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One night in San Francisco: Gary Danko or Chez Panisse?

It's sad but with a packed schedule, including heading up to Napa and then back down the coast to LA, my girlfriend and I only managed one full day and, thus, one night in San Francisco.

Consequently we have a bit of a dilemma on our hands: eat at Gary Danko or Chez Panisse?

I'm much more of the stylish one, looking to be impressed/wowed (and so am pulling for G.D), while she's very interested in the all natural, locavore approach and all things California (so pulling for C.P.).

So, what should we do? Appreciate any insights. Thanks

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Chez Panisse
1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

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

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  1. Well, I think you've got a pretty clear picture of the distinctions between the two. At that point, it just becomes a personal decision. Are you going to be having a dinner in Napa? If so, it might be a good idea to base your choice on how different it might be from where you eat in Napa.

    1. CP Downstairs is very stylish - a stunning expression of Craftsman architecture. And such history.

      GD is not in the best odor these days - why don't you consider Commis, or if you want to go "safe", Boulevard or Zuni?

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      Zuni Cafe
      1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

      Commis
      3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

      3 Replies
      1. re: bbulkow

        I love Chez Panisse, but if you only have one night in San Francisco, I would stay in San Francisco, Zuni is a good choice for California Cuisine style food. And as I always mention, my friends and I will go to the bar at Zuni just to grab a drink anytime we want a margarita because they are so good (fresh lime juice and cointreau).

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        Zuni Cafe
        1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

        Chez Panisse
        1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

        1. re: bbulkow

          Coi might be exactly what you are looking for, combining both of your interests. It is exclusively locavore with the best fresh ingredients (the Chef stopped importing ingredients about 18 months ago and now forages for ingredients at the local farmers markets), but the approach is modern, and the surroundings upscale. Our local newspaper food critic said: "two recent revisits to Coi have shown that his approach has continued to morph into a style that is not only highly individual, but could only happen in the Bay Area" Coi is one of only four Northern California restaurants with 2 Michelin stars and the only one in San Francisco (Chez Panisse and Gary Danko have one star).

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          Coi
          373 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133

          1. re: Paul H

            Second Coi! Gary Danko didn't wow me as I thought it would, though it was very good. Coi wowed.

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

        2. I personally prefer Danko between those two but either would be a good choice. I think you have a good idea of the difference between the two. One factor that you didn't mention is which day of the week your dinner will be. The dinners at Chez are more refined on Fridays and Saturdays and more rustic early in the week.

          Another option I suggest you consider is Coi which has a very local and seasonal approach to ingredients but also uses much more modern (and less "safe") techniques than either Danko or Chez.

          You could theoretically have a lunch a Chez Panisse Cafe - which is wonderful and really captures that minimalist, ingredient-driven approach to food as well or better than Chez Panisse Restaurant - and then have dinner that same night at Danko. That would be a great food day!

          If you like the idea of this approach, but don't want to spend time traveling to the east bay, you might try Zuni - which is a similar style of food as Chez Cafe, although IMO not quite as good - for lunch and Danko for dinner.

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          Chez Panisse
          1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

          1. Gary Danko is such a "safe" choice nowadays - nothing will misfire but nothing will extend your horizons or "wow" you either. I'd go with Coi or Commis over Danko, or if you have time to drive to Los Gatos, Manresa.

            Any number of places up in Napa/Sonoma will serve you better than G.D. - Cyrus, Redd, Meadowood...

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            Manresa Restaurant
            320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

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

            Commis
            3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

            9 Replies
            1. re: mikeh

              Between Gary Danko or Chez Panisse, I would definitely pick Gary Danko. GD serves very good upscale food. Nothing earth shattering or particularly "innovative", but the food is always very good with great service. Personally I'm not a fan of Chez Panisse. I've been a few times and always left disappointed and underwhelmed. I find the food boring and bland - not worth the hype at all. I'm okay with restaurants not wowing me as long as the food tastes good, but CP is not one of them, especially for the price.

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              Chez Panisse
              1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

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

              1. re: calalilly

                Put us down for Danko. We have had nothing but wonderful experiences there on multiple occasions. CP......... underwhelmed is probably the best description.

                1. re: calalilly

                  Agree completely about CP. I cook better meals with local, seasonal ingredients than they do. I find their food totally boring.

                  1. re: pikawicca

                    "Better meals" are the awesome-ist. I used to listen to classical music, and then I learned that I could hum better. Now I hum all the time, it's better. Really.

                    Danko is technical. CP is about food of a place. I don't think they're your best options unless wowing people with your culinary escapades is your objective. The menu and interaction with ingredients is also interesting at Quince and Oliveto.

                    1. re: keg

                      I have access to first-rate local produce and meat, and I'm a talented-enough home cook to combine them in delicious ways. I've always found CP to be totally unimaginative. Why pay oodles for a plainly roasted lamb chop when you can cook the same thing at home and season it more to your linking? Maybe even (gasp) make a pan sauce. This is, perhaps, the most over-rated restaurant in the States, if not the world. The Inn at Little Washington in Virginia has being doing local food for decades, and it's magnitudes better than CP.

                      1. re: pikawicca

                        Because I can't make the same thing at home. I don't have a wood-burning hearth with a spit, and while with effort I can buy from most (though not all) of Chez Panisse's producers, they often get first crack at the best of the best.

                        Plus, at Chez Panisse I get to sit at the table with my friends and enjoy the meal. I'm technically capable of making similar meals at home, but I learned 25+ years ago that it's not that much fun to spend most of the evening in the kitchen while my friends are having a great time in the next room.

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                        Chez Panisse
                        1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            My friends hang out with me in the kitchen, so that's not an issue. I am very supportive of local growers and have a great relationship with them. I get really good stuff.

                            1. re: pikawicca

                              I buy virtually all my produce and meat direct from farmers and ranchers, in many cases the same ones that supply Chez Panisse. I can still taste the difference when I eat there. I've been trying to find out where they get their hazelnuts for years.

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                              Chez Panisse
                              1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

                2. Chez Panisse is great. If you eat downstairs it's very stylish in its own unique way and is really a must for anyone who's into natural / locavore / sustainable food.

                  I'm not sure there's anyplace in SF proper that's similarly a must for someone into style and wow factor compared with the French Laundry or Manresa.

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                  Chez Panisse
                  1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709