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Gay Chocolatier visiting Fancy Food Show Weekend (01.16.10) searching for wedding proposal restaurant

Funny posting, no? Well, that's pretty much it. I'm owner of a chocolatier in San Diego who is launching his line nationally at the Fancy Food Show this coming weekend. It also happens to be my anniversary week and I plan on proposing to my partner. It will be a very busy weekend, but I hope to steal him away so we can have a romantic meal Saturday night, the day before the show starts.

Specifically, I'm looking for a great little spot anywhere in SF that is cozy and romantic and gay friendly. He used to live in SF 5 years ago, so something "new" would be preferred. I don't know the city as well as he, and we will be traveling about without a car. I don't really have a limit on the budget. Looking for it to be perfect.

Tried to do a quick search, but I really didnt get too far. I'm a sucker for french cuisine, so I have a reservation at L'Ardoise which being so close to the Castro, I assumed would comfortable. But that was pretty much just a stab in the dark. It would be lovely if there were other points of interest within walking distance. We may spend a few hours on foot in whatever neighborhood the restaurant is in.

Ideas? Help a chocolatier out!

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  1. I wouldn't confine yourself to the Castro for this--in general the food everywhere else in the city is better than the Castro, and outside of particular categories of divey ethnic joints, I wouldn't worry about homophobia anywhere. Especially among upscale restaurants where part of good service is discretion, you will not have a problem.

    That said, it sounds like you're looking for romantic and French. What does "romantic" mean to you? Candles? Dim lighting? Flowers on every table? Floral print wallpapers? Beaded lampshades? Boudoir/harem look?

    There are about a dozen decent to good French bistros in the city, some of which are somewhat romantic, but they tend to have tables jammed together and the food can be all over the map. There are fewer upscale French restaurants, and not too many of them are very romantic.

    2 Replies
    1. re: SteveG

      I definitely wouldn't say I'm worried about homophobia, I was just hoping to find something in a neighborhood that would have some comfort (for example, my to-be-fiance won't hold hands in the Mission or similar places). RE: romantic? Definitely quiet and cozy would be preferred over a crowded "hot spot".

      1. re: Eclipsechocolat

        In that case, I would recommend Absinthe in Hayes Valley. It's a nice strollable neighborhood near the Castro, but it has better food than anywhere I have been in the Castro. Across the intersection from a great new chocolate shop, lots of nice boutiques. Comfortable neighborhood for strolling hand-in-hand as it is only 4 blocks from the LGBT center and maybe 10 blocks from the edge of the castro. Very good French bistro food, excellent cocktail program, decent wine list, good service, decent cheese list, and a civilized amount of space between linen-covered tables in the main dining room. While the executive chef was gallivanting around on TV, I thought the food slipped a bit, but she's back and my more recent meals/snacks/drinks there have been back up to the original high standards. If you pick this place, when you call for a reservation make sure your special night isn't going to overlap with a symphony or opera crowd--they get slammed those nights up until 7-8 PM! They have a private dining room and a few nooks, so if you requested a slightly secluded table they should be able to manage it for you without any trouble.

        Another suggestion below, Gitane, is a good idea. It's a new restaurant with some of the best cocktails in the city, my favorite new interior design, a romantic but not foo-foo interior, and pretty good food. Not the best food around, but perfectly good and easily on par with L'Ardoise, which I have enjoyed but would really like to love more than I do. When you call, ask for the 2-person table in the upstairs corner that overlooks the lounge, I think it is table number 3, and is a rounded quarter circle that is really ideal for a romantic 2-person evening with beautiful views of the whole restaurant while at the same time allowing you to sit close to each other and whisper in each-other's ears if you want to. Gitane translates in French as "gypsy woman," which provides the inspiration for the food and decor. Think eclectic French/Mediterranean.

    2. Hi there. I too will be at Fancy Food, walking as an attendee. Might I suggest to you Gitane? It is tucked away in the corner of Claude Ln., an alley with charming French bistros. What I like about Gitane is the excellent cocktails, low lit ambience and of course the food. There is a lounge-like feel and this is quite the hot spot at present. It can get really packed later in the night, so I would recommend checking them out online and seeing what kind of availability they on opentable. Since you're a chocolatier, I would also check out their dessert of crostini with chocolate ganache and olive oil. Delish! Have fun in town.

      1. What about Zuni? It's not *that* cozy, but it is really good, a bone fide splurge, it's on the edge of the castro, and it's very gay friendly.

        1 Reply
        1. re: bbulkow

          I have had bad service at Zuni more often than not, so I wouldn't trust it for a special occasion. I still go back for the food, but I know what I'm getting into. There's also a good chance the prospective husband already has a strong opinion about Zuni, which hasn't changed much in over a decade and seems to elicit either strongly negative or strongly positive reactions.

        2. First off, congratulations!! (If he says yes -- :))))))))))

          Not French, but I like the Italian restaurant Poesia in the Castro. The photo on the website doesn't look like it, but I thought the atmosphere was pretty romantic and the food is very good.


          I respect your partner's personal boundaries, but holding hands in the Mission really would not raise any eyebrows.

          1. I can't speak for others, but I'm finding myself stumped because a lot of the new popular restaurants are not designed to be intimate and cozy. Blame the economy, or just the overall trend towards bustling places with shared plates and communal tables.

            So which is more important to you, the new requirement, or the cozy? Unless an ingenious CH has a suggestion for both!

            1. In a word: Frances. I think it has everything you're looking for. It opened just after Thanksgiving, is tucked away on 17th & Pond in the Castro, feels very hidden, and has great food. It's very small and intimate and while tables are close together, I would not call it bustling or cramped. It's very cozy. I've been twice, once to treat a friend for his birthday and another with the same friend to just sit at the window counter and share some starters. I had a hard time getting the birthday reservation, but with the holidays behind us that may have changed. I haven't been, but L'Ardoise seems like a good plan B from what I've heard from others in the 'hood.


              6 Replies
              1. re: Frosty Melon

                Cool - how's about some more info? What dishes did you especially like? How was the food compared to some of the more established French places - like maybe Fringale?

                1. re: bbulkow

                  Both of us loved the albondigas (I mentioned them on another thread about Top Tastes of 2009) and the beet salad. I thought the bacon beignets were interesting and fun, but two were enough for me. I thought the gnocchi with duck confit was delicious but mention duck confit at all and I'm on board. Both of us enjoyed the slow roasted beef entree with creamed greens, which was perfect on a chilly, windy night.

                  I hate doing restaurant comparisons and haven't eaten at Fringale in years. I guess I could say I felt like Frances was equal parts Zuni Cafe and Bar Tartine, food-wise. But I've never felt the intimacy or the warmth of the staff at either of those places compared with Frances.

                  1. re: Frosty Melon

                    Thanks for the details!

                    The great benefit of restaurant comparisons is when anyone says "the food is good" they could mean almost anything. You saying the duck confit is about as good as Zuni would do it when it's on the menu, everyone knows what you're talking about. I think a comparision's one of the quickest and simplest ways to get that across.

                2. re: Frosty Melon

                  I have to disagree about Frances. I have no problem with cozy, but the tables are incredibly close together -- even by New York standards. When we went there Friday night, we felt like we were on a double date with the couple next to us. We could hear every excruciating bit of their flirty conversation. Intimate, it's not. The food is quite good, but not wonderful. My "slow roasted beef" (really, a pot roast like hunk of beef) was a hair too tough. We did enjoy the starters, and the panna cotta is terrific. I actually think L'Ardoise is a pretty good idea.

                  1. re: Frosty Melon

                    Can anyone who has been to Frances let me know if there is a counter or someplace I might sneak in as 1 person? Reservations not availalbe and I know it is small, but what are odds likely to be like for a counter seat at ~7:30? Thanks!

                    1. re: sfdoc

                      There is a small counter in the front.

                  2. Dude, you make chocolate, he has to say yes!

                    I live around the corner from L'Ardoise. I love it,. Definitely cozy and gay friendly. I'm not sure, though, that I'd regard it as romantic enough. The lighting is good (i.e., low) but it's a little informal, if I were proposing I'd go somewhere a bit fancier. If you tend more towards the informal though, I would say it's a good pick.

                    As for gay-friendly, I don't hink you need to worry about that at any of the restaurants you'd consider here in SF.

                    I like the suggestion of Fringale, it's a touch more upscale. Though that was here 5 years ago and is not new since your future fiance left town.

                    But when all is said and done, if I were proposing in SF, and I wanted to do it in a French restaurant, I'd do it at La Folie. True, the restaurant is not new. But I've noticed a marked improvement in the last few years (and it was great to start). The room is not small, so cozy is not the operative word. But it's definitely romantic, and the best french food in town. If you've go the bucks, this would make for a memorable night.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: pauliface

                      If the OP picks La Folie, they should mention the special occasion when they make the reservation and request the front dining room. We didn't mention anything when we went for our anniversary, and when they finally seated us well after our reservation, our choices were bathroom adjacent or dishwasher & deep fryer adjacent in the back dining room, which did not get renovated. My partner describes the back room as having the charm of a Romanoff toilet done in fake marble. We listened to the pleasant sound of sheet pans being sprayed with high pressure water and the gurgling of the fryer throughout our meal, which was accented by the scent of rancid industrial kitchen floor that I fondly remember from my college co-op kitchen. Our food included many miss-steps that were so inexcusable I hesitate to dive into them again as they must have been quite abnormal since the restaurant is still in business.

                      1. re: SteveG

                        Wow. Okay so first off I will always request the front room, which is lovely. Have never been relegated to the back so I did not know to warn against it.

                        As for missteps with the food, I'm surprised, since I just find them brilliant. When was this visit?

                          1. re: SteveG

                            Well, I don't know what to say. On the one hand, I'd love a full accounting of what went wrong with your meal, because to be honest I'm stunned, having never heard such a thing about La Folie.
                            On the other hand, I don't want to hijack this thread...

                                1. re: Melanie Wong

                                  Well that's what happens when you eat a sweet little bunny rabbit.
                                  Just kidding.
                                  I guess maybe the restaurant is not as consistent as my experience has led me to believe.
                                  The posting cited by 'vis' below more matches what I've come to expect.

                      2. I was thinking Frances would be nice because the food is supposed to be amazing and it's the latest hot spot in the Castro. But like someone else pointed out, I did hear that the tables are extremely packed in, so it may not be as private or comfortable, and might make you more nervous proposing.

                        If you do want to stay in the Castro area, then another place that might be worth considering is called Eureka, which has been open for awhile, but has a nice cozy feel because it looks like it was built in a former house. It has a romantic feel as well. The food is pretty surprisingly good too. Nothing amazingly creative, but nice presentations and good quality and freshness.


                        1. Congrats and Good Luck!

                          1. Congrats and on whatever you choose, I hope your report back. I love these stories and was disappointed once when someone in Paris was asking for a proposal site and we never heard the end of the story.

                            Anyway, I think Chez Spencer would be nice.

                            It is not on the normal radar.. You would need to take a cab though it is ten blocks from Moscone. Sort of mid-way between the Moscone and the Castro.

                            The actual nabe is on the edge of dicy though the restaurant and food are top-notch. It is not really a bad nabe, but it is a quiet street and I'd be reluctant to walk there at night and the Moscone-Spencer walk isn't an attractive one. You can check it out on the website

                            The white asapragus was the only version of this dish I've tried that I've ever liked and many years after my first visit I can still remember the taste of that dish. The website may make it seem more formal than it is. Originally the outdoor patio space accomodated a sandox for the owner's child. It is upscale yet friendly.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: rworange

                              With no other constraints, Chez Spencer is my favorite choice for a high quality French experience that isn't a tasting menu, but the OP mentioned the Mission is a neighborhood his prospective husband isn't comfortable holding hands in, and Chez Spencer is between SoMa and the Mission. Of course, it's also equidistant between The Eagle, an LGBT leather biker bar, and Truck, a regular LGBT bar, so it isn't hostile territory. Like you, I can still remember specific delicious dishes I've had there years after I've eaten them, which is a good sign. In half a dozen visits in as many years, I've never had a dish there I didn't think was at least good, and service has always been good to great. I'd be happy to be proposed to there, though I'd also probably rather arrive in a cab if I weren't local.

                              Chowish bonus: Rainbow Grocery is around the corner from it, so if they still have energy after the fancy food show, it'd be fun to explore Rainbow with your excellent Rainbow Grocery unusual items thread as a guide.

                              1. re: SteveG

                                Yeah, but ... though this is officially designated as the Mission, it is a few blocks from the actual Mission. It really straddles SOMA, Portrero and the Mission. It is an odd location with nothing remotely similar in the same class. That it has survived all these years says something.

                                Originally they wanted to do breakfast and lunch. It is a working-class nabe that doesn't really accomdate that. The new gourmet food truck, I think, scratches that itch.

                            2. i like la folie...i haven't been since they remodeled a couple of years back but it happens to be the place i went to w/ my fiance after i proposed and it was great.

                              1. From my experiences I say pass on Frances, Zuni, Fringale. If you want romance, intimacy, and amazing food, stick to L'Ardoise. It is an incredibly romantic restaurant, very French, reasonably priced, delicious food, great service, very neighbood-y but still slightly upscale. I love the food at Absinthe, but I'd think the setting is too busy/loud for a proposal.

                                I haven't been to Gitane or La Folie, so can't weigh in there.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: carfeng

                                  Ohhh... such great feedback so far. We're definitely foodies (I type as I slowly work my way to the bottom of a glass of homemade vanilla bean-jasmine vodka over peach sorbet), so the idea of La Folie sounds exciting. Anyone else out there with negative experiences? Money is tight for everyone these days, but I would totally splurge on a five course menu at $90 for each of us. Will be the most I've spent on dinner before, but if now is the not the time to spend, when is? I just don't want to walk away less than impressed for the bucks. I'm vetoing Absinthe (he's been there), Gitane (looks great!, but I'm hoping for more neighborhood), and Frances (from the website I think I'm looking for something more special?). L'Ardoise still seems like a great choice, given the surroundings and what a few of you said about romance.

                                  I guess this means I'm torn between the "extraordinary" with a potential let-down (La Folie) and the "reliable" with an attractive neighborhood setting (L'Ardoise).

                                  Other thoughts?

                                  1. re: Eclipsechocolat

                                    Even though I have not been to La Folie, I've met many people who go there regularly and I've only heard great praise.

                                    I know you said you like French -- no one seems to have mentioned Acquerello on Sacramento near Polk. It's elegant Italian with French influence, I think. Has Michelin star and waiters are Italian, very professional. Both these places have been on Check Please Bay Area -- is there a way for you to view these shows?

                                    1. re: walker

                                      In the same vein, no one has mentioned Quince.

                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                        Oh, I love Quince as the new bright star on the dining scene. Decor totally made for romance with the low lights. Also, there's a special lover's table in the center dining area off to the side that's very cozy. If the OP decides to stray to other parts of the city, then I think Quince would be a perfect setting for a special occasion dinner.

                                    2. re: Eclipsechocolat

                                      I don't want to be a downer--but I worry that L'Ardoise wouldn't be everything you're looking for and would mildly steer you away from it. I've been three times, and enjoy it as a fairly crowded, certainly compact, classic French bistro. The food is good in a traditional sense: steak, goat's cheese salad, chocolate mousse, that kind of thing, but it's a rushy, slightly hectic experience, especially if they seat you near the door or bathroom, and although I could imagine having a fun wine-fuelled Valentine's day there, it wouldn't be a place I could imagine proposing (or being proposed to) in. I'd heartily second the Chez Spencer recommendation. Or what about Bar Tartine, which is in a livelier/more central area of the Mission?

                                      1. re: katielp

                                        I agree with katielp about L'Ardoise. I love it, but it's just not right for the occasion.

                                        I say go to La Folie, but read the negative reviews carefully and take their advice to maximize your experience: call ahead, let them know you are proposing, that you want a nice table for this in the front room. This will put a fine restaurant like this on their toes. And, I guess, don't order that rabbit trio!

                                        btw I will be at the food show on sunday with friends, I'll try to pay a visit. :-)

                                  2. Have you considered Chapeau in the Inner Richmond? Top, top notch French food but entirely un-stuffy, and know how to handle a special occasion. Clement Street makes for great strolling (from Park Life Gallery, to Green Apple used books and music, and Kamei the massive Chinese restaurant supply store), and will bring you to a new (but still friendly) aprt of the city.

                                    1. Chez Spencer is a great special occasion restaurant, despite it being in the middle of nowhere (or nowhere charming). Simple surroundings somehow create a wonderful, warm ambiance with fantastic food and an excellent wine list.

                                      Keep us posted on how it goes!

                                      1. OK!!! It's me again, and I'm super excited to offer my responses to La Folie!

                                        First off, let me say that while "chocolatier" might sound crazy elegant, Eclipse is still a start-up (albeit in it's fifth year) and I no where near making a great career yet. While I seldom spurge, when I do I tend to go out and buy some amazing ingredients and prepare them myself. So forgive my response if it sounds glowing, but this was easily the most I ever spent on dinner.

                                        Having said that, this was BY FAR, the greatest dining experience of my life! Thank you so much for everyone who contributed to the discussion about it.

                                        I did call ahead to making reservations (for the front room... thanks to one of you) and told them it was my proposal evening (thank you to another recommendation here), and our server and the chef of La Folie made everything else fall in place FLAWLESSLY. Well, perhaps as close as someone can possibly be.

                                        When we got there (30 minutes early), we had actually even walked all the way from Moscone Center with a 20lb box of stuff from the convention center and a backpack (we decided we would only splurge on a taxi for the ride back). I was embarrassed to ask for a coat check with these, but they pleasantly ignored the inconvenience.

                                        Outside of matters of small personal taste, I feel that the dinner was executed perfectly. Here is what we ordered with comments (we each tried everything!):

                                        Goat Cheese Tatin (was strongly garlic, but fantastically bright in flavors)

                                        Crab with Cauliflower Panna Cotta (highest quality crab Ive ever had, PC was a little too firm and a little too bland, but its a white veggie puree set with gelatin... can it even taste like anything at all?)

                                        Poached Lobster with Ravioli (lobster was steamed until just set, too chewy for Ray, but cooked perfectly in my opinion)

                                        Butterfish with Parsnip Puree (amazing fish! amazing caramelized texture)

                                        Another fish that was a bit like a smoked salmon??? Anyway, its new to the menu and was also very good.

                                        Lamb Rack with something or other. (it was Ray's, so I dont remember what it all encompassed, but it was a fine cut that was perfectly executed)

                                        Lobster Risotto (have I never had risotto before? I cook it all the time, but wow... this had such a superior texture that anything I had made pales in comparison)

                                        Beyond these, the server surprised us with an amuse bouche, starter, palate cleanser after the entree, petit four flight, and champagne as a congratulations! The petit four even had a canele (one of my most favorite french pastries), perfectly miniature and perfectly made.

                                        Now granted, the restaurant knew it was a special occasion, so I can't say how it would have been if we had just walked in from the street, but my experience far exceeded expectations. The chef even came out to thank and congratulate us when we left. After a 25% tip, we left $255 lighter than when we came in... and very satisfied for the price. And he said yes!

                                        6 Replies
                                        1. re: Eclipsechocolat

                                          Mazel tov! and thanks for the report on La Folie.

                                          La Folie
                                          2316 Polk St., San Francisco, CA 94109

                                          1. re: Eclipsechocolat

                                            Your last post put a smile on my face, Eclipsechocolat. Thanks for the report.

                                            1. re: choctastic

                                              Delicious and heartwarming report Eclipse Chocolatier.Congratulations and all the best for your future.

                                            2. re: Eclipsechocolat

                                              Congratulations! What a wonderful story to read....thanks for the follow up!

                                              1. re: Eclipsechocolat

                                                Yay! Congratulations. I'm thrilled for you on all fronts!

                                                1. re: Eclipsechocolat

                                                  Yay, this totally made me smile on a dreary morning. Congratulations, and what a great report on your dinner!