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Aziza, Chapeau!, or The Richmond?

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Barb and I are headed back to SF in a few weeks. Our last couple of forays into the city have been planned around things other than food, with meals being catch-as-catch-can. We haven't gone hungry, but it has limited our options.

So this time we're going to get reservations for Friday's dinner well ahead of time and schedule backwards from there. We're going to be at the DeYoung in the afternoon, and there are three places nearby that have been on the radar for a while - Aziza, Chapeau!, and The Richmond.

Aziza gets a ton of Chowhound love, and my first inclination is just to go there. But Barb likes the sound of the dishes at Chapeau!, and she's got that old-fashioned tendency to equate French food and special occasions. Then there's The Richmond - lots of positive attention, especially in the bang-for-the-buck department (which is definitely a consideration at this point in the economic cycle), and it's an easy walk from the museum.

So I figured I'd ask my fellow 'hounds which of those three restaurants you would choose, and why. I know it's like asking whether we should eat apples or oranges, but any input (including alternate suggestions) is welcome.

FWIW the current plan is to ditch the car in El Cerrito and ride public transportation, so parking isn't an issue but bus routes are.

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  1. Links

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    Aziza
    5800 Geary Blvd., San Francisco, CA 94121

    Chapeau!
    126 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94118

    The Richmond Restaurant
    615 Balboa, San Francisco, CA 94118

    1. Three great options.

      Chapeau! has an early bird 3 course menu for $28.00 if you get there before 6:00pm (except Friday or Saturday).

      The MUNI 44 bus stops in front of the museums and the northbound route will drop you at 6th Avenue and Clement, about 4 blocks from Chapeau!

      MUNI MAP http://transit.511.org/static/provide...

      1. I'd make the picks between Chapeau and Aziza. Certainly value and conveience with good food is an easy choice however Aziza and Chapeau are a step up.

        I'd pick Aziza given the reviews and Michelin star (subjective reasoning) and the upside for an excellent meal is higher and it's arguably the best restaurant in the Richmond district. I think the tasting menu is around $60 now. Now bad and more romantic, if that matters.

        That said, if the wife likes Chapeau, I'd probably head there and the $28 early bird sounds like a good compromise between price, value, food.

        15 Replies
        1. re: ML8000

          More romantic definitely matters; thanks. That's exactly the kind of comparative info I was hoping to get. Score a point for Aziza.

          Speaking of the tasting menu, does it change on a daily basis, or is there some indication of what we should expect? Looks like their fixed menu for larger groups is always spreads, basteeya, an entree, and dessert...

          Chapeau's early-bird special isn't available since we're going to be there on Friday. And IMO wine is an integral part of a French meal; not so with Moroccan food. So it's not at all clear we'd end up spending less money than if we had apps, entrees, and couple of cocktails at Aziza.

          1. re: alanbarnes

            Tasting menu at Aziza seems to be $68 now. As far as I know, the tasting menu at Aziza always includes the spreads and the basteeya for the table and choice of entree and dessert. Not sure what the fifth course would be (another appetizer, presumably). Some people complain that it's a lot of food, so you might be better off ordering a la carte. For example, if you ordered the spreads, the basteeya, another appetizer, two entrees and two desserts it would be cheaper than the prix fixe for two and be plenty of food.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              seems like they rasied it to $63 (from $55) after getting the Michelin star, you would have thought they'd have at least waited until the new Michelin ratings came out to up it to $68

              1. re: vulber

                They apparently abandoned, but didn't delete, a page on their server with an old dinner menu. http://www.aziza-sf.com/dinner.html Compare it to the current menu: http://www.aziza-sf.com/food.html

                Most prices have increased a little; the basteeya is unchanged at $18, spreads are up from $9 to $12, and the squab has gone from $23 to $26. But the tasting menu that was $39 is now $68. Yow.

                1. re: alanbarnes

                  wow....great catch.

                  i still don't find aziza to be overpriced though as the quality of the food there is phenomenal, it's just not a bargain anymore (now, the 3-course prix fixe at chapeau is)

            2. re: alanbarnes

              See if you can get a table in the back room at Aziza, which is quieter and more intimate. The cost of the tasting menu has accelerated much faster than the cost of individual dishes, and it's not anything like the great bargain it used to be. Given that it's made up of appetizers, soup, basteeya, entrees, and desserts from the regular menu, I think it makes as much sense to order a la carte. Terrific cocktails.

              1. re: alanbarnes

                I don't agree that Aziza is more romantic than Chapeau! (Chapeau moved into the old Clementine space.)

                Food at both is excellent. Aziza has great cocktails and a more innovative menu. But I also equate French food with special occasions, at least from childhood. Chapeau is more traditional but never fails to delight.

                1. re: Windy

                  As of my last visits a couple of years ago I would rate the Clementine space as more romantic than Aziza, though perhaps there have been décor changes since then. You might disagree if your idea of romantic = very little light. I do find dim lighting to be romantic but not if it's so dim I can barely see my food or my date.

                  What is it with the dark = romantic thing anyway? Because no one can see what you are doing under the table? Because the anonymity of darkness suggests illicit liaisons? If I'm at a special restaurant with someone attractive I want to experience fully the visual impact of the food and my date.

                  1. re: charliemyboy

                    Charlie if dim lights are romantic the restaurant Opaque is a virtual Woody Allen orgasmatron.
                    http://sf.darkdining.com/

                    1. re: charliemyboy

                      Just to make sure I'm understanding you here, are you saying that Aziza is especially poorly lit? Don't mean to be dim, but if you could shed a little more light on the subject I'd appreciate it.

                      1. re: alanbarnes

                        i find the seats at aziza to be very cramped and uncomfortable...although part of that could be because i'm so tall

                        service is better at chapeau!

                        1. re: vulber

                          I thought the atmosphere at Aziza was very nice and the seats were quite comfortable perhaps because I'm so short.

                          1. re: wolfe

                            The three rooms vary a lot. The middle room is dark and not that comfortable. Entrance is better lit but not romantic. Back room is cozy.

                        2. re: alanbarnes

                          Since romantic is subjective, you might look at photos on their websites or on Yelp.

                          I forgot Chapeau moved to Clementine. My recollection of Clementine (8 yrs ago) was traditional with some European formality...green carpet, table clothes but the table were very close together. I could see why people like it. Of course things could have changed with the move.

                          To me Aziza is "romantic" because it's different. I wouldn't say exotic but Moroccan design influences...and cozy is a good way to phrase the back room. Add in the food and I think the experience is more interesting overall, adventurous...even if it's not really since the 38 Geary stops outside.

                          1. re: alanbarnes

                            My only time at Aziza was in the middle room 2 or 3 years ago and we could barely see our food. Per Windy’s comment we probably should have asked for the back room.

                            I wasn't particularly impressed with Aziza’s décor—I much prefer more traditional décor similar to what I have experienced in Morocco or at some other Moroccan restaurants in the U.S. Admittedly Aziza’s food is head and shoulders above other Moroccan places in SF and I was very glad we went, but I found it less romantic than most of my other Moroccan dining experiences (such as http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6581... ).

                            Your tastes may differ—

                            Aziza’s website doesn’t have photos of the décor but opentable has one photo: http://www.opentable.com/aziza

                            Compare to El Mansour, whose food can’t compare but which is decorated completely with items and fabrics brought from Morocco: http://www.elmansour.com/index-1.html

                            Chapeau’s website has one photo of their dining room: http://www.chapeausf.com/

                            My opinions of décor and lighting notwithstanding, the food at Aziza was outstanding.

                  2. Definitely go to Aziza if you want an explosion of flavors. They really know how to use spices in everything from their fabulous cocktails all the way to the deserts. For a really special meal I'd go to Aziza.

                    1. We are Aziza regulars. The food, atmosphere and cocktails are unlike any other restaurant in the City and beyond. Oh, did I mention the cocktails? I dream about them. They are seasonal, and absolutely delicious.

                      On our last trip, I had the lamb shank. I do not normally eat lamb, but this dish was incredible!

                      Go early, ask for the back room, and plan for a leisurely wonderful meal. Don't be in a rush!

                      -----
                      Aziza
                      5800 Geary Blvd., San Francisco, CA 94121

                      1. While I love Aziza and absolutely recommend it without reservation, I don't think a meal there is necessarily the more memorable one. I had a dinner at Chapeau! earlier this year that still makes my heart beat a little faster - my skate in brown butter was possibly one of the best pieces of fish I've ever had. The service was impeccable while still being warm, charming, and welcoming, and despite the low lighting and close quarters of the nearby diners it still felt romantic. I absolutely love that restaurant.

                        That being said, I also adore Aziza. The cocktails are out of this world wonderful - not just inventive, they're smooth and beautifully balanced. Much the same can be said for most dishes I've had. A friend and I went there very early the other night for a leisurely dinner. Sure, the space is funkier (be careful of the floor in the middle room, especially if wearing heels) but I like it, and the service was wonderful and very attentive. We shared a variety of appetizers - we were particularly happy with the scallops and the chicken wings (boneless, more like a confit). And while I was disappointed the burnt honey ice cream was not on the menu (truly one of the best ice creams I've ever had), the goat yogurt granita with melon soup and beet sorbet was a revelation. So good I tried to pry the spoon out of my friend's hand so she would stop eating her share. Must find weaker friends.

                        Truly, you can't go wrong with either one.

                        1. Thanks, everybody, for all the input. Sounds like we've got some great options with no bad choices.

                          Ultimately we decided on Aziza and have made reservations there. But Chapeau! is definitely on the must-try list. Next time we're out that way at dinnertime, for sure.

                          Thanks again,

                          Alan

                          1. I have been to Chapeau! many times but not in the past 3 years and in that time much has changed so I'm not certain I should comment on the restaurant as whole. But the head chef remains the same and I can comment that he makes some of the best *bistro* French food I have had in the U.S.

                            I love Aziza, but I do not love it as much as others on this board do. Still, I would chose it. It is lovely, a very comforting atmosphere, excellent food, and... unique food. I have been to a couple of other great French bistros in the states. Chapeau! really is at the top of the heap, but there is a heap. The Moroccan food with a New American sensibility at Aziza stands out as something original to me. And, considering the uniqueness of Aziza's menu, the peacefulness of the dining room, and the *relative* equivalence of the food in absolute terms, to me Aziza wins out.

                            I will also echo another poster's comment that at Aziza, the lamb shank really is the way to go.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: whiner

                              I woudln't really consider Chapeau! to be bistro food, even if it is priced like it (and calls itself so). to me, bistro food makes me think of steak frites, coq au vin, sole meuniere, etc...

                              whatever it is though, it's phenomenal

                            2. Reporting back...

                              Thanks everybody for the recommendations. We went to Aziza, and it was spectacular. They seates us in the back room, at the table next to the stairs and the waiter's station. Not a good start, but it didn't cause any problems. And it left a spot to prop up the umbrella and pile our wet jackets (the rain came earlier than expected...)

                              We started with cocktails. Barb had vodka with fennel, dill, saffron, and black pepper. Very refreshing. I had rye with grapefruit, absinthe, and Peychaud's bitters. Complex and interesting to the last drop. I could make a hobby of the bar here...

                              For appetizers, we had the spreads and the scallops. Spreads were very tasty - from herbaceous to creamy to peppery - and the flatbread was more than the simple pita I had expected. But they didn't blow us away. The scallops, on the other hand, did. An intense sear, some pine nuts, a little endive and butternut squash - but the whole was so much greater than the sum of its parts. Spectacular.

                              For entrees, Barb had the cauliflower and I had the squab. The cauliflower was very good; served with some perfectly-cooked couscous and sauced with a nice hit of harissa. The squab was even better. Just past rare with smoked farro and slices of an unidentified root vegetable dusted with a mix of spices that I was never quite able to put my finger on. Exotic and delicious. Instead of wine we shared a 750ml bottle of Belgian tripel ale. It all worked well together.

                              We shared a dessert of date cake, fig jam, persimmon, and orange blossom whipped cream. The date cake was solid, and the persimmon was fresh if not intensely flavorful. The orange blossom really didn't come through, and the fig jam got lost in the mix a little bit. Not bad, but nothing to write home about. It paired well with two small pours of Pedro Ximenez sherry.

                              What is writing home about is the fact that this place is such a bargain. The tab was maybe $75 exclusive of beverages, tax, and tip. And the drinks were very reasonably priced. Total damage was about $160 - not a cheap night out, but for QPV I'm not sure it can be matched.

                              Again, thanks to all for your recommendations.

                              1. Aziza's tasting menu is now $95 and has around 13 small Michelin-serving courses.