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In SF for 4 days for work, but with wife and infant daughter: would love recommendations

I know it's CH anathema to post very general questions...but finding consensus with regards to san francisco dining seems impossible! So many apologies in advance, but would love local CHers assistance. Would be happy to return the favour for any visitors to Boston.

I'm going to a conference at the Moscone Centre next week: arriving Friday, leaving Tuesday. This will be my wife's first trip to san francisco, and my first since backpacking through there c. 17 years ago. I have fond, if naive memories of dining in san francisco: it was there at the age of 10 that I had my first proper chinese meal, as well as my first taste of scallops! Both experiences literally changed my culinary life -- encouraging me to try what at the time seemed exotic cuisines, and sparking the beginning of a lifelong love affair with sea-food.

Anyway, enough of the sentimentality. I've tried reading up a bit about eating options, but have no idea how to resolve very different opinions. Both my wife and I are reasonably adventurous eaters, and eat almost anything, but both of us are teetotal, so wine selections are irrelevant for us. This is our first trip with our nearly 3 month old daughter, but we've eaten out a fair few times with her here in Boston, and she seems reasonably comfortable with the idea: not sure what it will be like for several nights in a row though.

The only thing that seems a 'must-do' is lunch at the ferry terminal building. Otherwise, we would love several reasonably priced recommendations. We can also stretch to one truly blow-out meal -- although a 4 hour affair might not work with the little one. We often go for lunch at fine restaurants, since these seem to offer better value for money. It seems natural to go for Chinese in sf, Yank Sing seems to divide opinion. Lunch at Shanghai 1930 looks good value, but is it any good (e.g. compared with the dinner). I would rather we go to a few good quality, on the cheap side places, and have one or two truly memorable meals, then go middle of the road all the way. Also, for the 'fancy' options, something that we might not get elsewhere would be appreciated. E.g. I've been to a lot of fantastic french restaurants, and (no offence) it's unlikely that anything in sf is as good as the best in London or Paris.

Also, with the baby, not sure how easy it will be getting around the place. We've mostly avoided public transport even in Boston the last few months, but hiring a car is out of the question in sf.

So, I know that I've not been too specific, but any pointers would be most appreciated.

tb

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  1. For your Ferry Building lunch, save it for Saturday during the Farmer's Market. Lots of great stuff to choose from, and wonderful fruits and vegetables and other snacks around. Just try to bring your baby in a backpack or sling instead of a stroller, because it will be crowded! Lunch at Shanghai 1930 isn't worth it, I'd definitely lunch at Yank Sing instead; the food is much better, and they deal well with babies in the restaurant.

    Aziza is often the recommendation for something that you won't get elsewhere, but it's a long ride on public transportation up to Aziza, and may not be the best choice with the baby. I'd recommend somewhere that explores the bounty that we have this time of year in the Bay Area: Zuni, Canteen, and Nopa are examples, and I would normally recommend Bar Tartine, but I haven't seen any reports with their new chef, and haven't experienced it myself. Nopa might be the easiest with your baby, because it's noisy enough in there that if she cries, no one will care, but that will be a ride on a Muni bus for you, so that depends how comfortable you are with that.

    1. I would skip Yank Sing and Shanghai 1930. Instead, you can head into Chinatown for Shanghainese (Bund Shanghai) and dim sum (Dol Ho).

      I like Jasmine's suggestion of focusing on California Cuisine. After all, when you go other places, don't you eat the native cuisine? One suggestion that might sound out of left field would be take BART into Oakland (only about 15 minutes from Montgomery to 12th Street, Oakland) and check out Restaurant B's Sunday dinner, which at $20 is a screaming bargain. It's a set menu, but theypost it in advance (the menu for next Sunday is already up -- go to the menu page and click on the Sunday Supper image).
      http://www.boakland.com/
      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/647119

      1. SF is small, 7 miles by 7 mlles with most places probably a lot closer than that.

        Your wife might consider some of the museums at Golden Gate Park. Though I haven't been, there have been some good reports about Museum Cafe and the Cafeteria run by two of the better restauranteurs in the area, Loretta Keller of Coco500 and Charles Phan of Slanted Door.

        As people mentioned, Ferry Plaza on Saturday morning. As you said, there are lots of opinions about Yank Sing. I'm in the pro camp. The food is very good, the restaurant is pretty and the staff is gracious and helpful to all. The problem some people have is price. Expect to spend about $30 each and ask for a price list so you don't order one of the jaw-dropping expensive dishes.

        Canteen and Zuni (order the chicken) should top your list as they are near Union Square and excellent examples of California Cuisine.

        Public transporation in SF is good, but nowhere near as good as Boston. I lived 3 years in Boston without a car. I personally would not be able to do that here. I would not even consider going to Oakland with a baby. For the same money (not counting BART fees), there are restaurants of equal value and quality in the city.

        Town's End which is extremely child-friendly has a three-course meal for $22. It is not amazing food but it is near you, reliablle, organic and some of the items on the current menu .... where you can choose almost everything ... seem as good, if not better, than what B is offering.

        Another favorite of mine is 1550 Hyde. It is right on the cable car line, so very fun.

        I don't know, I'd pick Nopalito over Nopa if you are going to get that far away from Union Square. Same people and it is Mexican. As much as I recommend Aziza, not for you. Way too far and it doesn't strike me as baby friendly.

        There are lots of food vendors at the new Metreon "farmers market" which is right near the Moscone center.

        Another thought in Chinatown is Jai Yun (for lunch rather than dinner).

        All of the links to reports and more are in these lists
        http://www.chow.com/lists/1072

        What price range are you looking for? The bad economy is resulting in some good bargains so, especially with a baby where you might be eating earilier, there might be soe recs for deals that are available.

        2 Replies
        1. re: rworange

          Why not go to Oakland on BART with a baby? Something wrong with Oakland? With BART?

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            No. It is just a bit of a haul with a kid that young and not necessary given all the restaurant deals everywhere lately.

            I'd say the same thing with Fruitvale Mexican. While I prefer it and would recommend it over the Mission in a heartbeat to two adults, I just don't think there's enough of an advantage to drag people who are unfamiliar with the area after a long flight, a brand new mother and a baby that that is ALMOST 3 months old. On top of it they don't take public transporation in Boston which is a lot better than SF.

            In the Chronicle today ... I thought of this post ... they mention Cane Rosso is now holding Sunday suppers in the Ferry Building. Three courses served family style for $25 bucks ... plus a bay view. Last week there was farro salad, fresh cannellinin beans, Calabarian chil-glazed fresh ham, rosemary roasted potatoes, basil green beans and peach and almond cobbler.

            The reporter wrote "chatting with other diners we had never met before, it was a cozy experience, reminiscent of big family meals with rustic fare"

            For the OP, this restaurant is run by Daniel Patterson who also has COI, one of the top restaurants in the Bay Area. The website doesn't seem to mention the Sunday supper yet.
            http://canerossosf.com/

            Oh wait ... they posted it on Twitter ... tonight's supper
            http://twitter.com/canerossosf

            09/06 - Menu for Sunday supper- Fresh Cranberry bean salad, Maple/Mustard Glazed fresh ham, Polenta, Seared Yellow Beans, and Warm Chocolate Chipper

            Hey, since moving to the East Bay, I'm more partial to the food on this side of the bridge, but with a baby in tow ... it seems much to do the commute.

            Who was it that was having those special Monday night dinners? Quince?

        2. Here's a recent link that you might want to review. I second the suggestion for saving your Ferry Building lunch for Saturday. Also check out my suggestions for R&G Lounge in the link below. I know I sound like a broken record with my recommendations for R&G Lounge, but every visitor I've taken there have been blown away by R&G's S&P crab, because it's so different than anything they've had back home.

          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/647935

          1. Consider taking BART to Oakland Fruitvale district during the day -- I have found ethnic restaurants enjoy infants, and at 3 months, your daughter probably sleeps a lot. A search of this board should reveal cuisines you might not find in Boston.

            Just be sure you have a stroller because she'll get heavy during all your Bay Area walkabouts.

            1. Thanks for all the responses so far. In terms of recommendations to oakland etc: I'm not averse to taking public transportation -- heck, I didn't have a car when I first arrived in Boston -- but I was pointing out that since having the baby, we haven't used it, as a family at least. In addition, as rworange mentioned, unless the food is truly outstanding, I'd be less inclined for a long hike on public transportation. It's very easy to become super-fussy foodie wise on one's own home turf: e.g. avoiding certain places that are OK, because somewhere just around the corner is just a tad better, and that's the raison d'etre of CH. And if it was just my wife and I, we would probably go the extra mile (as it were). But given this is our first family trip, perhaps we'll play it a little safe.

              With regards to decisions so far: the yay sayers have won over the nay sayers on yank sing: given that it seems to be very busy on week-ends, should we go on the monday, or is that a bad idea, since food might be not as fresh on the trolleys? I've also heard great things about Maykadeh -- an Iranian restaurant. A good Iranian restaurant is sadly lacking on the whole of the east coast, so we'd be keen to try that, going by some of the reviews.

              Nopalita (or some other Mexican if there are contenders) looks like a great suggestion -- again, not much by way of great mexican food here, and would look like a great value option. I'm less keen on Zuni, since everyone raves about the roast chicken there. I'm generally loathe to order roast chicken, since even 'the best' ones (e.g. at Hammersley's bistro in Boston, for east coasters) don't seem to be as good as the one I do myself :)

              I'm still undecided on the 'fancy restaurant" option. In terms of budget: for the right meal, the budget is negotiable! However, I would consider $100/ head (for dinner) and $60/ head for lunch (no wine) as decent upper limits in the US. My wife and I had a sublime lunch at Jean Gorges in NYC for about $50 each, which was truly outstanding value. In England, you'd be looking at c. $70 for a comparable meal, e.g. at Le Gavroche or Alain Ducasse, although that would include tax. Dinner would be considerably more.

              Some rave about the dining room at the Ritz-Carlton -- it looks pretty good, but similar to many other places. In terms of dining time, we'd be happy to eat early for a great meal at extra value. E.g. the pre-theatre menu at Michael Mina looks interesting, and at a gret price of $55. Any other 'gourmet bargains' to be had, and especially recommended?

              Finally, I haven't actually booked any tables yet -- any that I should get onto right away?

              thanks again,

              tb

              13 Replies
              1. re: trueblu

                Regarding the splurge option:

                Without alcohol as you specify, I can't think of a single non-tasting-menu option in SF that will cost more than $100/pp. High-end entrees in this town are about $35, $15 app, $10 desert, $65 with tax, $80 with tip, and you're out with plenty of headroom. So for that night, you don't have to worry about budget - assuming you order at a normal clip.

                Re: Zuni, I've never gotten the chicken. I can't bring myself to order it, and the "for two" problem is insurmountable. It's still a pretty darned good place. If you like oysters (and are interested in comparing the best of our west coast vs your east coast varieties), Zuni might be worth a re-think. Or simply go to Salt House before dinner and sit at the bar - they have a very good looking oyster list - then dine elsewhere.

                Re: TDRATRC with a 3 month old: I have no idea if that's a good idea. Same thing with most normal high end options - I just don't know enough, so I'm shuttin' up. Hopefully someone who has done a bit of high-end dining with very young kids can say.

                1. re: trueblu

                  Yank Sing feels very different on weekends than on weekdays. On weekends, it's a brunch destination for families. On weekdays, it's mainly Financial District business lunches. You'd probably find a weekend more enjoyable. Just get a reservation so that you don't have to wait too long.

                  1. re: trueblu

                    Zuni is a great place to go, chicken or no (but I make a great roast chicken, and the chicken at Zuni is fantastic -- I can't get their quality chicken, or roast it in a wood fired oven).

                    I wouldn't pick the Ritz-Carlton or Michael Mina as your big splurge in San Francisco; nothing against their food, but neither of those restaurants say San Francisco to me in the way that Zuni or Boulevard, or Range or Delfina, do.

                    As for the Mexican, I'd head to Poc Chuc in the Mission; it's easy to get to on BART with a baby, and you're not likely to find that kind of cuisine in Boston.

                    Yes, I'd definitely book tables now; you can always change or cancel a reservation, but it can be hard to get a last minute reservation.

                    1. re: JasmineG

                      The only thing I would disagree about is suggesting Boulevard. I'd pick Zuni, chicken or not, a million times over Boulevard.

                      Seriously ... Michael Minna ... no. Why go to an upscale chain. If you were going to do something like that, though it is not my first choice of fine dining normally, I'd consider Gary Danko which might be the best level of high-end and baby-friendly.

                      My favorite restaurant is The Dining Room and it doesn say San Francisco to me as the Chef is very local-oriented and squeezes every last bit of taste out of the best of the best and does it creatively. Not as creatively as COI, but still good.

                      That being said, the reason for going to the Dining Room is for the Chef's tasting menu which is a 3-4 hour of investment of time. Due to the new baby, that seems to eliminate it.

                      I haven't been to COI yet so someone would have to answer how baby-friendly it is.

                      The restaurant I was thinking of that had the Monday night special was Incanto ... but that was just June and July. Still might be a place to consider
                      http://www.incanto.biz/quintoquarto.html

                      1. re: rworange

                        I don't think taking a baby to Coi would be a good idea. Typically, dinner lasts 3 hours and it is a very small quiet room.

                        1. re: rworange

                          I've always had good experiences at Boulevard, and it gets its fair share of raves and boos on this board (as does Zuni), so I'd suggest that the OP read a few of the threads on both restaurants and see. I actually think that Canteen would be a fine place to take a baby (especially if you get one of the early reservations), as long as you specify that you have a baby with you, and can make sure to get one of the booths in the back, or go for your Sunday breakfast/brunch. It's a very San Francisco place, from the food to the restaurant itself, and they're good at getting people in and out quickly.

                          1. re: JasmineG

                            Canteen's really on the small side for a three month old baby in a carrier. Even if you manage to be in one of the booths in the back you'll have to stick a stroller right in the middle of the server's path, and if you need to take the baby outside for any reason you'll have a lot of navigating to do. I might consider it for brunch, but I'd stay away for dinner. You won't be able to relax.

                            One place I think you'd love is Ame, which for some reason popped into my head when you said you loved Jean Georges. They are nothing alike, except that they stand head to head for best lunch I've ever eaten (I don't have very many $50 lunches). You'll have to decide if your baby is ready for Ame, but it's in a hotel so something tells me they get their share of little ones. Plus there's a lobby right outside where you can take your baby if you need a moment. If you're worried that some of our restaurants won't stack up to London or Paris, Ame is a great choice because of its decided Japanese influence, which is harder to find in Europe.

                            1. re: Pei

                              Good point about Canteen for dinner, I was probably being optimistic there. I liked Ame a lot, but I remember that my dinner there was pretty quiet (my table of four was probably the loudest there), so I'd be nervous about bringing a baby there, and there are a lot of business diners there, so you might get some looks. But maybe someone who has dined at Ame more than I have will be a better judge.

                              1. re: JasmineG

                                Thanks for all the suggestions so far -- very helpful. Partly due to availability issues amongst other things, I've so far booked Boulevard for Monday lunch. Ame is free for the Saturday evening (it doesn't do lunches anymore), but my wife is nagging me to only go for one fancy option. Given that dinner will necessarily be quite a bit more pricey than lunch, and if I had to choose one over the other, which one would CHers recommend? The menu at Ame looks more interesting and varied, although Boulevard is what I would guess is more 'californian'.

                                tb

                                1. re: trueblu

                                  That's a tough choice, and you're probably going to get an evenly split vote. Here's what I would tell my friends: people who're coming to SF for the first time or who don't come often, head to Boulevard. It's on my list of "SF Restaurants" that I still haven't hit because I know it's always going to be there and I'm going to end up going when a visitor wants to go.

                                  People who dine out a lot in the world's best food cities, who come to SF a lot, or who are looking for something new, I send to Ame. Here's a lunch I had a few years back. I'm not sure if the menu's changed: http://www.chezpei.com/2006/05/ame-be...

                                  The bonus with Boulevard is that it's right on the water if you're interested in a before or after dinner walk, but other than that it's kind of a battle between old and new.

                          2. re: rworange

                            Coi is most certainly not baby-friendly. Its very quite, and dinners are long and slow.

                          3. re: JasmineG

                            Just a quick note on BART -- we love using it as visitors to come in from the airport and have done the Fruitvale thing but I find the high-pitched squealing of the wheels (?) very painful and have to wear earplugs. I was thinking this might bother the young 'un too on a longer journey (not that I am three months old of course...). Lots of stairs to wrangle stroller up and down too... but don't let that keep you away from Poc Chuc :-).

                            1. re: grayelf

                              Yeah, a cab to Poc Chuc wouldn't be too expensive and that nabe is a bit dicey. You have to just be aware of your surroundings. Poc Chuc itself is nicer than the usual Mexican dive and the plating is as pretty as any upscale restaurant. I'm guessing that Yucatan Cuisine might not be something that is available in Boston.

                        2. Quick note on Shanghai 1930. My husband was just there for lunch last week and said he paid $22 for a small portion of fried rice and mapo tofu, and found both really disappointing. He went in expecting to be disappointed, but he said even then he found the food flat out terrible, even giving the place a little leeway for being a little California, a little fusion, a little hip and trendy. He just did not like it at all, said at lunch even the look of the dining room was drab and unimpressive.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Pei

                            link

                            -----
                            Shanghai 1930 Restaurant
                            133 Steuart Street, San Francisco, CA 94105

                          2. Someone mentioned the California Academy of Sciences, which is a really cool space (designed by Renzo Piano) if expensive for a kid who can't take advantage of all the multimedia exhibits and parents who can't take advantage of the locals' discount. But I was impressed when I went with my baby, and as I navigated my way through the cafeteria, a woman appeared to take my tray and find me a table in the crowded room. Now that's service! The food is quite good too, and that wasn't even in the fancy Moss Room.

                            I haven't experienced public transit with a baby in SF, but you might want to look into the rules for strollers. What puzzles me is they seem to require that you fold up the stroller, which is a pain with the infant carseat-type strollers.
                            http://blogs.urbanbaby.com/sanfrancis...

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Cicely

                              If you do decide to brave the Academy with a child, there's a $3 discount for anyone who used public transit to get there, and infants are free.

                              The service in the cafe is truly amazing, and friendly to boot. I've seen servers at the station take time to explain in detail what's in each dish, or offer off-menu substitutions even though it's a cafeteria setting. Really above and beyond museum fare.

                              That said, if you can't make it on a weekday I say skip it. I have a members' pass, and even when I go an hour early during members' only hours on Sunday, it's elbow to elbow crowds. Weekdays can be bad too, but not as bad.

                            2. I you want good Chinese, I strongly suggest Jai Yun. Their lunches are moderately inexpensive (the $19/pp option IMO is very good) and the food is really really good (Chef's tasting menu).

                              The restaurant, sadly, stays empty, but -- this should be good for you with the baby.

                              Public transit wise, its walking distance from BART Montgomery St station, and there are quite a few bus lines close by as well. As a bonus, you can do the toruristy thing and go around Chinatown as well.

                              If you wish to have dimsum, I would actually suggest going to Koi Palace, which is in Daly City -- unfortunately, the public transit options are not that great for this one. This is a big bustling noisy restaurant, should be good for your baby as well.

                              For Ferry plaza, others might disagree, but I would not go there just to have lunch. The farmers market, on Sat mornings may be worth a visit (although I prefer the Alemany market myself).

                              -----
                              Koi Palace Restaurant
                              365 Gellert Blvd, Daly City, CA 94015

                              Alemany Farmers' Market
                              100 Alemany Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94110

                              Jai Yun
                              680 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                              Ferry Plaza Farmers Market
                              One Ferry Building, 200 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA

                              1. I quickly scanned this page for Zuni and I didn't notice if this has been mentioned. I loved the chicken but there is a 1 hour wait after ordering. How well does the little diner hold up to long waits?

                                1. Regarding public transit with kids - we do it and it isn't an issue, but you do need a folding stroller. Better yet, just use a front carrier - it makes it seemless. We have 3 kids and one is a baby. Not SF, but we spent a lot of time on buses, trains etc. in Europe with our baby and kids when the baby was 2-4 months. Front carrier worked best (or wrap/sling) and he preferred it because he could interact with us.

                                  Second Poc Chuc as great food and good with kids. At that age, the most important thing is having space to put a carrier if you want that, or being willing to hold the baby. Pick noisier places and then it is really just up to your tolerance as to whether you will have fun with a baby. We take our kids everywhere, and 99% of the time our neighboring tables are noisier than our kids, and especially the baby!

                                  1. Best meal I ever had was at a tiny little chinese joint, called Nan King. I went for dinner, took all 4 of my employees, and paid less than $100 for insane amounts of food. Eight locals had recommended it, so off we went. All of them said "just don't order off the menu", which was almost impossible anyway, since the waitress asks you what sort of things you like ("you like brown sauce, white sauce?" "you like chicken, seafood"), then she just starts bringing food. AMAZING. The only dishes that weren't good? The 2 we ordered off the handwritten menu......

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: texana

                                      You're referring to House of Nanking - I thought it was pretty terrible and oversauced when I went there, and I am not the only one, but I have heard fierce loyalty from many friends, claiming it to be everything Americanized Chinese food should be

                                      1. re: vulber

                                        HONK would be a total nightmare with kids... huge velvet rope lineups and then once you do get inside you can't swing half a cat. We ate there way back in 2003 based on a guidebook rec before I knew about CH and while we weren't blown away we didn't hate it. The thing I remember most was the tea with flowers in it, which doesn't say much for the staying power of the grub. But it sure is popular with visitors to this day.

                                    2. Thanks for all the helpful posts from CHers..it was great in helping us enjoy or culinary sampling of sf, although we know we didn't even scratch the surface. We had a few memorable meals...one for the wrong reason! That one was when I screwed up badly on Saturday night: didn't make any reservations because wasn't sure of our timing. By the time we decided on dinner, everywhere had been booked up. We just wandered about trying our luck, then exhausted went into Mel's diner on Mission. The shakes, to be fair, were great. But both my burger and my wife's hot-dog were barely edible, and we couldn't finish it. And with tax and tip it came to $30! So, the bad aside: we had a great Iranian meal at Maykadeh -- easily the best I've had in the US for many, many years, although more expensive than most too. We had roast chicken a la Roli Roti at the Ferry building on Saturday -- delicious, despite the fact that they don't do chicken sandwiches (shame!).
                                      On Sunday, we had dim sum at Yank Sing. Excellent, tasty food. I'm not sure what the detractors say in terms of taste. Apart from some ribs which were too sweet and not particularly good, the rest of the meal was excellent, including some form of red cabbage salad which I hadn't had before but which was refreshing, light and moreish. However, it was the most expensive dim sum I've ever had in the US. With tax and tip, it was over $80 for the two of us, and we only had tea to drink, and steered away from the peking duck etc. If in sf again, I would like to scout out other options aswell, but would not hesitate in recommending the place, cost aside.

                                      On Monday, we went for lunch at Boulevard. I'm really glad that we chose this place. The food was very good but not outstanding. However, the venue itself was extremely charming, and what I would imagine as a quintissential californian restaurant. With regards to the food: I had a pretty decent 'little gem' salad to start, my wife's soup of the day was OK. Our main courses took forever to arrive. I had a rack of lamb which was very good, and my wife had a prawn salad which was pretty good, but not outstanding. We didn't have time for dessert since I had to get back to my conference. The bill was reasonable for the meal at c. $80.

                                      Of our two other meals -- one was a nostalgic trip to In-n-Out burger (much better than the usual chains, but a fantastic burger can now be had for not much more these days) and one was a desparate dash to the Cheescake factory after an exhausting Monday with no reservations made anywhere again. I really don't like the place although I do end up having to have a meal there for some reason or other about once a year, and vowing 'never again' (cheesecake was good though).

                                      This trip was not just about the food, but a few very decent meals made it all the more pleasant.

                                      tb