HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >

Discussion

Underwhlemed at Zuni [San Francisco]

We finally got out to try Zuni Cafe this past weekend. We took my sister and brother in law for their recent birthdays. Zuni had been on our list for quite some time and everyone was really excited to try it.

We started at the bar which was lovely. I love the shiny copper bar and the cocktails were fun. We were seated upstairs in a cozy booth. It was much bigger and spread out than I anticipated. Overall the service was pretty good. I can't fault our server, he was very personable and prompt but the overall level of service from the restaurant wasn't as high as I expected.

It was the food that garnered the three star review though. We ordered a sampling of salads and soups for the first course. My sister had the cesar salad which was awesome! Strong but not too strong anchovy flavor in the dressing and croutons that were to die for. My husband had the minestrone soup which was also delicious, very fresh. My baby jewel lettuce salad was okay, fresh but not very well dressed and the avocado wasn't really ripe. The polenta was fine, nothing spectacular. We ordered the house cured sardines, again fine but not memorable.

For mains my sister and I split a roast chicken which was the specialty of the house as I understand. It was tasty and moist but served very plainly with some greens and a bread salad. I just thought for a $48 chicken it would have plenty of veggies, not a few leafy greens and bread. It was plenty of chicken and that was a good thing since the boys portions were pretty small. They seemed happy with the salmon and lamb (I didn't have any) but they were finished very quick and tucked into the chicken. I am not looking for huge portions but since Zuni is not fine dining I would not expect fine dining portions.

I don't know if my expectations are too high and I don't mean to bash a perfectly fine restaurant I just expected more. It's a beautiful restaurant with a great atmosphere, maybe we ordered wrong or hit an off night. We ended up spending $95/pp incl tip with 1 bottle of wine, 1 round of cocktails and no dessert. I felt either the food or the service should have been better and I probably would have left happy. I would much rather spend $25 more/pp and head to Commis.

-----
Zuni Cafe
1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

Commis
3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. Join the club :) Although I wouldn't want to go to Commis either.

    -----
    Commis
    3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

    1. I go to Zuni for burgers and chicken. I like the oysters, too.
      It's not fancy (or cheap) by any stretch. Somehow, Deb and I, over the years, have made it our first stop after we touch down at SFO.
      It's good to have a tradition.

      -----
      Zuni Cafe
      1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

      4 Replies
      1. re: steve h.

        Steve in CT! Thanks to your BBI recommendation (I'm Dr. Knockboots on there!), I ate at Zuni two summers ago. I will definitely return to Zuni in September when I next trek out to SF. My girlfriend and I also plan to establish the same tradition!

        -----
        Zuni Cafe
        1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

        1. re: Rich D.

          Howdy, Doc!
          Zuni grows on you. Deb and I will be back in Northern California next week.
          The tradition continues.

          -----
          Zuni Cafe
          1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

          1. re: steve h.

            Where are you headed? Instead of starting a whole new thread (which I may anyway), how about I see what you think. Wed night I land am eating at Zuni. Thurs morn drive up to St. Helena in Napa and scrounge for lunch. Thurs night I'm tentatively scheduled for Martini House in St. Helena. Thoughts on it? Friday day wine taste and then Friday night I have reservations at Redd in Yountville. Ever been there? Other than TFL (booked), am I missing out on any great places in the Napa Valley? Finally, Saturday night I'm debating between Ame and Quince... Any thoughts on those?

            Other Hounders, please weigh in! If I should start a new topic I will...

            -----
            Zuni Cafe
            1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

            Martini House
            1245 Spring St., St. Helena, CA 94574

            1. re: Rich D.

              Deb and I are heading south from SFO to Pebble Beach via the PCH for the Concours. We should be back to San Francisco (and Zuni) by the 16th.

              Sounds like you are facing a mighty-fine road trip. As your attorney, I suggest you drive North over the mountains (Route 1). I don't know Martini House but the name sounds damn good to me. Keller is Keller. I love his stuff. Ask for a tour of the kitchen.

              Mustards Grill in Napa is an old favorite of mine. Cindy Pawlcyn is charming and a damn fine chef. Mustards has a website.

              Quince is a terrific restaurant although I may have read that there was some recent turnover in the kitchen. You may want to consider taking public transportation out to Noe Valley to Chris Cosentino's Incanto. Food is excellent and the ride out from FiDi is a hoot. Lots more recommendations but you get the idea.

              Best regards,

              --steve

              -----
              Zuni Cafe
              1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

              Mustards Grill
              7399 St Helena Hwy, Napa, CA 94558

              Martini House
              1245 Spring St., St. Helena, CA 94574

      2. Nice post. Thanks for the update.

        People either seem to like Zuni or not. It is not inexpensive so that expectation probably was off.

        I don't think you ordered wrong or it was an off nnight. The burgers, the caesar salad, oysters and the chicken are the top things to order there. While I love the chicken ... simple as it may be ... I'm not a fan of the burgers because they are on sourdough rolls ... a travesty to a burger, IMO.

        If you are ever in the Berkeley area, Zaki Kabob house has an excellent roast chicken.

        -----
        Zuni Cafe
        1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

        7 Replies
        1. re: rworange

          I enjoyed the food at Zuni but was shocked at the portioning for some things. For the price we left very hungry and we typically are not disappointed with portions. My son ordered a quail dish and just about cried when he saw how small it was. Yet, we saw the burger and fries at the next table and it was huge... so I guess it is what you order.

          -----
          Zuni Cafe
          1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

          1. re: jsaimd

            Every now and then Zuni goes nuts. It has to be at least a decade, but I still resent the green salad with pink lady apples that had exxactly three slices of apple so thin I could see thru them almost. I was about to go off on a rant when the friend who was visiting from out of state started to rave about how much she loved the joint ... but I still resent it ... one of those dishes that is memorable ... but not in a good way.

            -----
            Zuni Cafe
            1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

            1. re: rworange

              And then there was the nectarine that just rolled around on its plate (my favorite Chowhound thread ever).

              1. re: JasmineG

                OMG, I'd forgotten about that one. Ithink we need a thread about these oldies but not so goodies.

          2. re: rworange

            Not to nitpick, but the Zuni burger is served on foccacia, not sourdough. I actually really love their burger-it's a great lunchtime treat.

            -----
            Zuni Cafe
            1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

            1. re: rworange

              I think the top things to order there are the bloody mary and the espresso granita (and oysters and caesar salad). I do like Zuni, a heck of a lot more than I liked Commis, though I've always gone for lunch, not dinner (which may keep the bar bill down a bit since I typically don't order lots of wine at lunch). The bill always seems to be high, but then, I expect that. (though I've certainly never spent $95 per person). I never expect too much of the service, since it is in reality a casual place, IMO. (In that respect, the service at Commis has Zuni beats hands down, but then IMO the service was by far the best part of Commis).

              -----
              Zuni Cafe
              1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

              Commis
              3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

              1. re: susancinsf

                On my occasional visits to Zuni over a lot of years I've always found the service great; personable, knowledgeable, and helpful. I guess I'm puzzled by the service complaints.

                -----
                Zuni Cafe
                1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

            2. "Overall the service was pretty good. I can't fault our server, he was very personable and prompt but the overall level of service from the restaurant wasn't as high as I expected. "

              I don't understand that. Could you elaborate please?

              BTW, that bread salad to me is one of the best things I've ever had as a side. Sorry you weren't impressed :(

              3 Replies
              1. re: c oliver

                The didn't clear all of our silverware, they didn't refill water until the ice was clinking, our table didn't have the crumbs wiped between courses (just at the end of the meal). After reading the comments in this thread I think I expected it to be less casual than it is so its partially my fault for walking in with higher expectations.

                I just never got that it was casual from what I'd read.

                1. re: Foodie.wannabe

                  I would agree that service here is not the strong point. I have never been entirely happy with the service and always have to ask for more water as you noted and sometimes other oddities from time to time which I don't need to go into. I guess I just have low expectations given the casual atmosphere. But while I really love the chicken, the burger, the pizza, the caesar salad, the anchovies, and the ricotta gnocchi, I really haven't had any bad dishes here. I agree that some of the food could be considered bland by some, but I believe our American palates are conditioned to expect big flavors, lots of spice, garlic, heat, sweetness etc. and sometimes that can be disappointing if your expectations are set at that level. This is not a big flavors kind of restaurant.

                  1. re: Foodie.wannabe

                    I do think it is overhyped at times, so appreciate your report as a cautionary tale to others not to expect too much..

                    Of course, the first time I went to Zuni I was expecting to absolutely hate it, based on what I had heard from friends, and from hubby, who had a very bad experience there years ago. I was quite surprised that I actually enjoyed myself; always nice when that happens rather than the reverse...

                    -----
                    Zuni Cafe
                    1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                2. Zuni is praised by some as much as others praise The French Laundry. It is no wonder that some people are underwhelmed when presented with reality. Zuni would be better served by its fans if they scaled back the hyperbole.

                  -----
                  Zuni Cafe
                  1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                  The French Laundry
                  6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599