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San Fran Suggestions for dinner to celebrate in-laws' 40th anniversary

My husband and I will be in San Francisco the first week in August with my 60-something year old in-laws to celebrate their 40th anniversary. We're looking for suggestions for somewhere to go for dinner for the occasion. We'd like it to have atmosphere, delicious seasonal food, and maybe a unique experience of some kind. Would love somewhere that serves "California Cuisine" but that's not a mandatory requirement. Oh and it doesn't have to be somewhere overly formal (I don't think the men want to pack a dress jacket for the trip from the east coast).
So, given these guidelines, what are some of the top restaurants to celebrate such an occasion? Assume entrees in the $30-45-ish range, or a prix fixe around/under $100 (before alochol).
Some friends have suggested the following: Spruce, Chez Panisse, Masas, La Folie, Fifth Floor Restaurant, Farallon, and Jardiniere. Do you Chowhounders think any of these places would fit the bill? Do you have any other suggestions?
Oh and we're staying at the Westin St. Francis, but will have a rental car.
Thanks in advance for your suggestions.

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Farallon
450 Post Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

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

Chez Panisse
1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

Masa's Restaurant
648 Bush Street, San Francisco, CA 94108

Fifth Floor Restaurant
12 Fourth St., San Francisco, CA 94103

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  1. A fine list of suggested restaurants, but it really depends on what you want. For instance, La Folie would be one of my favorites on that list, but it's French, not "California Cuisine." You might also want to consider Coi (although their prix fixe is over $100) and Boulevard.

    1. Got a few questions for you: Do your in-laws have any favorite dishes or styles of food?
      Do they drink and if so, wine or cocktails? What kind of ambiance are y'all looking for?
      How far are you willing to drive from SF to have this special meal?
      These will everyone help narrow down your choices or put some new ones on the table.

      13 Replies
      1. re: BigWoodenSpoon

        Thanks for the additional Q's, BWS.

        They tend to opt for asian fusion, but are really good for anything. If you're familiar with DC area restaurants they've enjoyed Ten Penh and Wolfgang Puck's The Source. I guess I'd say we shoudl avoid Italian since we're having that one of the nights while we're out there already (not sure which restaurant but it was my mother in law's friend's suggestion).

        They'll have a drink or two. My MIL is a lightweight. She's happy with one mojito or a glass of wine, and then pretty much done for the night. My FIL, along with my husband, enjoys scotch or pinot noir, or would try a specialty cocktail if it is unique for the location. And I like specialty cocktails or a glass of wine.

        We're not looking to drive to Napa or Oakland, if that's what you're asking. We'd consider a 20-ish minute drive but would probably prefer not too much further than that.

        I did read some previous posts and Coi does look like a good option in that it seems unique, although a little higher than our initial budget. My only concern is that my MIL doesn't like spicy food and I'm not a huge fan of pork so given that it's a set menu should those be things to worry about?

        Oh and I forgot to mention that my in laws have big appetites. So we can't do a place with tiny portions (unless it's multiple courses of tiny portions!)

        1. re: KWynn

          You might want to add Ame to your list then.

          As for Coi, they are known for accommodating all kinds of dietary restrictions if told about them with sufficient advance notice. You could always discuss it with them when you make your reservation. Also, if you dine in the lounge, you can order a la carte, but the lounge ambience is not that great.

          1. re: nocharge

            what don't you like about the lounge ambience?

            1. re: vulber

              There isn't much ambience in the lounge, but I don't mind sitting there for a quick, casual bite to eat provided I don't get seated in that horrible section where you face a wall. For a full-blown special-occasion dinner, I'd prefer the dining room.

          2. re: KWynn

            Yeah, if they like Asian style flavors, Ame would definitely be a good addition to the list. If you want California and seasonal flavors and good sized portions, Chez Panisse would be a great choice -- you won't ever find spicy food at Chez Panisse, so you don't have that to worry about, and you can check in advance to see if pork is on the menu. If you're concerned about small portions, I'd hesitate for Coi -- one complaint that I've heard is that while the food is excellent, the portions are small, and I know a number of people who have left hungry.

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            Chez Panisse
            1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

            1. re: JasmineG

              First week in August suggests only Chez Panisse Cafe where pork avoidance should be no problem.

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              Chez Panisse
              1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

              1. re: JasmineG

                Yeah, the portions are tiny, but if you order the full tasting menu, there are eleven courses, I believe. If you only order a few dishes a la carte, you'll very likely leave hungry.

                1. re: JasmineG

                  I really don't understand how anyone could leave Coi and be hungry after an amuse bocuhe or two, eleven courses, the inter-course palate cleanser and mignardises. Perhaps they didn't like the food and they decided to complain about the portion size instead of being more straight-forward. It is almost impossible to leave Coi hungry.

                  1. re: Paul H

                    Not everyone gets the full tasting menu. And no, the people I talked to all said that the food tasted great, but that there was only a tiny amount of it, so they stopped for a second dinner on the way home.

                    1. re: JasmineG

                      I know a 5'1" woman who claims she had to eat a grilled cheese sandwich after the Coi tasting menu to feel sated. I kept asking her how that was possible, and she said she just didn't know.

                      1. re: Pei

                        I wonder if it is the same 5'1" woman that I know who eats at French Laundry every six weeks.

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                        The French Laundry
                        6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                        1. re: Pei

                          I think the key word here is "sated." Perhaps the food, even if she finds it delicious, is somehow not satisfying to her. I can understand that feeling.

                  2. re: KWynn

                    Union Square to downtown oakland *is* 20 minutes, and it's far closer than Chez Panisse (more like 30 minutes), but you shouldn't go to either.

                    The rest of your request is well satisfied by the Michelin guide list, while checking open table for reservation availability. I can't think of anywhere in SF with entrees over $40, and no place requires a jacket, so you've only cut out the tasting menu places.

                    Jardinere has had downhill reports.

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                    Chez Panisse
                    1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

                2. I would suggest the Cliff House. Its beautiful and the views are memorable. And its casual.

                  1. Numerous posts about dress code for San Francisco restaurants. The standard is business casual,jackets are not required except at the French Laundry. Our weather, however, especially in the evening makes a sport coat, if not a parka, a good idea for the guys and a sweater for the ladies.

                    1. A 2nd on Coi. Also might consider Aziza (Cal-Moroccan), The Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton and if you're willing to travel 1 hour by car, Manresa.

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                      Manresa Restaurant
                      320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030