, but I highly recommend it. It totally fits your description of "fresh ingredients prepared in unique ways." Right now, Daniel Patterson is doing a lot with spring: asparagus, spring lamb, rhubarb, favas. Persevere and check out the menu on the mildly annoying website (you have to click on dining room to see the menu).

        I second the Aziza rec--also unlikely to be found elsewhere. He was recently on Iron Chef, if you want to get a good feel for his style of cooking.

        Delfina and Incanto in the Mission do local ingredients in Cal-Italian style. Incanto is known for offal--but there are plenty of other tasty dishes there. Recently, I took my young cousin to Delfina as a present for her high school graduation. She insisted on ordering what appeared to be the most boring dish ever, roast chicken with olive oil mashed potatoes, which was shockingly good. People here also say a lot of good things about La Ciccia for Sardinian.

        For American, please consider Zuni which also does an awesome (and very famous) roast chicken.

        Tartine Bakery is a zoo, but makes their own bread and very cheesy sandwiches. Sentinel is a good place for sandwiches downtown. And there are a bunch of Boulangeries scattered all over the city which are good for salad/sandwich plates. I like the space and service at Boulange de Cole Valley.

        2 Replies
        1. re: sfbing

          I really wish Zuni could somehow do the chicken for one. It is the only thing preventing me from making the reservation for my upcoming trip.

          1. re: uhockey

            I once saw a woman eating alone order the chicken; she ate part and took the rest when she left. If you have a fridge in your hotel rm, I bet it'd make a good picnic lunch the following day.

        2. dcfoodie, I assume your price ranges are for food without tax, tip or drinks?

          I moved to SF from DC and know the city (and Obelisk!) quite well.

          For your splurge restaurant, I think you would really enjoy Coi -- it is the most expensive restaurant in the city, however.

          I'm not as big a fan of Aziza as many are. I like it, but I don't love it.

          For *awesome* food that is a steal, I love Fringale (french bistro / basque). For younger (18-45) crowds in "cooler" environements, I love NOPA (modern CA), A16 (southern Italian), Laiola (modern Spanish), Delfina (northern Italian),

          In between the "splurge" and the "normal" restaurants in price are Boulevard (modern CA / French) and Ame (French / Italian / Japanese fusion) which are both terrific.

          Making thier own bread, I don't know. But my favorite sandiwches are at Blue Barn Gourmet in the Marina.

          My favorite ethnic cuisine is at Helmand Palace in Russian Hill -- Afghani. Also, I love Troya (Turkish) in the Richmond.

          5 Replies
          1. re: whiner

            Actually, I think Aqua is the most expensive restaurant in the city. Followed by the Dining Room. Although, really, all the "Tasting Menu" restaurants tend to be bunched together in the same price point. The link below has a long discussion of these types of restaurants for the Bay Area which you might find helpful. In particular, someone thoughtfully lists all of them with prices for tasting menus.


            1. re: sfbing

              Actually, the tasting at Michael Mina tops all the others in price. :-)

              $135 for tasting at Mina. $120-130 at Aqua. Dining Room is $125 for the 9 course. Coi is $120.

              Of course this is ballpark - add some truffles or caviar here and there and I'm sure you can top TFL.

              Having been to TFL and many others (though certainly not a comprehensive list) I can definitely say that Gary Danko is the best "Bang for the Buck" quality/quantity for the price that I've ever experienced outside Providence - LA and Charlie Trotters - Chicago. TFL is a "better" experience, but you pay for what you get.

              1. re: uhockey

                I'm too lazy to look this up, but I seem to remember Aqua having a pretty brief (7 course?) tasting menu. And they were pretty uptight, so it probably made the bill even more painful.

                Of the ones in SF, Coi is the most unique right now. If the OP was looking for a more typical tasting menu experience with truffles, caviar, foie, etc, then Danko is probably the best deal.

                1. re: sfbing

                  I do agree - but coming from DC, the land of Jose Andres........well, let's just say that Patterson isn't re-inventing the wheel compared to something the OP could get in DC - not that Danko is, either, but I'd say it is more a "San Francisco Establishment"

                2. re: uhockey

                  "Actually, the tasting at Michael Mina tops all the others in price. :-)"

                  No. In the city, Masa's is more expensive.

            2. Most of these "high end" restaurant folks are talking about here will be well above $100/person (particuarly once you add beverages, tax, tip). If you are willing to up the limit a bit I would highly recommend Coi, particuarly since you wanted a fairly different food experience. Very ingredient driven. Redd is quite a ways away (in Yountville just down the street from The French Laundry) and that I can recall is not surrounded by a vineyard. There are vineyards nearby though.

              What do other Chowhounds think of Chapeau? I haven't been in awhile but it used to be a great neighborhood restaurant I haven't heard much about.

              Just went to Perbacco last night and had a very nice meal. Portions are fairly large and the pricing isn't all that high. We got out for $143 for two of us including drinks, tax and a good tip.

              1. If you like Hank's Oysters Bar in DC, you might want to check out the Hog Island Oyster Company in the Ferry Building near the Embarcadero for lunch.

                1. Thanks so much to everyone so far for the recs! I feel like we have so many great places to choose from and need to stay longer!

                  I really like the look of the menu at Perbacco in that it has a fairly large selection of interesting appetizers and small plates so we can do a quasi-tasting menu with a selection of them on one of the cheaper nights. Any other great restaurants that would offer that same possibility?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: dcfoodie13

                    SPQR, Laiola, A16 have small plates.

                    However, most restaurants here can serve family-style. I've done that at Delfina, Range, Quince, Incanto, Maverick, Ame....

                    1. re: sfbing

                      A16 doesn't do too much in the way of small plates...

                      But I have to agree on Laiola. That ould be my choice. For the past year it has basically been my favorite moderately-priced-but-nice restaurant in the Bay Area. This is a sample menu: http://www.laiola.com/menu_dinner.html ... If you go and they have the bacon and chorizo dates on the menu, you have to get those... AMAZING!

                  2. I'm pretty sure they don't make their own bread, but Molinari's Deli is worth going to for their sandwiches. It's an authentic Italian deli from 1896, so get your sandwich and eat while you walk around North Beach (no tables).

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: katya

                      From Molinari's to Washington Square Park is about 3 blocks, chock full of Italian restaurants, bakeries, coffee houses. Straight shot on Columbus.

                    2. A fellow DC-er who just got back from a trip to San Fran. I suggest Bar Tartine for a nice dinner. It is not the splurge experience that Coi would be but it is more laid back and the food is delicious with a real focus on local and seasonal. Bread is from their bakery (Tartine bakery), much of the menu items are sourced, etc. Nice casual vibe.

                      1. Thanks very much to everyone! As of right now I'm leaning on definitely Perbacco, NOPA, and Aziza. The other ones I'm still deciding on right now are: Zuni, Bar Tartine, Laiola, and Fringale. Any lasts thoughts of picking one over the other?

                        Also, how is the four course tasting menu at Quince? It was mentioned in a list and for four courses for $68 looked like a pretty good deal.

                        I would still love to do Coi but the menu looked lacking in meat based courses (which is definitely fine by me) but combining that with the price makes it more difficult for me to persuade others...

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: dcfoodie13

                          I had a very disappointing meal at Fringale a few months back; also, they had a chef change recently, so you can't trust reviews from last year.

                          Surprisingly, no one has mentioned Dosa (either location). If you like Indian food, their unique California - Indian fusion food is a must try.

                          I've also had some great meals at Cortez which is right by Union Square.

                          1. re: dcfoodie13

                            I've only tried Bar Tartine and Aziza but between the two I'd go with the latter: somewhat unique Cal-Moroccan food which is meticulously prepared and very tasty, topnotch service, unusual but delicious cocktails (go for the ones with vegetable in them, you'll know what I mean when you read the options) and a lovely ambiance. Not to diss BT but Aziza feels more special to me... worth the extra schlep.

                            1. re: dcfoodie13

                              I had an excellent meal at Fringale a few months ago; didn't know about the chef change, though... It was in January that I ate there, so... That said, again, I *love* Liola and stongly reccomend it. I don't know what your ages or sensibilities are -- if you are over 45, you will be amongst the oldest people there. The restaurant is extremely casual in the sense that the servers wear t-shirts and jeans and treat customers as their friends... but there is also a "going out" vibe to the place. I'm in my late twenties, so I LOVE it and I genuinely think the food is amongst the best in the city, but I don't want to send people in their 60's there without knowing what to expect.

                              Zuni I would skip. It isa standard bearer... but if you are already going to NOPA I would say the food at Zuni is very similar but not as good. I think you are making an excellent choice with NOPA. I would caution that it is very loud (again, I don't know your ages or sensibilities) but that upstairs can be a bit quieter so you might ask to be seated there.

                              I also like your selection of Perbacco. The chef there is excellent and the charcuterie are remarkable. The one with fennel might be the best salumi I've had outside of Italy!

                              I think people on this board like Aziza so much because it is different... which may be in-and-of-itself a reason to go. HOWEVER, I do not think the quality is up to Perbacco or NOPA or Laiola (or the last time I went to Fringale).

                              When I went to Quince they didn't have the 4 course... or maybe they did and I didn't order it, I don't know. However, in that general price range, I'd probably reccomed Boulevard or Ame instead. Firstly, if you are set on Perbacco, that would make 2 Italian meals. But secondly, I think those restaurants represent food you more cannot get in DC. Boulevard's food is somewhat similar to Palena's but it is lighter and focuses on super fresh ingredients. The fusion of Ame is just like nothing I ever experienced while in DC. Both are * Michelins (I don't know if Quince is) and for both the star is more than deserved.

                            2. If 'early may' is this weekend, scratch Zuni off your list


                              1. Thanks again for all the suggestions! I just wanted to report back on the trip.

                                The first night we went to Perbacco and had a great meal. The breadsticks and herb dip brought out at the beginning were very good. We then had appetizers of grilled squid and rabbit/truffle filled ravioli. Both were excellent! We opted for the full portion of the ravioli and were extremely glad we did! For the entrees we had a saffron risotto topped with sauteed veal and a braised veal shank. Both were good, but we were so impressed with the appetizers it was hard to meet that standard. If I ever have the opportunity to go back I will definitely try more of the pasta dishes.

                                The second night was my favorite in San Francisco - Lailoa. This Spanish style tapas place is a real gem - and definitely a steal for the price. The food was extremely flavorful, innovative, and fresh. We ordered the chick pea croquettes with olive aioli (the aioli was sooo good we tried it on many of the other dishes), fried brussel sprouts in a raisin vinagrette with bacon, spicy roasted cauliflower with chili oil, bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with chorizo, and pork meatballs with onions. All were excellent!! I would highly recommend this restaurant!

                                The third night we went to Bar Tartine and had another excellent meal. We started with gorgozola stuffed dates which were excellent! Not quite as good as those the night before at Lailoa but still delicious. Next, we had sea urchin on brioche with eggs and jalapeno which was okay, but nothing special. It was good but needed more flavor IMO. Next, we had squid sauteed in a ham broth which also included pea-soup filled balls that would burst in your mouth. Very unique and delicious! Next, we had braised goat. It reminded me a little of duck confit and was also excellent. At this point, having been too full for dessert the past few nights, we decided to move on and get a few desserts. We had an olive oil and butterscotch ice cream to start. We tried the olive oil ice cream just for something different and were surprised by how great it was and would definitely order it again! The butterscotch ice cream was good the first few bites but became a little too rich for me after a couple bites... Next, we had a chocolate cake and a lemon custard contained in a martini type class topped with a lemon granita. I don't like chocolate but my boyfriend said it was very good. I was so-so on the lemon dessert - the granita was way too tart and really took away from the great flavor of the custard.

                                The next night we went to Aziza. Overall I was pretty disappointed in the restaurant, especially since the meal started out very good and definitely had the potential to be great. We started with the roasted pita bread with three dips which were excellent! Then, we had two appetizers: mussels with orange and saffron and beef meatballs with grapes. The broth on the mussels was very flavorful, but the mussels themselves were not good at all. They were incredibly fishy and kind of gritty to the point that I didn't want to eat them. The meatballs were fine, but were very small and the jicama salad that came with the dish was pretty bland. Next, we decided to split an entree of the braised rabbit. It was okay. The sauce with the rabbit was alright, but definitely nothing I'd order again. We also had a side of couscous, which again, was okay but nothing special. At this point we decided to move onto dessert and ordered the banana pastry. It was a banana custard between crisp sheets of caramelized pastry with caramelized bananas. This was actually pretty good. Overall I wouldn't recommend the restaurant for anything other than going to the bar to sample a unique cocktail and order some grilled pita and dips to go along with it.

                                The last night was also a disappointment. We had tried earlier in the week to go to Nopa and tonight decided to walk in. There was an hour and 45 minute wait, which I didn't mind, but my boyfriend was very hungry and didn't want to wait that long. We had a drink at the bar and when he finished he said he was going to check out the restaurant next door and came back saying the menu looked good and we should try there... It was awful! The good was bland and didn't even taste fresh.

                                All in all though it was a great trip thanks to your recommendations. Thanks again!

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: dcfoodie13

                                  Thank you for the report. Glad you enjoyed so much, sorry for the misses. Of even more use to me would be the name of the "restaurant next door."

                                  1. re: wolfe

                                    It started with a Z... Zikaryt or something like that I think.

                                    1. re: dcfoodie13

                                      I found it on google maps street view: Ziryab.

                                  2. re: dcfoodie13

                                    Thanks for reporting back. Next time you are in the city, refer back to this report so we have a better idea of what you liked and didn't so you get better recs.

                                    I'd say you just had some off dishes at Aziza, but if you don't like the couscous there, then it is not a restaurant that would please you ... still no excuse for the fishy mussels. I would have sent them back.

                                    What did you have at Ziryab?

                                    5800 Geary Blvd., San Francisco, CA 94121

                                    230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                                    2031 Chestnut Street, San Francisco, CA 94123

                                    Bar Tartine
                                    561 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                    528 Divisadero Street, San Francisco, CA 94117

                                    1. re: rworange

                                      We had the hummus (no flavor at all - I think the kind you can buy in package at Safeway would have been better), lamb and beef kabobs with a pomegranate sauce (couldn't taste any pomegranate and were tough), and the chicken tagine with olives and preserved lemon (again, completely bland!). The only decent thing was the champagne cocktail with elderflower liquor... I tried 3 wines before that (just a small taste) and all tasted so acidic as if they had been opened many days ago...

                                      1. re: dcfoodie13

                                        I have to tell you that I am not surprised you didn't like Aziza. Sorry to get here late, unable to save you from a schlep for mediocre couscous. Generally speaking, I was disappointed in the middle-eastern food available here in SF after moving here from DC. Aziza is pretty good but I wouldn't be knocking down the door to go back. Pretty mediocre overall, IMHO. Anyway, just wanted you to know that I believe you--really.

                                        1. re: Sallie

                                          The couscous is made each day at Aziza and takes a few hours to prepared.

                                          1. re: rworange

                                            I had a disappointing time at Laiola. Service was friendly but terrible - the waitress always had a smile on her face but left us parched and drinkless for a good twenty minutes, had nothing to say about the wines, forgot part of our order, forgot to replace a dropped fork .... Some of the food was tasty: the lamb and chickpeas, and the pea shoot salad. The brussels sprouts were okay, not much different from what anyone could do at home on a weeknight; the date dish had a very sweet, not overly complex balsamic that made the whole thing too sweet for us. The chocolate dessert was not good, again, too sweet and no complexity. The bar area did look fun and lively though, and the barkeep seemed to enjoy engaging with the customers, so if anyone's mad keen to go I'd try sitting there, but I don't think it's worth going back. It is relatively inexpensive, though.