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Safer bet for treating someone to their 1st high end meal: Benu, Danko, or Quince?

Hey folks, I'm going to be taking my cousin out to a nice meal for her graduation from Berkeley, just the two of us, or maybe her roommates too. As college kids, they've never had a fine dining meal; in fact, their palates are relatively staid. The meal needs to be on a Monday or Tuesday night and the girls are pescaterians for the most part. I'd like for them to have an "experience" meal, one that they'll remember for a long time -- I'm well dined, but I've never been to Danko, Benu or Quince and think any would be good options (or Aziza if I decide to keep it low key.) Which do you recommend? Danko, while well-regarded is a little bit less "interesting" for me, but I think it'd be a great experience for the girls, esp. since it'll be their first tasting menu meal (not too mention their cheese cart.) Quince is right up my alley and I had a good friend who used to work there before they moved locations, and of course, I'd love to get an opportunity to try out Corey Lee's food at Benu. If I were making the decision just for me, it would be Benu-Quince-Danko, but I think in this situation it'll be Danko-Quince-Benu... thoughts?

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Benu
22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

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  1. in terms of something for everyone, danko definitely has the most menu options/combinations/possibilites...

    1. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001...

      interesting interview with gary danko that definitely explains why his restaurant is so popular, but also why it has its detractors here and why people feel it's not a uniquely SF experience

      1 Reply
      1. re: vulber

        I don't think any of that is relevant to someone having their first fancy restaurant meal. Or maybe it is relevant, but on the plus side.

        Makes me want to go to Zarzuela.

      2. For whatever it is worth, I didn't think that Benu was that weird or off putting food wise. It has a very strong French Laundry influence and a pretty classical tasting menu. No cheese cart. If someone had paid for me to go, I would've been delighted.

        Other possibilities that might be less intimidating are Saison, Commis, and Manresa.

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        Manresa Restaurant
        320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

        The French Laundry
        6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

        Commis
        3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

        Saison
        2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

        Benu
        22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

        1. My cousin who is very unadventurous just ate at Gary Danko for the first time and loved it. They're going to Frances next.

          French- and Italian-influenced are always pretty safe fancy meals.

          The only thing is all the options here feel a little staid for a 21 year old.

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          Gary Danko
          800 N Point St, San Francisco, CA 94109

          1. I think for college graduates and for the celebration feel , seems like Benu would seem more special. Something about walking through and seeing the chefs in the kitchen and then the garden before entering just makes it seem more like an experience. I can see the girls taking photos outside in the kitchen. I kind of feel Danko would seem bit touristy because of location near the Wharf.

            Quince is also good for celebration because the service is very friendly, but I haven't tried the tasting menu there so not sure how it'll go. The tasting menu at Benu is what you'd expect from French Laundry, though less "freebies" in my mind.

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            The French Laundry
            6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

            Benu
            22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

            2 Replies
            1. re: singleguychef

              There's a garden at Benu? Where? And a view into the kitchen?

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              Benu
              22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                It's not a vegetable garden. It's a zen garden with the mini Japanese trees and benches in the front before you walk in. It's nice and open where they could take pictures. And before you walk to the garden you can look into the kitchen. You can also see the kitchen from the street, too.

            2. Most 21 year olds that I know who have staid palates would find the food at Benu completely weird and wouldn't eat most of it. I would definitely pick Danko of the choices.

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              Benu
              22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

              2 Replies
              1. re: JasmineG

                Someone, maybe Robert, mentioned La Folie on another thread.

                That's what I consider a classic tasting menu (and would have loved at 21, and still love today). Attentive service, very beautiful plates, delicious, and none of this Commis/Coi/etc minimalism.

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

                1. re: Windy

                  I totally agree with Windy.
                  La Folie is my favorite of the lot.
                  The fact that their food will likely jibe with what the OP is after is a happy coincidence.

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

              2. I think the decision has to be made on "relatively staid", and their adventure level as people. If they're the kind of people who would try anything once, take them to benu or quince. If they would simply not eat an object that can't be identified, Danko (food looks like food).

                1 Reply
                1. re: bbulkow

                  I would go with GD. It’s difficult to find fault with this place. Second choice would be Quince. I generally have had really enjoyable meals there. I was disappointed with my visit to Benu and would not go back. I think it’s way too stuffy for the kind of celebratory meal you are planning.

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                  Benu
                  22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                2. I think Quince is your best option for the age demographic you mentioned. It has a younger vibe than the other two. However, if you were taking ME out, I'd want to go to Gary Danko because it's beautiful and I love the food there. But I'm not 22-26, which I'm assuming they are. Whatever your choice, have a marvelous time; what a lovely gift.

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                  Gary Danko
                  800 N Point St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: mamachef

                    I'm loving all the advice from everyone! I think Benu will probably be better if they've had some previous experience in fine dining, so its looking like Gary Danko it is, even though his philosophy (and the fact that the menu has essentially never changed) troubles me... but I'm sure the food's fantastic and I can walk down from my "farm to table" soapbox on occasion. But out of curiosity, how has Ubuntu been post-Fox? It looks like London has done a commendable job of recreating Fox's dishes (a cover band, if you will) without really bringing his own into the equation. Is this a fair assumption? And either way, is the food & plating still fantastic?

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

                    Gary Danko
                    800 N Point St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                    Benu
                    22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                    1. re: heyitsjai

                      Hello, heyitsjai:
                      Perfect. I think you made the right choice - remember, while this isn't YOUR first time at a high-end house, it's theirs - and I agree that Benu might just be too formal for a maiden voyage; better they should be completely comfortable in the environment.
                      Re: Ubuntu - I got to eat there twice while Fox was at the helm, and it was staggering. As you said: perfect plating, just gorgeous. Delicious creative courses, professional and meticulous service. SO worthwhile. Sadly, I haven't been able to go back, but I've heard that the cooking has suffered with the advent of the new Chef. It's a shame, but perhaps he needs to just get on track and things will be better-than-wonderful again. If not, I guess that's my culinary Rosebud. (another thread on GCH).

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

                      Benu
                      22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                      1. re: heyitsjai

                        If your goal is to teach the kids Fine Dining 101 for Beginners, Gary Danko is a very good starting point. Probably much better than more unique places like Benu that are likely to incorporate stuff that lies outside of the core of traditional fine dining. Plus, chances are greater that the kids will find some dishes at a place like Benu to be "weird" than at a more traditional place. Quince is a pretty good example of fine dining if you are willing to go with Italian as your introductory lesson.

                        1. re: nocharge

                          Alright, you've all convinced me, Gary Danko it is. Thank you for all the great insight!

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                          Gary Danko
                          800 N Point St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                          1. re: heyitsjai

                            May I suggest that you look at the Gary Danko website for the menu. Perhaps your cousin, the lucky recipient of your largess, might be interested in familiarizing herself with some of the food choices. This could be especially helpful if she is unfamiliar with fine dining.

                            Our family had a celebration dinner at GD last year and the restaurant suggested this for one of our guests who was unsure about food choices. It worked perfectly and the guest wound up choosing the five course option AND loving her meal. She said that not having to ask a thousand questions at table was very helpful and make her feel more at ease. The other thing to discuss with your guest(s) is the size of the courses. The portion size will vary between the 3, 4 or 5 course possibilities.

                            Hope that you have a marvelous meal as we did. Although I live in the desert SW, I'd opt for another GD dinner anytime.

                            -----
                            Gary Danko
                            800 N Point St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                            1. re: Sherri

                              GD's portion sizes vary depending how how many courses you order? Really?

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Yes, it is a lovely aspect of their menu. The menu is divided into Appetizer, Fish & Seafood, Meat & Game Birds, Cheese Course and Desserts. The diner chooses either three, four or five courses for their meal from the selections within each category. Of course there are price differences for a three course, four course or five course meal -- from about $70 - $100, if I recall correctly. There is no price difference between choosing lobster or salmon, for example, it is the same price for a three course (etc) meal regardless of specific food choice. Additionally, as one of our guests did, it is possible to choose two or more selections from the same category. To be able to taste five courses would be too much food for me, normally, but the reduced size of each course allows a diner to sample more offerings. I recall, and perhaps not with complete accuracy, that the scallops were apportioned by number. I would have to check with the restaurant to be positive on this but I seem to remember that the three course menu choice offered five large seared scallops while the five course choice had three scallops. As I've taken pains to reiterate, I am not positive about the actual numbers but am certain the course size varies with your dining choice. We found this the perfect solution to our group with varying appetites.

                                1. re: Sherri

                                  They also default to making the "meat" course the largest, or main course, but will let you alter this. For example, if you are most interested in something from the appetizers or seafood, you can elect to have one of those courses as your main. I had a friend once designate the foie gras as his main course and it was comically huge.

                                  1. re: lexdevil

                                    Great tip, especially since I'll be going with a vegetarian and 3 pescaterians!!! (PS: Is that the new in-thing on college campuses?)

                    2. hey, let us know how they liked it!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: budnball

                        will do, we'll know in exactly 4 weeks!