Los Angeles Hound in Need of Help!
My wife and I have lived in LA for more than a few years, but despite traveling many places and eating many amazing meals, we have have yet to make it up to SF proper. We've explored Napa & Sonoma, but never the Bay Area itself.
Thankfully we are rectifying this by taking advantage of the long, holiday weekend. We are obviously going to do many of the typical tourist-y things ... I mean, hey, we're tourists for crying out loud! Nevertheless, we still want to fit in some of the amazing cuisine for which the SF area is famous -- that is where I need YOUR help. (caveat: a couple of Christmases ago you guys were fantastic in helping me plan a trip for us; unfortunately it fell through, though I've certainly taken to heart the advice presented therein. Link: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/581183)
Now, for our itinerary. We are flying into SFO Friday evening, arriving around 7:15 or so. We're still sorting out where to stay, though most likely one of the usual suspects (Four Seasons, Ritz, etc etc) will be where we end up, staying for four nights. We will definitely NOT have a rental car.
I am looking for an excellent, representative sample of SF cuisine -- in the sense that, I am trying to find food here that I cannot get in LA. From cheaper eats in the Mission to fine-dining like the French Laundry, and everything in between ... just so long as it is tasty! Price is not really a concern, though palate fatigue certainly is.
I've been reading through reams of threads, including the 350 response one from hungryabbey (link: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7067...)
Accordingly I've already been working to get several reservations for the dinners, but a bit of guidance from you all would be greatly appreciated. Especially as we are staying across a weekend, and a holiday one at that, so Sunday and Monday dinners are of mild concern.
Here is what I have so far ...
Coi @ 9:30. I was very excited to get this res, as the board in general seems to be quite enamored with this restaurant. I did have a reservation for Commis, but once this opened up I just had to take it. Right call? And I'm assuming 9:30 gives us plenty of time to get to hotel, freshen up, and still make the res comfortably (we're carrying on, for what it is worth). Is the 11 course menu just a ton of food? I'm wondering if we are better off in the bar area where we may order a la carte ...
I've made a res at Canteen for 9 am. I'm curious as to just how hungry we will be, given the prior evening's meal, but we can always scale back ... plus, I want to save room as we absolutely are planning to hit the Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market. Any recs for either or both?
Dinner is where things get a little tricky. At the moment I do have a 9pm res at Manresa, which I got before the Coi res became available. To be perfectly honest, I cannot imagine keeping it. I don't think we will feel like heading all the way down and back, even with a car service, and even if we did that might simply be too much/too similar doing Coi & Manresa back-to-back.
We are interested in a slew of restaurants: Incanto, La Folie, Fleur De Lys, Chez Pannise, Commis, Perbacco, Aquerello, Ame, Frances, Saison, etc, etc. Since Saturday is a prime night (thankfully at least most options are open), this to me is the most important dinner left to fill. Thoughts?
Sunday I have a couple of dinners booked; Incanto at 8:30, and Frances at 10. There seems to be a dearth of places open on Sunday, so should I just stick with either of these? Any other suggestions?
This night was really difficult, given it is a holiday, and given that most restaurants are closed on Monday anyway. We are currently booked at Ame at 8:30, which seems to be the best pick for the night. We definitely want to end the trip on a high note, as we are flying out Tuesday morning. Am I correct in thinking this will do just that?
As I said, we will be doing many of the usual tourist-y things, so in terms of breakfasts and lunches, I really don't know where we will be. Given our dinners, and the fact that we are trying to show at least a modicum of self-control (wedding coming up soon), we will most likely eat very light breakfasts of fruit or smoothies, and then lighter/split lunches.
I do know that I absolutely MUST try a famous Mission Burrito. I was happy to see today that Grubstreet had an update on the Mission Burrito Book (link: http://missionburritobook.wordpress.com) Are their recs solid? They list Taqueria La Altena at 1, El Farolito at 2, El Metate at 3, and so forth and so on. I'm curious to know the boards thoughts, too.
Additionally, we're looking for great bakeries/dessert places; I've heard Citizen Cake gets mixed reviews, but as we have her cookbook we ought to at least try it. I've also read/heard Tartine is good, too. Oh, and Humphrey Slocombe for ice cream, yeah? Any other recs?
We've also been regaled with stories of amazing coffee; Blue Bottle, Four Barrel, Ritual, Philz ... any I am missing? Any of these not worth hitting?
Lastly, I am trying to shy away from cuisines/regions that LA covers well (regional Chinese, regional Mexican, etc), unless there is a really compelling reason to eat otherwise. I'm not at all saying SF does not have amazing eats with respect to those regions, just that for a first trip I'd prefer to focus on other areas.
Thanks in advance for all of your help, and let me know if there's any other info I can give to help with suggestions.
Friday: Coi's tasting menu is very produce driven and light on meat, so I wouldn't worry about the quantity of food.
Saturday: I personally would find Canteen plus the market overwhelming. I would just go early to the market and eat there. Consider moving brunch at Canteen to Sunday. (BTW: I like brunch at Canteen, but Dennis Leary's cooking is more interesting at dinner.) I prefer Manresa ala carte to the tasting menu, if you decided to go. (I probably wouldn't go given your schedule, though).
Other places you might consider are: Aziza and Commonwealth
Cuisines I think that the Bay Area does better than LA: Burmese and Laotian, although Laotian kind of needs a car.
320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030
I would not drive all the way down to Manresa, especially if you are already doing Coi and Ame in one weekend. If you've never been to SF, you'll have plenty to do without that long drive.
All your meal choices sound good, I don't think you'll be unhappy with any of them. My two cents on the other things:
-Bi-Rite Creamery is a block away from Tartine. It's dessert overkill to do both so close together, but it doesn't get more convenient than that. And FWIW, Tartine is far more inspired, consistent, well priced, and popular than Citizen Cake.
-I'm from LA and I've never found a Mission burrito particularly amazing. Yes, it is delicious, but I must have eaten dozens before someone pointed out that they were supposed to be different from all those burritos I ate growing up. I still don't quite get it.
-Don't miss Blue Bottle, the Mint Plaza one if possible but the Hayes Valley or Ferry Building one are great too. Ritual, Vega, Sight Glass, and Four Barrel for me are good but quality varies depending on the barista. Philz is its own style of coffee and worth a try. Farm:Table is around the corner from Canteen. If you end up there for brunch do stop in. The lattes are amazing if the owner is pouring--the best I've had in California. If he's not there, it's still a solid cup of coffee.
-Zuni is on everyone's radar for meals, but I really like going for drinks and dessert. They're open late, usually not too crowded by the time the dinner rush is over, and the desserts are amazing. Nothing beats sitting near the warmth of that old wood oven, eating a slice of fluffy chiffon cake topped with seasonal fruit and sipping a glass of wine. It's one of those places where the desserts transcend their simple descriptions.
320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030
Blue Bottle Cafe
66 Mint St, San Francisco, CA 94103
Thanks for the head's up. It pains me to let that res at Manresa go, but we can obviously come back up and try it another time. Thanks for confirming my thoughts ... it does seem like a bit too much given a couple of the other places to which we are already going.
We will definitely make Bi-Rite; and I'm glad to read such a great review of Tartine. And Zuni for dessert sounds fabulous.
In general, we are both big sweets fans ... we spend a good bit of time in NYC, and will quite often have dinner and then stop at several different spots for desserts. I know, I know ... trust me, my dentist LOVES me!
With respect to brunch, I like having both options, though I tend very much towards the sweeter side ... should we consider switching Canteen for Dotties? Somewhere else?
A poster on our LA board (who also writes for the Times) waxed rhapsodic on Blue Bottle, so we will DEFINITELY be hitting it. My wife LOVES lattes, though, so if we hit Canteen (or maybe even if we don't), we will stop by.
And I feel, at this point, that I just have to try the aforementioned burritos, though I appreciate the head's up ... it helps to temper my expectations.
With Manresa gone, do any of the other places I listed jump out at you, as "must book" for dinner on Saturday?
And in terms of Sunday, do you have a strong feeling one way or the other on Frances vs. Incanto?
You might like Dottie's more if you like sweet brunches. They certainly have more choices. However, the lines may be a lot longer (Canteen does Open Table reservations, I hear even for brunch now). Canteen's dining room is a lot more relaxed, the food is more refined, and the menu never has more than a handful of choices. On a typical day it will be oatmeal, pancakes, french toast, eggs benedict, and a hash (fish or corned beef). Dottie's will have at least ten different takes on french toast and pancakes, along with several breakfast pastries, muffins, coffee cakes, etc.
Although for breakfast pastries, you really can't beat Tartine (I should take a cut from them for all the PR I do).
Sadly, I have not yet dined at either Incanto or Frances, so you must tell us which one you went to and how you enjoyed it!
I have been to and enjoyed Ame and Perbacco. Ame is very refined, more "cerebral" if you will. Perbacco is more homey and warm, and really really delicious. I would make the decision based on whether you want a little Japanese influence including some amazing raw fish, or if you want upscale Italian with homemade charcuterie and some heavier winter appropriate dishes (slow cooked sauces, stuffed quail). I would skip Fleur de Lys completely. If you've had a French-inspired tasting menu anywhere, you won't be wowed. For example, I don't find it any better than Providence in LA, maybe not even as good.
230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111
A quick note on Canteen from a fellow gastrotourist: I'm not usually a sweet breakfast person but I just love their sweet offerings, especially if they come with one of Chef Leary's fluffy whipped confections (eg sweet cream cheese on French toast). I would agree that his dinner offerings are more refined but I'd sure go here over Dottie's, since the food is 'way better IMHO and you won't have to wait in a ridiculous lineup in a grotty part of town.
Blue Bottle on Linden Lane is our favourite of the BBs we've tried. There is no seating so you need to wander a block to the little park, or knock back your beverage there. The coffee at Canteen is AFAIK still provided by Mr Espresso in Oakland. It is a decent brew but BB would be better I think.
My favorite things from Tartine are, in no particular order: banana cream pie, bread pudding, croissants, quiche, passionfruit bavarian. Cookies are good to take to go, and if you have to avoid something I'd skip the chocolate stuff here. It's fine, but it doesn't shine the way their other things do. Tartine is known for their bread, but not sourdough. I would take a loaf home from ACME (when on your trip are you really going to sit down and eat a loaf of bread?), and just enjoy the sourdough with dinner at Tadich.
Our favorite bread at Tartine is their country loaf which they sell by the 1/2 loaf or whole loaf, but only after 5pm on most days. However, the line to purchase bread often goes out the door and around the block. We've arrived at 6pm to find them already sold out of their bread for the day. If you want to sample their bread before 5pm, consider getting a sandwich made with one of their breads.
If you're going to get the sourdough at Tadich, you might want to consider picking up a loaf of pain epi from Acme at the Ferry Building before you head home. Note, their epi is delicious but has a short shelf life so you'll want to eat/freeze fairly quickly.
I grew up in l.a. and I will third that SF burritos are nothing in comparison to L.A. - mexican food in general is better in L.A. If you HAVE to do mexican while here, try Poc Chuc - a mayan take on food.
I would also skip Flour & Water. Pizzaiolo in Oakland is far, far better, and better even than Mozza's in L.A. Just my opinion.
5008 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609
2886 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103
Benu and Zero Zero. Benu is run by Chef Corey Lee who used to be Chef for French Laundry. Both places are near each other as well. Enjoy!
The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599
22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103
826 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94107
"... amazing cuisine for which the SF area is famous ...": to me, the French-influenced tasting-menu-oriented places such as Coi, Manresa, Acquerello, Ame, Fleur de Lys, and La Folie are less expressive of the local culinary style than places with simpler menus such as Frances, Zuni, and Canteen (at dinner).
Second on eating Saturday breakfast at Ferry Plaza.
I would not find driving back to SF a pleasant way to end an evening at Manresa, even with a chauffeur.
Mochica and La Mar are open Monday. What's the upscale Peruvian scene like in LA?
re: Robert Lauriston
LA does Peruvian pretty well, though the places I am thinking of I would never call upscale.
In truth, one thing I find LA does NOT do all that well is Fine(r) Dining, which is why I'm interested in the places I've mentioned. It's not that we don't have it, or that it is not done well, but I don't find it to be superlative here (especially compared to Tokyo, NYC, etc etc).
I actually wanted to do Frances Sunday, and then Incanto Monday, but Incanto is closed because of the holiday. So as it stands I am being forced to choose between the two, and both look fantastic.
And I think we are going to take Pei's suggestion and hit Zuni one night for dessert (and maybe a savory nibble as well).
Thanks for the input.
re: Robert Lauriston
I agree with Robert -- Coi, Manresa and Ame etc. are all wonderful places, but they are not places to experience the classic best of San Francisco. They are all in a style that you would find in other places -- not that you would find the food in other places, but as you can see from hungreyabbey's follow up to that long what to eat in SF post, what visitors and locals like the best are our mid priced options like Frances, Flour + Water, Nopa, Canteen, La Ciccia, Delfina etc. Go to Coi that first night, sure, but I wouldn't then go to Ame, I'd concentrate on places like the above that interest you.
I'd pick Frances over Incanto. First of all, Incanto is an easy reservation, so if you come back it'll be easy to go there, while Frances absolutely isn't. And I've uniformly enjoyed meals at Frances more than meals at Incanto, though others may differ. Since your Frances reservation is so late, you could always stop in at Incanto for drinks and appetizers at the bar at 5:30 or so to tide you over until 10.
320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030
291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131
3621 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110
560 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117
For Sunday, perhaps Commonwealth? It's new and my dinner there was impressive. SPQR is open on Mondays. Sitting at the bar is fun if you can't get a reservation. I echo the endorsement to eat the the Ferry Building on Saturday and Canteen on Sunday. Also, Tartine for baked goods is fabulous.
1911 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94115
re: mrs bacon
Having experienced the amazing eats in LA and recently visited San Francisco, I'd second JasmineG and Robert's comments -- having a great mid-range meal is the way to go. We went to San Fran/Napa for our honeymoon this summer and we found the high end food in the city just couldn't compare to the fine dining in Napa.
Ame -- if you have an alternative in mind, I'd try it as I'm not sure it compares favourably to the contemporary Asian fusion places that you find in LA that are amazing. It's a solid choice, but I'm worried you might not get the unique experience you're looking for. If you do decide to go, definitely get the Chawan-mushi (a savoury Japanese custard) and try the cuttlefish noodles -- they're two of the best on the menu!
Coi -- I think if you're an experienced foodie, you'll definitely enjoy choosing from the menu in the bar versus the dining room. While the bar isn't as fancy, I think you'll be able to pick off the best of the menu far better. Not sure what the locals would say about consistency, but we were unlucky enough to visit on an off-day for them when their food was not at their best. Nevertheless, their reputation is solid and based on the responses from Chowhounders here, I'd be willing to give them a second chance at the bar.
I think the one thing I'd recommend is heading down to the carts (by the big Fisherman's Wharf sign) and having some crab. Simply prepared, the crab is delicious however you like it -- in a poorboy sandwich, cracked in a shell or just for some lobster or clam chowder. When we were in LA, we didn't find any crab that was this good/easily available.
Have a great trip -- can't wait to hear about your meals! :)
re: Tony Calgary
Thanks for the input Tony. To be honest I am a little blase about Ame, but by far the biggest problem I am encountering is that so many places are closed on Monday, and with it being our final note I really want to end on a high note. Not sure what to do about that, but there you have it.
We're booked at Coi in the main dining room, and I feel like we will keep it that way, though I do like the added flexibility of a la carte offered in the bar.
In terms of po' boys, being from Louisiana (where I visit often) I grew up on some amazing ones, so that's not something that demands my attention. That being said, we still might go down and hit up the wharf for some fresh crab!
I like Manresa quite a bit but I wouldn't drive down there during a short weekend unless I had another reason or was staying. However if there was a time, it would be now given they grow a lot of their own stuff.
If you're willing to go across the Bay Bridge there is Commis, run by a Manresa alum. However the point about Coi and Ame being in the same range is right. I have not been but it sounds like there's a connection.
For something different that you won't get in LA, 2nd Aziza, Cal-Moroccan, Michelin star, $60-ish for the prix fixe. I'd call it a very SF sorta of meal - different, fusion, mid-range pricing, won't get it elsewhere.
320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030
3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611
Thanks ML ... Aziza is definitely on our radar. I've tried desperately to get into Commis, and they've no openings whatsoever on either Saturday or Sunday (my preferred date being the latter). I can get in (as of right now) late Friday evening, but that would entail abandoning Coi. Is Commis worth doing more than Coi?