Michael Mina SF/TFL - dining alone
I've been to both MM and TFL. Unless you get a table, the bar at MM seems odd, or that's just me. The food (in '07) was what you'd expect from a 4-star place. Had the tasting menu, everything was good minus one course. It wasn't as good as TFL but it was in range and the price was less then half of TFL. The Dining Room at the RC might be a better choice however.
I seem to be the only person in the world who thought Gary Danko was nothing short of miserable. During my trip we ate all over the place - the trip's purpose was to eat, eat, and eat. Oh, and drink. If you can get a reservation at TFL, go. It was the single most memorable meal of my life, from the time I made the reservation to the time I walked in and was greated by name from the hostess, I felt comfortable. The meal was also unreal - too long to go into extreme detail, but it was worth every bit of money I spent.
COI was the most "surprisingly amazing" meal of the trip. We gave it this because we didn't know what to expect going in, and left wanting more. The service in the lounge is phenomenal and the staff takes excellent care of you. The menu is also available a la carte in the lounge so you're not obligated to the full tasting menu. This worked well for me because we had previously visited Fifth Floor earlier in the evening for drinks and ate some, so my girlfriend was not as hungry. I of course wanted the full experience and ordered just about the whole menu. The food was inventive, creative, and awesome! Again, so much to go into detail about but it was worth every penny and if we were there another night, we would have gone back.
Gary Danko - the service was deplorable. I mean miserable. I've never left a 15% tip in my life (I own a restaurant) and I did here. Water was never refilled, menu was not described, and I was never given the opportunity to speak with a sommelier regarding wine, instead the server suggested i pick myself. The food was uninspiring. The flavors were good (except the crab salad was oddly fishy) and the plates were composed well, but it lacked pizazz and inspiration. In addition the service ruined it for us. You might not get bad service at the bar because the bartender can't go and hide but if you're in SF for one night go and get a knock out performance and unfortunately Gary Danko won't offer that to you (in my honest opinion)
Enjoy your trip!!
Any restaurant at the level of TFL will be very accommodating of solo diners. At that price level, they know you have made a special trip to visit them, and that you aren't dining alone because the wife is out with the girls, and you needed something to do.
If you can't get into TFL, or if the trip is from San Francisco and back is too long, you can do much better in San Francisco than Michael Mina. It has fallen from it's early days of promise and is now just another hotel restaurant in the Michael Mina empire, and one with not particularly good food.
Alternatives to TFL should start with Manresa in Los Gatos (an hour trip from San Francisco). If you want to stay in the city, Coi, Quince, and Aquerello are excellent. I would also put Gary Danko, The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, and Masa's above Michael Mina.
Good luck, and have fun!
320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030
373 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133
800 N Point St, San Francisco, CA 94109
470 Pacific Av, San Francisco, CA 94133
648 Bush Street, San Francisco, CA 94108
The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton
The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94108
re: Paul H
I agree. If you decide you can do TFL (and can get a reservation), you might want to look up uhockey's report on his solo meal there. There was once a rave report on eating at the bar at Gary Danko, so that might be an option. I'm not sure which of the others Paul listed allow full meal service at the bar.
TFL and MM/SF are very different experiences. Both take solo reservations, but choosing between them would involve much more complexity than simply whether they take solo diners.
When someone asks about solo diners, they usually mean "I want to eat at a bar or shared table instead of being stuck at a table". TFL has no bar or bar area, so you'll simply be eating at a table. The restaurant is very intimate.
MM/SF doesn't have the greatest of reputations in this category of dining, so one wonders why you would single out this restaurant out of all the comparable choices in SF.
Eating alone at the bar at Michael Mina would be a fairly straightforward, pleasant, but rather expensive example of high-end solo dining in a hotel restaurant. As for TFL, eating there usually involves 3 hours of travel back and forth from SF plus an additional 3-4 hours of dining. Not something I would want to do by myself.