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May 11, 2009 01:25 PM

Manhattan Resident Looking for Lunch & Dinner Rec for San Fran

My husband and I will be in San Fran during Memorial Day weekend for a wedding and would like to get a lunch and dinner recommendation. We are both foodies who have spent time in San Fran in the past. A lot of people rave about the great cuisine in San Fran but we've never really had an amazing eating experience during our past visits to this city. Can you recommend a must try? We don't care as much about decor and would rather stay away from really stuffy & formal places (reminds us of work related meals). Cost is not an issue but we don't want to be taken advantaged of. We're just really focused on amazing food...where is the great CA cuisine that everyone raves about?

Also, my husband is watching his weight. He can cheat on this trip but unfortunately will put his foot down against tasting menus.

Thanks for your help!

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  1. Since there are so many different ways to answer your post, a little more info will help us help you.

    What kinds of cuisines do you like? What places did you try before that you thought weren't amazing? Also, you mention you are from Manhattan. Are you telling us that because you want something like a Manhattan restaurant, or because you want something you can't find there?

    8 Replies
    1. re: Shane Greenwood

      Sorry if I wasn't too clear....and thanks for your help. Here are some more details:

      I mention Manhattan since we have a lot of amazing food options and are very serious about food. We are not looking for a typical Manhattan restaurant...we just want great food in whatever decor. Totally casual, hole in the wall is fine or high end with top notch service is fine too as long as the food is great.

      We're open to any types of cuisines and are not picky eaters at all. Oh, we would love to get a recommendation for a great authentic Mexican restaurant/food stand since Manhattan does not have good Mexican food at all. We love foie gras, uni, sushi, other seafood, bone marrow etc. etc.....basically everything.

      It's been a while since we were in San Fran proper so my memory is a little rusty but we tried Acqua and Slanted Door (food at both were okay). We've been to Napa county a couple of times and have tried Cyrus (food was okay; service was obnoxiously over the top), Auberge du Soleil (very good food but not amazing), Tre Vigne Restaurant (very good food with great outdoor seating).

      Thanks again.

      1. re: tabby11

        hi tabby,
        i've never had a great meal in san francisco but i've had a lot of really good ones. bar crudo is informal, tasty and fun. maybe do a few searches and see if this place works for you. next door is tunnel top, a raucous cash bar perfect for after-dinner drinks.

        tadich always works as a lunch destination ( go late). yank sing, too. zuni cafe is our "goto" lunch place.

        enjoy your trip.

        1. re: steve h.

          crudo may still be on a hiatus depending on the visit. they're expanding into tunnel top.

          1. re: sugartoof

            No, it's the opposite -- Crudo has moved, and will open shortly at their new location on Divisadero. Tunnel Top is expanding into the old Bar Crudo space.

            1. re: JasmineG

              Oh my mistake. Thanks for clarifying!

              1. re: JasmineG

                655 Divisadero
                Phone: 415-409-0679
                - walking to Bay-to-Breakers on Sunday morning for the view from the Hayes Street Hill, we peered in the window at Bar Crudo's new location on Divisadero - still under construction — call to confirm that they are open on Friday as planned -

          2. re: tabby11

            I also don't like Aqua and truly dislike Slanted Door, so perhaps we have similar interests. Try Quince (only has a tasting menu, tho) or Coco500 (beef cheeks and flatbread are a must). Chez Panisse (the Cafe) is another all-time favorite, but that's in the East Bay. The best meal in SF I've ever had (food-wise) is La Folie (once again, that may be prix only, but I'm not sure).

            1. re: tabby11

              I think overall, Manhattan is the better city for restaurants, but the Bay Area is the better place to live if you love to cook. I think the Bay Area's real strengths are local bread, cheese, wine, and produce - if you're here on a Saturday and can get to the Farmer's Market, grab a loaf of Della Fattoria's levain, some cheese from Andante, Pug's Leap, and Cowgirl Creamery, some salumi from Boccalone, some fruit, and eat it while basking in the sun by the water.

              That said, there are definitely a number of restaurants worth your attention. I would do either Lers Ros Thai, Zuni Cafe, or Taqueria Cancun (for a burrito) for lunch, and either Coi or Canteen for dinner (Coi is tasting menu only, but the fare is actually very light). One Mexican place that gets great reviews is Poc-Chuc (I haven't been). My go-to rec for a long time for great Cal-Mediterranean has been Bar Tartine, although a recent negative review from a reliable friend worries me a bit - they do have some of the best bread in the city, though, and I haven't had a bad meal there yet.

              Definitely get ice cream at Bi-Rite and/or Humphrey Slocombe. NYC may be catching up in the gelato department, but it is distinctly lacking in great ice cream.

          3. The restaurant that seems most to impress all my manhattanite frieds has been 5/5 Aziza.
            It is Cal-Moroccan. Very local, market driven but with a clear view point that takes it away from all the other local, market driven food in SF. And I always feel the value for the money is very high.
            I love their mediteranean spreads (very different from what you imagine as spreads), the bastilla is wonderful (though similar to all bastillas) and anything I have ordered with lamb has been great. Other people love the skewers with beef and grapes, but I haven't yet tried them.
            Definitely have a cocktail - the harissa bloody mary is my favorite even for dinner time.

            5800 Geary Blvd., San Francisco, CA 94121

            1 Reply
            1. re: Meredith

              I was just about to suggest Aziza, more for the different take on food that might impress the OP.

              Other potentially good places that could provide some "wow" factor:

              A16 in the Marina district because they have creative Italian cuisine, although it might seem like a typical neighborhood restaurant in the Village to you.

              Spruce because the chef has really good reputation, but the decor might be considered stuffy.

            2. Great CA cuisine? Coi.

              I think the main dining room is pretty cozy, but if it is too stuffy for you, you can get the tasting menu in the lounge. As for your husband's health, Coi's tasting is very light--no huge hunks of foie, bone marrow, pork belly ad nauseum. Local ingredients, bright flavors, truly imaginative.

              1. California cuisine:

                Chez Panisse in Berkeley is the mother ship of California cuisine, opinions vary but you can go elsewhere, pay more and get less of an experience. If you're unsure, go upstairs on a weekend for lunch.

                Manresa in Los Gatos (1 hour away from SF), on the level of the French Laundry (Per Se) but very California...veggies from the garden, local ingredients, unmatched technique and creative edge. It would be a shame however to not do the tasting's not more food, just spread out.

                I'd say both are must try for different reason. CP for its history, Manresa for what it brings, won't find it anywhere else.

                Manresa Restaurant
                320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

                Chez Panisse
                1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

                12 Replies
                1. re: ML8000

                  Thanks everyone for your recommendations. I have made dinner reservations at Chez Panisse for Monday night at the cafe (the main restaurant was booked). We're staying at Cavallo Point for the weekend and I was wondering if we should have Saturday dinner at the restaurant at Cavallo, Coi, Manresa or Aziza. Any advice?

                  1. re: tabby11

                    The restaurant at Cavallo has gotten very mixed reviews -- mostly good on the food and awful/clueless on the service. For what it's worth, the chef got two Michelin stars at his previous gig, so it's not out of the question.

                    I think it really depends on what kind of experience you want for your weekend. Manresa is a bit of a trek from Sausalito; Aziza is pretty close, right over the bridge, but it's more of a neighborhood and won't give much of an "out on the town Saturday night" experience; Coi is a bit more "urban." I think you'll be happy with the food at all of them, so it really comes down to what you think you'll be in the mood for in terms of the total experience.

                    1. re: tabby11

                      Manresa is a long drive, 50 miles, at least an hour each way, more if there's traffic. Frankly I'd go somewhere in the City if you're just here for the weekend.

                      I agree that Aziza or Coi would be very, very nice. The experience will be just as nice, both places get very good reviews. You also save 3 hours that can be spend elsewhere.

                      For drinks or small plates before/after Chez Panisse, Cesar is basically next door to CP. Very Californian, gets busy and noisy.

                      1. re: tabby11

                        If you're interested in "only the best" it's a pretty short list, and you've got the high points, minus cavallo. Manressa is a really long drive - it's an hour, but it's a long hour at 85 mph on a rather beautiful freeway (I-280). Go read uhockey's recent reports - great writing, hitting the high points.

                        CP cafe will likely be a disappointment. It's casual, the food is good, the service is uneven (befitting the lower price) but the food is just not in the same category as the others - go for the history, and get a cocktail next door first, don't let your expectations ruin a good meal. It will be a good meal, it won't be the best of your life. Not even top 10. If you get to Cesar at about 4 you might be able to sit at their open window, which is fairly glorious that time of day.

                        Is beijing food strong in NYC yet? It's starting to come on here - there's been a few long-time favories, but a few new up-and-comers.

                        1. re: tabby11

                          You might check a week before you arrive to see if there's any cancellations at Chez Pannisse (or even check that day). After the menus for the week are posted, some people might cancel based on what's being served.

                          1. re: tabby11

                            I happen to love Murray Circle, but I will agree with the poster below (Ruth) that the food is wonderful as is the ambiance, but the service is frequently subpar - anything from great to clueless and anything in between.

                            If you are staying at the resort, it is a very nice option. The chef Joe Humphries is very talented and the menu is structured in an affordable way. The pea gazpacho is a standout. The room has a pressed tin ceiling and you can sit outside and have a glass of wine before or after your meal on the veranda. Cuisine is very california fresh. not fussy though.

                            1. re: Senor Popusa

                              I like Murray Circle too but I wouldn't pick it for dinner. However, do NOT miss the breakfast pastries in the morning. The croissants are especially wonderful.

                            2. re: tabby11

                              If you want to try light, imaginative California cuisine you need to go to Coi. It's not far from Cavello Point (15 minute drive).

                              1. re: tabby11

                                Out of that list, I would say Coi. It can be a little ridiculous with the foams on a spoon, and sensory cuisine but I can't think of anything like it in NY. (though if you have an aversion to molecular places like WD50, this not might be for you either). I've personally never understood why an East Coaster would be thrilled by Aziza. Neither is a bad choice but my suggestion, from reading your past experiences with past picks would be to skip the fine dining and focus more on mid-range casual or even cheap eats

                                1. re: sugartoof

                                  You know, aside from the very first dish with the perfume, I don't think Coi is really very molecular gastronomy at all. At least not to the extent of WD50, which was more like "let's do crazy things to the food because it is SOOO cool and to hell with how it actually tastes."

                                  Coi is more about simple cooking to bring out the essence of the local ingredients. To me, philosophically, it is much more similar to kaiseki than it is to molecular gastronomy.

                                    1. re: sfbing

                                      Oh I agree as well, it's not molecular but if one were to have an aversion to WD50 style deconstruction at all then Coi still might not be their choice. There are similarities.

                                      Simple cooking would suggest it's in line with NYC places like Craft or Blue Hill, which it's really not. This is a place that serves foams, gelatins, and emulsions, bone marrow jellies, edible flowers.

                              2. I always hear Manhattan is death when it comes to Mexican food, but actually my favorite Mexican place is in Manhattan! Zarela has simply the best fajitas I've ever had. I rarely (ha! RAREly) eat beef anymore but I make an exception there. The lunch fajita platter comes with all sorts of yummy sides. The Aztec Treasure Pie (sort of a chocolate pecan pie) can't be missed either.

                                In SF, go to The House for their sea bass (served with sesame noodles and garlic green beans). It's incredible.

                                The House
                                1230 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

                                953 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10022