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Sep 4, 2009 06:39 AM

Labor Day Weekend

We will be up for a few days this weekend staying on Union Square. We have reservations for Ideale (my wife loves a good carbonara) and I plan on walking over to Cafe Mason for breakfast early one morning (thanks to RW Orange for the Cafe Mason mention in a past SF thread).

We are looking for another fairly casual dinner place, and I wondered how Serpentine is for dinner? I noticed it was recommended for brunch. The menu looks fine and the photos of the restaurant make it look inviting. We'll cab it for dinner so other recommendations don't necessarily have to be in close proximity to Union Square. Just not too expensive (something on the order of $35 pp for dinner without drinks, tax or tip).

Thanks in advance for any other suggestions.

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  1. $35 per person is exactly the price of the prix fixe at Chez Papa Resto. I wasn't blwon away by the food, but it is a good value (even better for lunch), and solid Provencal food.

    Another great one near union square is Gitane.

    4 Replies
    1. re: vulber

      The prix fixe at Chez Papa looks great and the price is right. This will be a Monday night dinner so, unfortunately Gitane is out since they are closed on Mondays.

      Thanks for the suggestions. I'll report back wherever it is we end up (I'll report back on all our meals of course).

      1. re: Servorg

        If it's nice enough, definitely sit outside to get the "casual" feel. Also should mention Amber India.

        1. re: Servorg

          i tried to make a reservation at chez papa for monday, but was told they were closed for labor day

          1. re: augustiner

            I found that out when they returned my call from Labor Day on Tuesday as we were getting set to fly home. I'll do my write up and post later today about Ideale, Cafe Mason and the Waterfront Restaurant.

            And thanks for trying to let me know, but I didn't even look at a computer all weekend.

      2. Sunday Night:

        We had a very nice dinner at Ideale. It is very much a SF / North Beach type of place. Good energy and, while the food isn't brilliant, it's certainly good and fairly priced. I started with their burata appetizer, which was a little drier than I normally like my burata. Nice greens and some green (and what I'm assuming were heirloom tomatoes) that were okay without being overly flavorful.

        The other 3 all had the Caesar salad with anchovies. Nice, pale green leaves left whole and the dressing had some aji (as my wife is fond of saying) which means "flavor" in Japanese. We also had a bottle of Italian Pinot Grigio from Italy which was recommended by our very Italian waiter (plus one glass of prosecco for $9 for my wife). For $24 the PG was an excellent choice and was consumed by 3 of us. I gotta say their wine prices seemed way more than fair in terms of price.

        We say in the first room in the window booth. Very comfortable and a nice vantage point to do people watching. Lots of folks wandering in over the 2 hours we were there.

        Mains where Cioppino for me, seafood risotto for my wife's girl friend, carbonara for my wife and tortalini for the boyfriend of my wife's girl friend. I would say that all the mains were fine without being an A. The seafood in my cioppino was not overcooked (nor in the risotto) which is a common problem with those dishes at many restaurants.

        I was a little disappointed that my cioppino had no fish and an over abundance of squid, and the clams were very gritty, (gritty clams and lots of squid in the risotto as well). The mussels were also very abundant and excellent (only one of them didn't open). Broth was good and got better with some red crushed pepper flakes added in. I wish they served it with some grilled bread, which is always a nice touch and appreciated. But all in all, I was happy.

        The seafood risotto (which I got to taste) was nice, although maybe a tad overcooked on the risotto. But again, the seafood was cooked beautifully so they get points for that.

        My wife said that her carbonara was not very hot when she got it. I told her to ask them to heat it up, but she wasn't keen on that so ate it and liked it. No peas, which she appreciates because she is a pea-a-phobe and said that the spaghetti pasta was cooked perfectly. I didn't get a taste of either her carb, or the tortellini so can't say anything about the taste.

        We split two desserts. The pana cotta with a bifurcated chocolate and strawberry sauce over the top, and the parfait like chocolate gelato and whipped cream (sort of like a zabaglione, but no espresso). They were both quite good and they were completely consumed by the four of us taking turns (or with dueling spoons competing for bites at times!).

        I would call the service good without being great. Nice people though. High energy, funny Italian waiter patter. Our main guy reminded me just a bit (looks wise) of Tony Bourdain.

        Out the door for $181, plus tip - which was very fair for what we had.

        Monday Morning:

        My wife and I walked over to Cafe Mason (on Mason just south of O'farrell on the east side of he street) for breakfast. Popular place, but nothing like the line up for Sears Fine Food (and which I find to be a misnomer). We waited about 10 minutes and got one of the booths along the windows that look out onto Mason.

        I had the Irish Benedict (corned beef hash) and fruit and my wife had the seafood crepes. Both were good. Liked out (French?) waitress who was efficient, calm and with a quietly intelligent approach that works well with me. Coffee was excellent, as it seemingly is in all restaurants in SF). I liked this place very much and will return. Thanks again to RW Orange who had talked about it in another thread that I searched out on the SF board.

        Out the door for around $34, plus tip (IIRC). Maybe a bit expensive for what it was, but I didn't feel at all ripped off.

        Monday Night:

        So, thinking we were going to go to Chez Papa I ended up scrambling (panicking?) when I realized that they weren't going to be returning my message as they were undoubtedly closed for Labor Day. At the last minute I decided to try the Waterfront Restaurant at Pier 7 on the Embarcadero.

        First the pluses. Nice room. We sat outside on the almost totally enclosed patio with a view of the bay. Very good service. Our waitress was charming and on top of things. The bar looked very inviting and I might go back some time just to sit and have a drink there.

        The minuses. Food was mediocre all the way around. Started with an order of pancetta wrapped shrimp. They were the highlight, (the pesto infused sauce was nice). Unfortunately too salty for my wife, (that's what's going to happen when you wrap something with pancetta) but I quite liked them.

        I had the Day Boat Scallops which were perfectly cooked, but the sauce was a bit ill conceived and they came with Lima Beans which are one of the few foods I don't really care for. My wife had the prix fixe. King salmon with a lobster sauce that seemed to have missed hitting the lobster on the way out of the kitchen and some fingerling potatoes that were pretty unexciting. Finally they gave her the dessert, a chocolate fodant which was dense, rich and I got most of it. They were even nice enough to send out a peach cobber to me, gratis. It wasn't very good, but the thought was appreciated.

        My wife had a bloodymary which she asked for "spicy" (the waitress asked her if she wanted spicy or not) and it was fairly spicy, but not overly so. I had a Long Island iced tea and ended up getting a free second one when the busser filled it up with regular iced tea when I wasn't looking. Our waitress was very gracious about it. I can't fault the restaurant one bit for their very good hospitality. I just wish the food was better.

        Stangely, they were completely out of lobster when it came to main courses (now, this was at 6:30 PM, so not exactly at the end of the night). Perhaps they couldn't get them trucked over from the East bay with the Bay Bridge being closed? Hard to say what happened but it seemed strange.

        Out the door for $130, plus tip and just not a good cost of value ratio by my way of thinking.

        Tuesday Lunch:

        I met my wife for lunch at Nieman Marcus on Union Square. Their Rotundra restaurant is quite beautiful and we both had their lobster club sandwich with "taro chips". This is a great place to do lunch, for the view, the food and the ambiance. Try it if you haven't. Fun in a "breakfast at Tiffany's" kind of way. Also the popovers they bring (and the tiny little cup of chicken soup broth) at the start is just so great with their strawberry butter. Fun lunch.

        Out the door for $67, plus tip.

        We both love SF and look forward to each and every trip here over the years. We will be back, hopefully sooner rather than later. (maybe on some weekend when the Bay Bridge is actually open even... lol).

        2 Replies
        1. re: Servorg

          >>> Sears Fine Food (and which I find to be a misnomer).

          Funny ... and sadly true. Thank you for reporting on Cafe Mason. It was on my list of places to try. I forgot where I originally stumbled across it, but the menu is extensive and it is open 24 hours.

          Also thanks for the update on The Waterfront Restaurant. I've had way too many mediocre business meals there over the years. Every now and then they rise above what they do. A few years back they had a great 3 course lunch prix fixe special. At the beginning of 2009 they were making noise about some great new chef they had and how they were revising the menu. I had them on my to-retry list.

          However, looking at the site during the summer, it seems that chef is no longer there and the updated menu is that horror of an average restaurant trying to imitate the better restaurants ...
          - House Made Laughing Bird Ravioli, Marscarpone & Lemon Zest
          - Bloomsdale Spinach Salad with Grilled Apples, Goat Cheese, White Balsamic Vinaigrette
          - Seared Main Scallops, Butter Beans, Pesto & Tomato Marmalade
          - Wood Oven Roasted Petrale Sole, Hazelnut-Parsley Picado

          All the foodie buzz words are there, but the execution is lacking. It points to what makes the great restaurants great. The fact they spell Maine incorrectly on their website indicates the care that would go into the cooking. This isn't a cute mom and pop, but an expensive seafood house. No excuse for that. It is also really cheesy that they are promoting lobster as their anniversary special and are out of it. Sounds like a real bait and switch.

          And, as some sort of cosmic joke, with all the great chefs in the Bay Area with the name Keller, The Waterfront's current chef's name is Kehler ... sort of like those Rolux watches one can buy on the street ... not quite the real thing.

          1315 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

          Waterfront Restaurant
          7 Pier, San Francisco, CA 94111

          Cafe Mason
          320 Mason St, San Francisco, CA 94102

          1. re: rworange

            All night places are like gold to me since I do my bicycling at very strange hours of the night (2 to 5 AM) and Cafe Mason would be a place I would frequent if it were in the West LA area. When I have eggs Benedict I first grade on how nicely the eggs are poached (soft yokes but the white needs to be completely cooked).

            The ones at CM came out perfectly cooked. Next the hollendaise has to not be overly lemony, with that nice bright rich taste that you find in good examples. Certainly CM delivered on that front as well.

            While the corned beef hash may not have been at the top of the best examples I've had before, they did get a nice crust on parts of it which also appeals to my taste buds.

            They also get points for the creative types of benedicts they offer. All in all it was a very nice find and will replace any visits I might have made to Lori's Diner or to Max's (used to go there all the time when it was Momma's way back when).

            So thanks for listing it in the post I saw, even though you hadn't been before. That just shows that the bias some hounds have about their belief that no one should ever mention/recommend places that one hasn't been to before would have worked to my detriment if you had abided by that old canard.

        2. Forgot the Neiman Marcus link

          The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus
          150 Stockton Street, San Francisco, CA 94108