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Restaurant Advice ~ Romantic Restaurant/Dinner for Two for May 2010

I am taking my wife to the Sonoma County/San Francisco area for our 20-year wedding anniversary, and I am hoping to find restaurant in San Francisco that meets the following criteria:

1. Ambience - A place where we can enjoy a romantic/quiet/focus-on-us meal. The opposite of "family dining," which is where we most often find ourselves (with a couple teenagers and a young child). A great view would be a major plus, especially if it is something very distinctive to San Fran (e.g., the bay, the skyline, etc.). It does not have to be the local 5-star, and I definitely do not want the tourist trap "popular restaurant." I want the SF insider's go-to place for a romantic meal.

2. Great Service - I do not want the stuffy, feels-like-people-are-hovering type, but a place that is okay with us making a special evening out of the meal ... relaxed pace, no one trying to turn the table. This is going to be on a Sunday night, so perhaps that helps with the "pace" of the meal and quality of service.

3. "Custom" Evening - I have pulled this off once before (10-year anniversary), but I would like to try it again. I would like to pick a restaurant where I can contact them in advance and plan the entire menu, from drinks/appetizers to deserts, so we will have no need for menus when we get there.

4. Food - She loves lobster/crab bisque, shrimp/crab, seafood in general, but also enjoys a great steak. She loves a GREAT pina colada and/or strawberry/mango margarita, or a cosmo, over any wine choice. She loves creme brulee, but also decadent chocolate desserts. She is not a big fan of hot spicy or "fringe" cuisines ...

5. Location - We are going to spend a couple days in Sonoma County, but the weekend in San Fran proper. I plan to spend our weekend, exploring various neighorhoods in and around the city, and we will be staying downtown. I will likely pick the hotel based upon the restaurant, rather than the other way around!

Thanks so much for any and all suggestions!!

QC Bluesman

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  1. sounds like you're an attentive guy and want to make this special. I would look at Boulevard since it's in a great location and the food is very good without being overly stuffy. It's a landmark restaurant in San Francisco, so it is very popular, but not in a cheesy kind of a way. There are also plenty of nice hotels walking distance to this area and the Ferry Building is right across the street.

    Another restaurant that is very good and is more of a locals restaurant (it's in an internal neighborhood) is Spruce.

    As far as the funky drinks and the view and the customized menue, i think you'll have to look at the menu and call the restaurant.

    5 Replies
    1. re: vis

      I'll second the suggestion for Boulevard, it's one of our favorites! :)

      1. re: syrahgirl

        Thank you so much for the recommendation ... and you are right, I pay a lot of attention to details ... because she is more than worth the effort ;)

        I like the fact that so many SF restaurants are online, and Boulevard looks great from the outside. What is the inside like? Noise level? Is it the type of place where I can get really good food (looks great online) and also create the "VIP" atmosphere that I am shooting for?

        I had a friend recommend Gary Danko or The French Laundry ... looks a little more formal, which is certainly okay for this kind of meal, but some of the reviews pan the place, and I am thinking that perhaps it is too high-end and popular to create my ideal evening for her.

        Final note ... I now realize that this forum answers this question (or similar questions) nearly every day, so I guess apologies for being so excited about finding this resource that I posted immediately before reading ... so now I am reading and piecing together my trip (Tartine, Bi-Rite Creamery, Chinatown, North Beach, The Wharf), but I still think my question is a bit unique ... I am looking for the kind of place and food experience to create a memorable evening, without regard to cost, even though I do not think that 4-star and 5-star places are always the best places to create THAT kind of meal.

        Thoughts?

        1. re: QCBluesman

          I would recommend Gary Danko and the Ritz way over Boulevard for this. My experience with Boulevard (albeit long ago) was very mediocre with unexciting food, and I see from recent posts that I am not alone. But lots of people do love Boulevard...

          Spruce also sounds like a great idea - I have not eaten there, but its sibling in Woodside (Village Pub) is one of our favorites, and would seem to work well for what you want.

          I haven't checked to see if any of these places are open on Sunday, though.

          Michael

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          Gary Danko
          800 N Point St, San Francisco, CA 94109

          1. re: mdg

            Another vote here for Gary Danko. Hubby and I did the 4-course meal when we celebrated my b-day in January. Lots of great seafood dishes. I still dream about the fantastic lobster salad I had for one of my courses.
            Afterwards, we walked down the street and had a couple of Irish coffees at Buena Vista Cafe.

            I know we're not supposed to discuss accomodations, but I highly recommend the circular suites at Hotel Vitale for a special occasion such as this one. Very romantic room with motorized, floor to ceiling shades and a terrific view of the ferry building and the Bay bridge. It's our favorite place to stay in the city. In wine country, Calistoga Ranch is amazing!!!

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            Gary Danko
            800 N Point St, San Francisco, CA 94109

            Buena Vista Cafe
            2765 Hyde St, San Francisco, CA 94109

          2. re: QCBluesman

            Gary Danko and The French Laundry are a step up in price (a few steps actually) and formality than say, Boulevard and Spruce. If you are open to a 3-4 hour meal with multiple courses in a more formal setting those are great. If you're willing to drive to The French Laundry, I might suggest Manresa as a less painful drive and likely easier to get a reservation and you'll be in a cool little town as well.

            View = tourists = loud. Personally, would stay away from Epic and Waterbar based on all your other requirements.

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            Manresa Restaurant
            320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

            The French Laundry
            6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

            Gary Danko
            800 N Point St, San Francisco, CA 94109

      2. Our current favorite place for romantic dinners is À Côté. Be sure to specify the back room when reserving as the front room is noisy and the atmosphere is quite different. The service is not fancy but it's polished and professional. We usually spend over two hours and I've never felt rushed. There are some B&Bs nearby, it's a couple of blocks from BART so there are lots of hotel choices a few stops away, or for something more luxurious you could stay at the Claremont.

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        A Cote
        5478 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618

        1. You might like either Epic Roasthouse (steaks) or the adjoining Waterbar (seafood). They are right on the Bay with views towards the Bay Bridge, which is impressive when it is lit up at night. Either one would have cocktails and a very special occaision feel.

          These restaurants are located a bit south of the Ferry Building but within walking distance. Also close to hotels.

          www.Waterbarsf.com
          www.epicroasthousesf.com

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          Epic Roasthouse
          369 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94105

          1. You should stay away from big names as they are mostly tourist traps. i love spruce although on theexpensive side, but definitly a delicious fare also on the typical neighborhood places I love L'Ardoise on Noe in the Castro, delicious by all means and somehow Romantic, if your Hotel is more downtown Love Rue Saint Jacques in Nob Hill a truly Romantic spot with cable car scene and an amazing menu that will not break the bank.
            http://www.sprucesf.com/
            http://www.ardoisesf.com/
            http://www.ruesaintjacques.com/

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            L'Ardoise
            151 Noe Street, San Francisco, CA 94114

            4 Replies
            1. re: Michelleoksf

              I beg to differe. L'Ardoise is lovely, but it's very much a neighborhood place, and not nearly 'special' enough for an occasion like this.

              My difficulty with this request is getting a view. The places I'd recommend don't have this. But, barring the view, I'd recommend any of:

              La Folie
              Acquarello

              Then I'd also consider:
              Jardiniere
              Bix

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

              Bix
              56 Gold St., San Francisco, CA 94133

              L'Ardoise
              151 Noe Street, San Francisco, CA 94114

              1. re: pauliface

                First, thank you SO much for the prompt replies and great information and suggestions. Couple of follow-ups ...

                1. I am not Bill Gates, but for this particular meal, price is really no object. And I would enjoy spending a 2-3 hours with this particular meal.

                2. I think location and/or view are definitely a "plus," and will help make the meal more memorable ... I am going for "special place" over "luxury," if the two are not sufficiently intertwined somewhere. For example, two years ago, we ate at the Ritz in Marco Island ... outstanding meal, outstanding service, no complaints at all. But another night, we found this seaside cafe that had off-the-boat fresh grouper, an open-air patio/ocean breeze, and an amazing fresh mango margarita ... she likely cannot remember what she had for dinner at the Ritz, but she still talks about that mango margarita.

                3. I would sacrifice view for location, again if the two cannot be intertwined, and I would trade both for a place that will be my "co-conspirators" in making this a memorable evening for her ... fantastic table, no menus, relaxed pace, great food.

                Thanks again to everyone for reading and commenting!!

                1. re: QCBluesman

                  I love that you want to do the 'no menu' thing. It's something I like to do as well.
                  It's a shame that Kiku of Tokyo is gone for that very reason. I used to be able to call the manager up, give him a number of people and a budget, and he'd surprise me as well as my guests. Alas, it's gone...

                  I should think any of the top places will let you work everything out ahead. So just pick your favorite and call, and if they say no, then politely move on to the next of your list.

                  I'm having a tough time coming up with one place that meets all your needs.
                  Based on what you've said, I do really think you should go to Swan's Oyster Depot for lunch during your trip. That will really satisfy the crab/shrimp/seafood craving in a place that's fun and unique, but not fancy.

                  I mentioned Bix before. They have a great bar and do really nice up drinks. I've never gotten a margarita or daquiri there (prefer martinis and manhattans) but I bet they do a good job.

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                  Bix
                  56 Gold St., San Francisco, CA 94133

                  Kiku of Tokyo
                  , San Francisco, CA 94102

                2. re: pauliface

                  Gary Danko or Fleur De Lys

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                  Gary Danko
                  800 N Point St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                  Fleur De Lys
                  777 Sutter St., San Francisco, CA 94109

              2. This was one of my favorite reports of a romantic dinner - it was at La Folie (which I've never been to)
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6801...

                The old Quince would have been great too - I haven't been to the new one and don't know if it's as cozy or romantic.

                The restaurant that I think might fit all your criteria (except a view) is Cyrus in Sonoma - I think they bend over backwards to accommodate special requests, have stellar cocktails, friendly but professional service, and a romantic vibe.

                I've only been to Gary Danko once - it was probably just chance, but I really thought at least half of the women there were high-priced escorts, so I have a hard time seeing GD as romantic. But clearly a lot of people have had lovely dinners there.

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

                Gary Danko
                800 N Point St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                1. My recommendation is Acquerello. Details and comment follow:

                  1. Ambience - great ambience, in a former church with a soaring vaulted ceiling and tables placed far enough apart so that there is privacy. It is also a quiet restaurant so you can have a conversation without yelling. Boulevard is much more the "scene"

                  2. Great Service - Service is top notch with an EXCELLENT wine program.

                  3. "Custom" Evening - Top quality restaurant with excellent staff. A custom evening is something they would WANT to do.

                  4. Food - Stupidly, I lived in this city for 10 years before I went to Acquerello for dinner. The food is exquisite. I've been to Manresa, Coi, Meadowood, Gary Danko, The French Laundry, The Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton, and scores of other top restaurants.in Northern California. The food at Acquerello gives nothing away to any of these places.

                  5. Location - Well, if you go to Acquerello, you are going to have to compromise. There is no view. Actually, there are no windows. It is on a fairly nondescript street and it is a good hike from any good hotel, but you can't have everything.

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                  Manresa Restaurant
                  320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

                  The French Laundry
                  6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                  Gary Danko
                  800 N Point St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                  Acquerello Restaurant
                  1722 Sacramento St., San Francisco, CA 94109

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Paul H

                    Thanks again for all of the recommendations ... I think the responses show what a valuable resource this forum is for an out-of-towner, with so many great choices and a healthy pinch of "beauty in the eye of the beholder" to it all, of course. I am going to do some "due diligence" over the weekend, see which would be the best fit ... have to say, leaning towards Gary Danko based upon the consensus here, but still love the look of Boulevard and the idea of some of the "lesser known" recommendations in SF.