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Authentically San Franciscan

madtheswine Sep 21, 2010 01:13 AM

I'll be visiting San Francisco soon and would like to know any places that must be tried in a four day trip. I have scoured thru dim sum recs on the board and we will be visiting one or more of the places, but is there any place that typifies San Franciscan cuisine? If not, are there any quality restaurants that are into cooking local ingredients?

  1. Robert Lauriston Sep 22, 2010 11:26 AM

    Top quality local ingredients pretty much define contemporary SF Bay Area cuisine. It's the Chez Panisse tradition, basically.

    One interesting trend is places applying that kind of sourcing and philosophy to cuisines other than the usual Italian, French, and "New American," e.g. Aziza (Moroccan), Namu (Korean), Mission Chinese Food, and Ajanta (Indian).

    Chez Panisse
    1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

    Ajanta Restaurant
    1888 Solano Ave, Berkeley, CA 94707

    439 Balboa Street, San Francisco, CA 94118

    Mission Chinese Food
    2234 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

    7 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston
      soupçon Sep 22, 2010 01:02 PM

      Fresh, top quality local ingredients have been been used when possible by every cuisine in every part of the world throughout history. We just happen to have more around for more of the year. I don't think that defines a cuisine.

      1. re: soupçon
        Robert Lauriston Sep 22, 2010 01:11 PM

        I couldn't disagree more. In the 1970s, restaurants around here used mediocre ingredients and lots of frozen and canned stuff. Alice Waters and her collaborators at Chez Panisse had to develop a network of direct suppliers to make food like they had enjoyed in France, and for a long time the only alternative to Chez Panisse for food like that was a trip to Europe.

        Even today, careful sourcing is still the exception to the rule. There are still a lot of restaurants that just use whatever's cheap.

        Chez Panisse
        1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

        1. re: Robert Lauriston
          Melanie Wong Sep 22, 2010 02:17 PM

          You've cited a small blip in post-WWII United States food systems that really doesn't address "every part of the world" or "history".

          1. re: Melanie Wong
            Robert Lauriston Sep 22, 2010 04:48 PM

            We're talking about contemporary local cuisine.

            It's true that Chez Panisse mostly recreated and imported traditions rather than inventing new ones, but that doesn't make their accomplishments any less significant. Maybe in the 19th century food wasn't so different from what we have now, but the industrialization of American food dates back to at least the 1920s. In the 1950s through the 70s, things were pretty grim, and CP played a crucial role in the ensuing culinary renaissance, not just in Northern California but nationally.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston
              SteveG Sep 23, 2010 05:14 PM

              I think Melanie might be thinking of local authentic Chinese food over the past century. I doubt it ever subscribed to the canned everything/meat cooked until gray philosophy of mid-century industrialized American food.

              It's a small piece of my family lore that the first time they had rare lamb in a restaurant on American soil was at Chez Panisse. But they didn't know to explore local ethnic cuisines.

              Chez Panisse
              1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

      2. re: Robert Lauriston
        vulber Sep 22, 2010 01:13 PM

        I think Amber India would be a better example than Ajanta

        Ajanta Restaurant
        1888 Solano Ave, Berkeley, CA 94707

        Amber India
        Mission and Fourth, San Francisco, CA

        1. re: vulber
          Robert Lauriston Sep 22, 2010 01:54 PM

          I don't know anything about Amber India's sourcing. Ajanta has reportedly gotten tighter recently:


          Ajanta Restaurant
          1888 Solano Ave, Berkeley, CA 94707

      3. m
        mdg Sep 22, 2010 10:25 AM

        Tadich and Sam's are historic San Francisco restaurants that can be well worth visiting, but the menus are throwbacks that don't typify today's San Francisco cuisine. The place I send people for that within the city limits is Zuni Cafe. But there are tons of other good choices that serve similar California cuisine with local ingredients; Zuni is the oldest (and one of the best) within the city limits, with a great local atmosphere.


        Zuni Cafe
        1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

        1. o
          OldTimer Sep 21, 2010 09:35 AM

          When asked that question, I always suggest Tadich or Sam's Grill. I prefer Sam's...I like the smaller sand dabs. You can get elegant cuisine at many upscale places over the U.S., but Tadich and Sam's are unique.

          3 Replies
          1. re: OldTimer
            klyeoh Sep 21, 2010 11:47 PM

            Same here - loved both places, but I seemed to be more relaxed when I'm at Sam's. Cosier atmosphere?

            1. re: OldTimer
              Civil Bear Sep 22, 2010 09:12 AM

              If we are going with SF institutions, then perhaps Tommy's Joynt for lunch. The Thursday lamb shanks are particularly tasty.

              Tommy's Joynt
              1101 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94109

              1. re: OldTimer
                OldTimer Sep 22, 2010 01:06 PM

                I agree that Tommy's Joint is quinessential San Francisco. Not my absolute favorite food, but authentically typical nevertheless. When I first came to SF, there were 9 or 10 similar places, all over downtown. Mostly turkey, ham and roast beef (often dipped). My good friend would buy turkey carcasses to make soup...ugh. Those places were never empty.

              2. bbulkow Sep 21, 2010 08:47 AM

                Greetings florida!

                Here is a very long thread about "authenticity".
                In a place with about 120 years of history, authenticity is hard to put a finger on.

                Searching "must try" brought up this very nice thread

                What I call california cuisine focuses around locally available ingredients and terroir. The grand dame of these restaurants is Chez Pannisse, and the extra of market-driven food happens at some of the tasting menu restaurants, where the chef makes the dishes and menus on a daily basis. Manresa, Coi, Commis, Ubuntu are some examples, but many other "classic" san francisco places like Zuni follow a similar mold.

                SF has great strength at midrange restaurants as well as a few great high-end dining spots. Being specific about what you're looking for will help this board give you specific recommendations instead of a standard top-100 list.

                Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio
                1140 Main Street, Napa, CA 94558

                Zuni Cafe
                1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                Manresa Restaurant
                320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

                3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

                1. lexdevil Sep 21, 2010 07:10 AM

                  More than you probably want to know:

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