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Visiting SF in July: Recommendations?

Woolsey May 23, 2009 12:36 AM

The San Francisco Chowhound board sent me in the right direction for my trip last November, so I'm canvassing here to see where we should eat on our next long weekend in San Francisco in late July. I was thankful to get confirmation on Tartine, SPQR, and Burma Superstar for my last trip; all of them were truly superb. Blue Bottle Coffee was fantastic, and the Ferry Building was a food lover's marvel. And I don't think I would never have found the Pork Store without Chowhound's help.

This time, I'm going with a friend who is a little, um... fancier. And the only place I'm looking to revisit is Bourbon & Branch. Of course, San Francisco had more awesome restaurants than we were able to cover in a long weekend, so I'm looking for some insight into more places. For evenings, I think we want something with great food but not terribly formal and fussy - no Gary Dankos or Michael Minas. One of the fun breakfast places would be great, too. It was great to go to Burma Superstar as Burmese food is woefully underrepresented in Los Angeles; We'd love to find another laid-back restaurant like that, too.

We'll be staying in SOMA, near the Museum of Modern Art. Any recommendations for bars and restaurants are welcome. Places we're considering include:

* ZUNI CAFÉ - I'm very curious about this place as it seems to be so divisive. People either seem to love it or hate it. Is this worth a meal?

* TADICH GRILL - I appreciate the old-school qualities of the oldest restaurant in the city, but I wonder if it might be a bit like L.A.'s Musso & Frank Grill, which is heavy on atmosphere but serves bland food that never progressed past the 1940s.

* A16 - We loved SPQR, so the chef's other restaurant is high on our list.

* DOSA - Indian food is not something in which L.A. excels. But again, there are many negative remarks on the web about this place, too.

* LA TAQUERIA - We'd love to get a superlative burrito in SF, but is La Taqueria's worth the trip, or is it all hype?

* DOTTIE'S TRUE BLUE CAFÉ - Is this a truly great breakfast? Or should we go to Mama's? Or Kate's Kitchen? Or would a more upscale breakfast at Canteen be best?

We'd also really like to try cuisines that are especially great in San Francisco. L.A. excels in Japanese, Thai, and Chinese (thanks to the San Gabriel Valley), but San Francisco has Burmese and Basque cuisine, as well as better Indian food. Recommendations for great bars are welcome, too. We passed the Alembic last time, and it looked like fun. The Tonga Room is also intriguing.

Thanks in advance! I look forward to your responses...

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  1. grayelf RE: Woolsey May 25, 2009 09:38 AM

    Hey Woolsey -- a couple of remarks from a non-SF 'Hound who wishes she lived there :-). I haven't eaten at Musso& Frank but I can tell you that Tadich has atmosphere to spare. As you will see if you read other reports on it here, it is known on this board for delivering on cioppino and simply prepared white fish (sand dabs and petrale, whichever is fresher) but people who care about food will tend to warn you away from most everything else. The sides tend to be cooked for too long for more modern tastes, though I quite enjoyed them for a nostalgic change from the usual al dente approach to veg. The sourdough bread is also quite edible here and I'm not normally a big s-dough fan -- I understand it is baked to their specifications by a well-known bakery. The other things to keep in mind about Tadich's are the potentially long lineups (though we got seated very quickly despite big crowds on a Thursday night on our last trip, I swear because we weren't rude like some of the other groups ahead of us!) and that this is not going to be a cheap meal. We had fun there (the wait staff are a caution) and would return without hesitation, though we have a lot of other new restaurants to try first.

    Dottie's is like Tadich's in that it tends to be a bit controversial as to whether the wait is worth the chow. We finally made it there on our last trip, having been put off several times before by the lineup. Though we waited less than 1/2 hour, I would not go back again unless I could walk straight in. Perhaps we ordered badly but the food did not impress in taste, quality, execution or cost. It certainly has lots of fans though and like most places you might like to go and see for yourself what the ruckus is about. For my time and money, I'd go to Canteen if you are in that neighbourhood on a weekend.

    Caveat: The comments above are based on single visits, except for Canteen which we have eaten both dinner and breakfast at several times in the last two years.

    We have now been to La Taqueria three times over several years, and we seem to find ourselves returning for the tacos dorados to this extremely controversial taco joint. It seems again like you might want to see for yourself, and it's really not that far from where you are staying. Why not go there for one taco and try a couple of other places nearby as well.

    Last note FWIW: if your friend is a "little fancier" (not sure exactly what that means), La Taqueria and Dottie's are not fancy at all -- the former especially. Even Canteen is not what I'd call fancy, at least in terms of the setting (the food preps esp at dinner might qualify). Even Tadich I would not call fancy despite the decor. Just sayin'....

    1. bbulkow RE: Woolsey May 25, 2009 10:14 AM

      Zuni - yes, worth a meal. Problem is their uneven food. It's never bad, but some dishes, some nights, don't live up to the hype. Huge plus is the oysters, and since you like mixed drinks I think they have the quinticential cosmo, due to their proximity to Castro street. Best way to think about Zuni is it's a neighborhood joint that's destination-worthy - it's not world-class in the way the higher-scale tasting menu places are. Others in the same general category: Boulevard and Foreign Cinema and perhaps someone will chime in with others (boulevard is far fancier and more consistant, FC is maybe a half knotch less good).

      Tadich is uniformly represented as atmospheric and get the sand dabs and cioppino and don't expect surprises. Your choice as to whether you want to spend a meal that way.

      A16 - why not try another chef's take on the same concept? Delfina.

      Dosa - likely fits your profile. The other good indian is the newer Amber outpost. Other option is going "relaxed" with Shalimar in the Tandoorloin - probably too crusty for your "fancy friend". Although the tandoorloin is a hop-skip from bourbon and branch. The other good indian is outside city limits. Restaurants of this category (like Slanted Door) get negative reviews from Indian purists who want a down home meal or are outraged at the prices.

      There are a lot of newer restaurants (like, say Canteen for food, Gitane for drinks) that didn't make your list, so I'd suggest a few hours of reading the back posts here. I suspect you're spending more time on some alternate, less reliable food sites.

      1. s
        sfbing RE: Woolsey May 25, 2009 10:32 AM

        I would go to Canteen for dinner. Chef Leary is behind the counter at dinner, but usually working at Sentinel making sandwiches during the day.

        If you are not familiar with South Indian and your friend wants something more upscale in the city, Dosa is a good bet. Udupi Palace is more authentic and cheaper, but not as swank.

        Sultan is a good place for North Indian.

        Delfina is a safe choice for Cal Italian and the street it is on is loaded with other great places to eat. If you are more adventurous, Incanto is not something you'll find in LA.

        1. BernalKC RE: Woolsey May 25, 2009 11:00 AM

          La Taqueria is one of my favorite lunches in my neighborhood. I've been going there for years. But you'll notice it is not called La Burritoria. If you're intent on a burrito, look elsewhere. No rice at this restaurant (except in the horchata?) and for me no rice = no burrito. But go for the tacos. Not cheap, but oh so good. La Corneta, about 2 blocks away, is probably a better bet for burritos. Or you can research burritos here on this board and come up with endless, polarized opinions and ideas.

          Zuni is a big yes. I did not know there was any controversy about that. Must be some clueless yelpers?

          Likewise for Dosa. Can't imagine anyone not loving it. There are two locations. The new one on Filmore is more spacious and beautiful. The original location on Valencia is more intimate. Know that it is S.Indian featuring dosa, uttapan, chole... the curries play 2nd fiddle. If you crave more traditional (for the US at least) Indian curry, I hear from an Indian coworker that Amber is a cut above (and pricier), but I haven't been there yet.

          1 Reply
          1. re: BernalKC
            susancinsf RE: BernalKC May 25, 2009 05:37 PM

            Zuni has indeed generated mixed reviews on this board, and certainly not just from clueless whoevers. Indeed, some of most active hounds had a Chowdown lunch there a few years ago, and many of them came away less than impressed. Tried to find the link but couldn't, perhaps Ruth Lafler could (if memory serves she was one of the group that weren't enthusiastic). Moreover, even though I like Zuni myself, I can see where some folks wouldn't , as it can have a bit of attitude sometimes and some dishes miss the mark. Besides, you can find similar in LA, IMO.

            Dosa has also generated mixed reviews, and as I said in another post, it wouldn't be high on my list coming from LA. That said, for OP: if you do go, try the Filmore location. I haven't been to Filmore, but as for Valencia, well, one person's 'intimate' is another person's 'cramped and noisy'...

            -----
            Zuni Cafe
            1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

            Dosa
            995 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

            Dosa on Fillmore
            1700 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94115

          2. Carrie 218 RE: Woolsey May 25, 2009 02:54 PM

            Actually, the Indian food on Pioneer in Artesia or in Northridge is way better than what you will find up here. I lived in L.A. for 18 years and always hit the Indian restaurants in SoCal when I return. Also, I see no reason to go to La Taqueria as you have way better Mexican in SoCal as well.

            My recommendation would be Aziza -- there is nothing like it anywhere else; upscale Moroccan that is NOTHING like the Marrakesh chain you might be thinking of.

            6 Replies
            1. re: Carrie 218
              susancinsf RE: Carrie 218 May 25, 2009 05:20 PM

              completely agree on all points. moreover, Dosa wouldn't even be in my top SF choices for Indian food. But unless you want to travel to the South Bay wait till you get home and go to Artesia (after searching the LA Board)

              I agree with the poster who said that whether to go to Zuni might depend on what you order. The espresso granita is pretty great (and I like the oysters and the famous roast chicken and the caesar salad also). I prefer Zuni at lunch. For a memorable dinner, however, I'd much rather dine at Aziza. (though I'd call it more Cal-Moroccan than upscale Moroccan) Piperade for Basque is also worth a try. The other restaurant that you won't find in LA that would be at the top of my list for a weekend trip would be La Ciccia (Sardinian).

              BTW, neither Zuni, La Ciccia nor Aziza are fancy. Piperade always seems a bit more formal than the other three to me, but only a bit more, and I suspect that is just the close-to-the financial district location leading to more folks dressed up somewhat than at the other three...You can wear jeans at any of these places and wouldn't feel at all out of place.

              -----
              Aziza
              5800 Geary Blvd., San Francisco, CA 94121

              Zuni Cafe
              1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

              La Ciccia
              291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

              1. re: susancinsf
                susancinsf RE: susancinsf May 25, 2009 05:24 PM

                adding a Piperade link..

                -----
                Piperade
                1015 Battery St., San Francisco, CA 94111

              2. re: Carrie 218
                PolarBear RE: Carrie 218 May 25, 2009 05:39 PM

                >>> Indian food is not something in which L.A. excels <<<

                Was going to echo the same, OP must be going to the wrong places, or else a fan of just N. India cuisine. Found the best southern Indian dishes in the southland, still waiting for a report of similar quality in the bay area.

                1. re: PolarBear
                  Melanie Wong RE: PolarBear May 26, 2009 12:32 AM

                  Interesting, as some SoCal hounds have proclaimed Tirupathi Bhimas the best (or one of the best) down there, and it's a branch of TB in Milpitas. Several years ago Dasaprakash, considered tops at that time by Jonathan Gold, abandoned Santa Monica to move to Santa Clara to serve the many S Indian engineers and their families up here. Maybe the OP doesn't consider the City of Artesia to be LA, just as some posters on this board forget about the breadth of territory covered here.
                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/74385
                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/492929

                  The OP asked for SF specifically, so I think it's fair to say that Indian is not a strong suit of the City. But don't discount what our South Bay offers.

                  1. re: PolarBear
                    Woolsey RE: PolarBear May 26, 2009 09:27 AM

                    I guess I should rephrase that: L.A. proper doesn't excel in Indian food. Sure, there's Little India in Artesia, but that's a bit of a schlep. Paru's has pretty good, but pretty much any other place I've visited that's not in the SGV is little more than okay.

                    1. re: Woolsey
                      c
                      ceekskat RE: Woolsey May 26, 2009 09:43 AM

                      DOSA is one of the few S.Indian restaurants that offers both veg. & non veg. food not to mention cocktails :) If you just care about the food, perhaps try Udupi (veg).

                      For N.Indian fare, there are pared down places such as Lahore Karahi & Shalimar. For upscale, try Amber India (lavish $20 lunch buffet).

                2. Woolsey RE: Woolsey May 26, 2009 11:10 AM

                  The Fillmore Dosa is pretty much a lock. It seems good for my friends, who aren't hardcore ethnic eaters but who like the exotic and who enjoy going someplace that looks nice but want to be more casual and not pay and arm and a leg.

                  I've been thinking about Larkin Express, too. If we're around the Tenderloin, that seems like a good lunch stop. Out the Door in the Westfield mall is walking distance, so that may be a stop, too. Or Sentinel, which is just a few steps away from us.

                  Two other places I'm curious about are Maverick and Suppenküche. I'm thinking of Suppenüche for Sunday brunch; any opinions on this place? And is Mavierick worth a trip? It's a little more than I like to spend on Southern food, but it at least seems to have more personality than Spork, Range, or Bar Tartine.

                  There really are too many options! How's the Tonga Room, too? Worth a visit?

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Woolsey
                    s
                    sfbing RE: Woolsey May 26, 2009 11:52 AM

                    That is exactly the eater profile for Dosa. I find it is a good place to take someone who are more comfortable with their ethnic food in a nice environment.

                    I like brunch at Maverick, but have been pretty underwhelmed by dinner the three times I've been. The food is ok, but feels a little expensive for what you get. The food at Range is much better, although it is kind of full of well dressed people slumming it in the mission in a modern space.

                    1. re: sfbing
                      JasmineG RE: sfbing May 26, 2009 12:10 PM

                      Yeah, I was underwhelmed by my dinner at Maverick too. If you want that kind of food, go to Oakland to Pican.

                      1. re: JasmineG
                        Woolsey RE: JasmineG May 26, 2009 12:18 PM

                        Thanks for the Maverick feedback. It's off the list.

                        Our hotel is really close to Gitane and 54 Mint; I'm going to do some more research on those, too.

                        1. re: Woolsey
                          pamf RE: Woolsey May 29, 2009 11:47 AM

                          There is a thread on Gitane somewhere. It's tiny so perhaps not the easiest for a group dinner. But do try to stop in for a cocktail, their bar is great.

                    2. re: Woolsey
                      tvham RE: Woolsey May 30, 2009 12:53 PM

                      I've really enjoyed my two meals at DOSA on Fillmore but the two areas where I think they miss are with the wine pairings and dessert. Cocktails are fantastic, though.

                      1. re: tvham
                        Carrie 218 RE: tvham May 30, 2009 02:41 PM

                        Totally concur, TVHam. Besides Aziza, Dosa is one of the few restaurants that I never both order wine. Mostly because the cocktails are so much better. But you'd think that Dosa would be able to hit the ball out of the park on the desserts front...

                    3. Woolsey RE: Woolsey May 29, 2009 10:52 AM

                      Lunches are still pretty much undecided - whether we eat at Larkin Express, Out the Door, 54 Mint, etc. may largely depend on what we're doing and where in town we're at - but I think I have the dinners settled.

                      I think I've got our dinners settled, though. For Saturday, I'm thinking Dosa on Fillmore will fit the bill, and Incanto's Cucina Povera deal sounds good for Sunday night. We're trying to be reasonable with spending, and the prix fixe offerings seem a good deal. If either one of those doesn't work out for some reason, I'm keeping Laïola as my backup.

                      Now I've got to work on finding the right brunch for Sunday...

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Woolsey
                        Carrie 218 RE: Woolsey May 29, 2009 07:37 PM

                        Sunday brunch:

                        Canteen
                        Foreign Cinema
                        SPQR

                        1. re: Woolsey
                          l
                          LmCinSF RE: Woolsey May 31, 2009 10:33 AM

                          Woolsey - I don't think you will be disappointed by Incanto. It's been a hit every time I've gone.

                          If you want very casual Indian, try Kasa on 18th St at Noe St - limited menu (kati rolls and thalis) but very fresh, flavorful and authentic.

                        2. j
                          jabeka RE: Woolsey May 30, 2009 12:32 PM

                          Incredible Sardinian restaurant on 30th. Reservations a must. Unique, memorable food, excellent wine list and professional staff.
                          http://www.laciccia.com/
                          Afghan food at it's best with the charm of Helmand Palace on Van Ness is a great choice, too!

                          1. m
                            ML8000 RE: Woolsey May 30, 2009 01:58 PM

                            I wouldn't bother with La Taqueria. It's solid and uses quality ingredients but I'm sure you can find something similar in LA.

                            The Tonga Room is worth it for a drink and the atmosphere...never heard anything about the food ever. It might be closing, so it's worth a curio trip.

                            For Basque tapas, might also try Bocadillos, no reservations, sister rest. to Piperade.

                            -----
                            Bocadillos
                            710 Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                            1. t
                              t.susannah.chen RE: Woolsey May 30, 2009 10:50 PM

                              A16, Zuni only ones worth it. Everywhere else = overrated.
                              A16 -- get the maccaronara pasta, margherita pizza, burrata appetizer, beans on the side. Sommelier is also really knowledgeable.
                              Zuni, go for the bloody mary and the "dry-brined" roasted chicken and warm bread salad. both are killer.

                              1. Woolsey RE: Woolsey Jun 10, 2009 02:33 PM

                                Okay, I think I've got a good sense of where we'll be going next month. I wanted to get good variety and unique places, while also trying to find reasonable prices. Here's what our food itinerary looks like right now:

                                SATURDAY:
                                Lunch - Café Bastille
                                Dinner - Dosa

                                SUNDAY:
                                Brunch - Brenda's
                                Dinner - Incanto

                                MONDAY:
                                Breakfast - Tartine Bakery
                                Lunch - possibly Zuni Café, 54 Mint, or Out the Door

                                We're going to try to hit Bourbon & Branch and the Tonga Room, too. The prix fixe options at both Dosa and Incanto - the Cucina Povera menu - seem really appealing. One friend's a big francophile, and Belden Place is close to our hotel. I have some back-up places for dinner - Laïola and A16. We may do brunch at Suppenküche if the day brings us to Hayes Valley. My friend is happy the Blue Bottle Coffee café is just two blocks from our hotel. (And so am I!)

                                I'm saving Larkin Express and a hunt for a really great burrito when my dive-oriented friend (the one who loved the Pork Store) is with me.

                                Any comments for tweaks or better substitutions are welcome! So are notes about really good food places that might fit in between - good ice cream (in addition to Bi-Rite and Mitchell's), good coffee, good chocolate, whatever. Oh, and good drinking.

                                Thanks for your help, guys!

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: Woolsey
                                  m
                                  ML8000 RE: Woolsey Jun 10, 2009 10:07 PM

                                  When you get to burritos on the next trip, here's some info:

                                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/422377
                                  http://www.burritoeater.com/restauran...

                                  1. re: Woolsey
                                    JasmineG RE: Woolsey Jun 10, 2009 10:35 PM

                                    On Saturday, definitely stop by the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market in the morning -- lots of great things to taste, great stands for food, and July is the height of stone fruit season, so you can get nectarines for snacking. I loved Brendas, and the brunch is great, but know that it's not in the best part of town (you mentioned that this friend is a bit fancy, so that's why I warn you), and it's a tiny little place, so your friend might be a little put off if she's fussy. It's not dangerous around there during the day, just sketchy.

                                    I'd definitely pick Zuni of the choices for Monday lunch...except that Zuni is closed on Mondays, so you might want to juggle things a bit and go there for Saturday late lunch instead. I like Out the Door a lot, but it does not compare to Zuni.

                                    Ice cream: Humphrey Slocombe in the Mission is a good place to try, I haven't been yet, but it's gotten great reports, and I'm dying to go.

                                    1. re: JasmineG
                                      Woolsey RE: JasmineG Jun 11, 2009 08:51 AM

                                      Well, that sorts Zuni for us. Next time! Both Out the Door and 54 Mint are really close to our hotel, so they probably make better choices for us on the day we're leaving. I think the location of Brenda's is fine as long as it's not a terribly divey place inside (e.g., the Pork Store).

                                      I'm definitely going to the Ferry Building - I have stuff to get from Boccalone, after all - but I'm not sure we'll get there in time for the Farmer's Market. (We were there on a Saturday last year, but the market got rained out.)

                                      And I'm definitely putting Humphry Slocombe on the agenda; I hope it's warm to give us frequent excuses to get ice cream that weekend! Thanks for the tip on that!

                                  2. f
                                    fcubano RE: Woolsey Jun 10, 2009 07:25 PM

                                    For Indian food the East Bay and the South Bay offer better choices than SF. The same goes for taquerias. The East Bay, specially International Blvd and the fruitvale district has many excellent taquerias. As for Farmers Market, the San Rafael Sunday market has better variety than the yuppified Ferry Building.

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