Commis, Gary Danko or Acquarello?
I've read through many, many postings, and narrowed down a location for our 20th anniversary to the three places - Commis, Gary Danko or Acquerello.
My wife is a culinary student finishing her second year in the program, and I want to take her some place that really shows off both the exceptional craft of the kitchen, with excellent service and front of house.
It doesn't have to be super-fancy or elegant, so Fleur de Lys isn't necessarily the target here. And she's not into the molecular thing, though I find it interesting. On the other hand, a "traditional" menu is not that interesting to either of us.
Fresh, local ingredients, interesting combinations of ingredients and/or preparations, and innovative presentation will rank highly. We've been to Chez Panisse for all of its simplicity and perfection, but I want something more unique (for this area) than that.
Commis is currently leading the list for me, and I am not put off by the $59 price for three courses (the debate on that thread didn't worry me - if it's good food, it's worth it). The ability to sit at the counter and watch them cook might be a real bonus for both of us, particularly if we can talk with the chef(s) about what and how they're doing.
OTOH, we've never been to Danko and it's certainly one of the high water places in SF, and would be a good reference point for a "special" dinner. I've been to both Fleur de Lys and Masa's and while they were nice, neither was particularly memorable. I've been to Charlie Trotter's in Chicago, and that was BOTH nice and very memorable. I would go back there in a heartbeat.
As for Acquerello, I've heard enough good things about it that intrigue me, and it sounds like a very reliable, very good experience all around - food and service.
I don't mind an expensive restaurant if it delivers on all counts, but I have found very few that really deliver, and I leave feeling disappointed.
Any suggestions among these three? Only suggest another one if you feel it really delivers over and above the best of these three - I have done a fair amount of reading the threads already and mostly eliminated The Dining Room, Masa's, Fleur de Lys, etc. as a result.
Our timing is mid-October, so I have allowed myself (for better or worse) about one month lead time for a reservation.
I am not going to make any suggestions but will give my thoughts on Acquarello and Danko. I have not been to Commis and am not going to rehash my thoughts on it.
Acquarello is a nice intimate dining room, the tables are well spaced and the service is very competent. I found the food to be well executed but nothing ground breaking. For me it was solid but not spectacular. I left wishing it was a little more innovative and that the service was a little warmer and personable. My personal preference is for the server to be a little more relaxed and friendly. I thought the dessert was the weakest part of my meal.
Danko is a little more sleek and modern vibe. I thought the service was less stuffy than Acquarello. When the food is good, it's very good. On my last visit the seafood dishes outshined the meat/fowl dishes. The dessert was also a little weak. Danko tends to be a little more hit and miss with regards to a dish's success.
Have you considered Ame?
FYI, you might give Commis a call -- I called them the other day to make a reservation for dinner around that timeframe for my birthday, and they said they *may* be having special dinners right around that time, which seems like it would be perfect for this occasion.
I have not been to any of these three restaurants. That being said, it seems like Commis is most likely to change (read: get much more expensive) in the next few months/years; it still has not been given a major review yet, or in the Michelin guide, and once that happens, you can bet prices will increase.
I've been to Commis and to me it is all about the food. The service is good but not fantastic and they do have their occassional missteps (like the time they opened a Champagne and the cork went flying into the wall, of course I had a friend from a wine shop put a Champagne cork into the ceiling last friday....). However the food is fantastic and I think your wife would enjoy sitting at the bar watching them cook. We sat at the bar one of the three times we have been and were able to talk with the chefs and ask questions. When you make your reservation ask if you can sit at the bar as there are only six seats so this can fill up.
I have not been to either Gary Danko's or Acquarello so I can not comment on them.
The overall experience at Acquerello was as good as I've had in SF. Food, service, and wine were all first-rate.