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Toronto to SF (yes, I've done my research)

I'm a Toronto 'hound headed to SF in August for 4 nights (split up - 2 days on either end of a week doing Napa, Sonoma & Yosemite). I've read the threads for out-of-towners and the fantastic posts by Grayelf and Hungryabbey (fellow Canucks) so mostly I'm just looking for some specific recommendations based on our preferences.

Husband and I like mid-range places with great affordable wine lists and/or craft beers. We like a buzz to a room but not so loud we can't talk. Don't need white tablecloths but I'm pretty picky about good service. I like great/creative veggies and salads, and any kind of roasted or grilled fish with great seasoning and accompaniments, while Husband goes for pork/steak/lamb type dishes, and also loves him some gnocci. We're okay with some belly and boudin hear and there in a dish, but we don't like an entire meal of nose-to-tail. We're down with any regionality of cuisine but due to my aversion to cream sauce we usually end of steering clear of traditional Italian/French. Likewise I'm not a big noodle fan so Asian-type places have to have other options. We love Middle Eastern and Indian flavours and spicing. We usually do quite well at small-plate type places: our most recent memorable meal was at Publican in Chicago and that fits the bill as to what we're looking for. We're staying in Union Square but we're more than happy to walk up to 30 mins or take transit for good eats.

We'd like to splurge on one meal and that will likely be Ad Hoc or Bouchon. We're looking for places unique to SF. We'd like perhaps one dinner with mains up to $35 but for most dinners we'd like to stay around $100 for 2 with a drink each. We usually split one app/salad and/or one dessert, so we hope we can find some good mid-range options. We're not opposed to more street food/takeout/informal options as well (I hear tacos are the thing?) or lunches. We'd also love some suggestions for bars where we can chill with good wine/beer and a cool, not-to-young crowd.

I wonder if any of these fit the bill: Bar Crudo, Zuni Cafe, Slanted Door, Quince, Bocadillos, Lulu, Incanto, Piperade, Spruce, A16, Flour+Water, Bacar
This is just a list of places friends have liked, so I'm not sure if they're what we're looking for, or if you trusted folk can steer us in the right direction.

Thanks, in advance. Happy to return the favour for Toronto should you ever pass by our way!

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Slanted Door
Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

Zuni Cafe
1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

A16
2355 Chestnut St., San Francisco, CA 94123

Ad Hoc
6476 Washington St., Yountville, CA 94599

Piperade
1015 Battery St., San Francisco, CA 94111

Bar Crudo
655 Divisadero Street, San Francisco, CA 94117

Bocadillos
710 Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA 94111

Bouchon
6534 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

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  1. Generally a solid list there.

    Quince's next-door place Cotogna would be a better fit for your budget. Some of the best pizza in town.

    Lulu is sort of a knockoff of Zuni. It has had serious ups and downs over the years, I'm not sure how it's doing currently.

    Slanted Door charges a premium for its location.

    -----
    Slanted Door
    Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

    Zuni Cafe
    1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

    Cotogna
    490 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

    1. Good research, and good list. I love Incanto but prefer the offal dishes on the menu--it's not that you can't get, say, pork shoulder there--but I'm not sure I'd go if I didn't have an interest/taste in nose-to-tail type dishes--I think it's what they do best.

      I second Robert's vote that you check out Cotogna. I haven't been Bar Crudo's new location, but I liked the old one, and I don't think the couple of meals I had at Spruce were a good value, considering the excellent choices we've got around here.

      I'd say also that you might check out the menus at Zare at Fly Trap (mediterranean-persian) and Wexler's.

      -----
      Zare at Fly Trap
      606 Folsom Street, San Francisco, CA 94107

      Bar Crudo
      655 Divisadero Street, San Francisco, CA 94117

      Cotogna
      490 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

      1 Reply
      1. That's a solid list but some of them aren't really what you were asking for. So I'd take Quince (expensive, formal) and Incanto (really all about the nose-to-tail) off the list. One to consider that's not on your list is Aziza. I'd pick *one* of the plethora of places doing rustic/regional Italian/pizza (Flour+Water, Cotogna, A16, etc.) and one higher-end California cuisine or California take on another cuisine (i.e., Aziza, Piperade), then a couple of casual ethnic places (something Asian (Thai, Burmese, Vietnamese) and something Latin-American (Mexican, Yucatecan, Peruvian)).

        -----
        A16
        2355 Chestnut St., San Francisco, CA 94123

        Piperade
        1015 Battery St., San Francisco, CA 94111

        Cotogna
        490 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

        9 Replies
        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          Thanks for keeping me on the right track. The list was from a SF query to friends on Twitter, so it's not specific to my tastes.

          Oh, also, I'm not a dairy fan, so pizza without other options won't fly.

          1. re: LemonLauren

            I think you'll find that pizza in 2011 San Francisco does not mean oozing with cheese. None of the places listed is a "pizza place" but rather rustic/regional Italian restaurants that feature pizza.

            I'm also making my recommendations based on the kind of food you're likely to be finding in your other destinations, which is going to be primarily California/Italian/Cal-Italian; thus my suggestion that you try some other cuisines while you're in SF.

            1. re: LemonLauren

              Yeah, lots of cheese is not the defining characteristic of most of the top pizza places here. The best thing I had at Cotogna was a pizza bianca with ramps, guanciale, egg, and a little Pecorino Romano that could easily be left off if you're that anti-dairy.

              -----
              Cotogna
              490 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Ramps! You're talking my language ;) thank you both for the clarification!

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  At "A cote" last week: several mushrooms and duck. A slight hint of cheese, I couldn't quite place it. Something like an aged gouda. Yum.

                    1. re: mariacarmen

                      The wine list is very pleasant: lots of off-the-beaten-path europeans like croatia, hungary. And forget not the wood-oven-roasted mussels, worth the price of admission.

                      1. re: bbulkow

                        it has been at least 10 years since i've been. time to go back. thx bb!

                    2. re: bbulkow

                      Yeah, À Côté's wine list is remarkable: 60 wines, mostly not well known around here, about half available by the glass, plus additional wines in five or six themed flights and a reserve list. I advise wine geeks to take public transit.

                      http://www.acoterestaurant.com/menus/...

              2. I recommend Barbacco over Bocadillos for small plates, Perbacco for excellent Italian with not a hint of cream sauce.

                -----
                Perbacco
                230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                Bocadillos
                710 Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                Barbacco
                230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                1. Go to Perbacco. Not a cream sauce Italian type place, fits your bill exactly.

                  Slanted Door is great but has gotten overpriced.

                  Zuni is nice, I prefer NOPA for similar style food... sit upstairs for less noise.

                  Quince is very nice.

                  Incanto is a lot of offal, I'd go elsewhere based upon your requests.

                  A16 is good but haven't been there since the original chef left.

                  The last I heard of bacar it had closed.

                  Piperade is very good and always a crowd pleaser, though the service can be a bit fast.

                  Spruce isn't worth the hype, imo -- more animal fat use than required, imo.

                  -----
                  Slanted Door
                  Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

                  Zuni Cafe
                  1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                  Perbacco
                  230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                  A16
                  2355 Chestnut St., San Francisco, CA 94123

                  Piperade
                  1015 Battery St., San Francisco, CA 94111

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: whiner

                    Bacar is gone and replaced by Alexander's Steakhouse.

                  2. Incanto has a recent menu online. Only a small fraction of the dishes have offal: I count two of eight appetizers, two of six primi, one of five entrees.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Will have to look at menus more seasonally in summer perhaps to get a better feel. Thanks!

                    2. La Ciccia, our Sardinian specialist, seems right up your alley, more so than Incanto and most of the other Italian places in town. Ruth's advice for structuring the visit seems very good to me.

                      Michael

                      -----
                      La Ciccia
                      291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

                      1. I think Nopa would be great for what you're looking for. Also consider Contigo, where you can get a bunch of things to share - it would be a cab ride from Union Square, but worth it.

                        -----
                        Contigo
                        1320 Castro St, San Francisco, CA 94114

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: morningbun

                          Nopa can get very loud,especially on weekends. I've had trouble hear the person next to me at the bar.

                          -----
                          Nopa
                          560 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117

                        2. House of Prime Rib is the best value your going to get for a great meal. Roughly 40 bucks each depending on the cut of prime rib you choose, it includes bread, salad, three sides. The prime rib was great, as it should be going by the name of the restaurant. It gets carved table side by the chef. But the best thing was surprisingly the salad, which also gets dressed table side. Anthony Bourdain raved about this place on his SF episode of No Reservations.

                          -----
                          House of Prime Rib
                          1906 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, CA 94109

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: ELO86

                            Hmm, i don't really go in for prime rib, so this would be a meal for my man, not me.

                            1. re: LemonLauren

                              You can probably get prime rib just as good or better in Toronto. It's kind of a fun, old-school place, but not really worth a visit for tourists except maybe those visiting from somewhere where they don't have that tradition.

                              1. re: LemonLauren

                                Don't do HOPR. It is "san francisco" in that it's a dark wood barbary coast style joint, kinda fun for all that, but you'd find similar and better in a number of other cities. Skip it.

                                1. re: bbulkow

                                  given these recommendations, i'm doubting if the poster read my requests at al! thanks.

                            2. since you liked Publican in Chicago, i'd recommend spending more time at the ferry building eating at Boccalone and Hog Island and 4505 Meats. you can get grilled fish and lamb at Kokkari. Dosa is a safe Indian choice. Cotogna over Quince though the white asparagus at Quince was excellent. NOPA late night pork chop meal always satisfies. for a meal and then hang out after, try 25lusk. Marlowe would give you a great sense of midrange awesome sf dining. Truly Mediterranean is a good falafel or shawarma snack type of place

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: ankimo

                                thanks for including some names i hadn't seen!

                                1. re: ankimo

                                  I second what ankimo recommends: Kokkari is one of my favorite restaurants in the city. Many of my family members are from TO and whenever they come to SF they insist on going to PPQ Dungeness Island on Clement Street (a Vietnamese place that specializes in crab). It's a bit far from Union Square, but maybe if you're heading over to De Young, Cal Academy, or the Legion of Honor, you can go here for lunch or dinner. The other excellent choice in the same area is Aziza -- someone else in this discussion also mentioned it -- the chef won Iron Chef a few years ago.

                                  -----
                                  Legion of Honor Cafe
                                  100 34th Ave, San Francisco, CA

                                2. New Question:

                                  wine bars?

                                  and/or pubs with lots of (local) craft beers?

                                  thanks!

                                  13 Replies
                                  1. re: LemonLauren

                                    Wine bars: Terroir, Pause / Yield, Punchdown in Oakland.

                                    Beer: Toronado, City Beer, The Trappist and Beer Revolution in Oakland.

                                    -----
                                    City Beer Store
                                    1168 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                                    Toronado Pub
                                    547 Haight St, San Francisco, CA

                                    The Trappist
                                    460 8th Street, Oakland, CA

                                    Terroir Natural Wine Merchant & Bar
                                    1116 Folsom Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

                                    Yield Wine Bar
                                    2490 3rd St, San Francisco, CA 94107

                                    Beer Revolution
                                    464 3rd St, Oakland, CA 94607

                                    Punchdown
                                    2212 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612

                                    Pause Wine Bar
                                    1666 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      Adding to this: Magnolia, 21st Amendment for beer.

                                      -----
                                      Magnolia Pub & Brewery
                                      1398 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117

                                      1. re: morningbun

                                        Magnolia's a brewpub, has only a handful of guest beers. I like it for the combination of hand-pumped beer and good food.

                                          1. re: LemonLauren

                                            Magnolia might be the only bar around here these days with more than one hand pump.

                                            Lanesplitter in Berkeley used to have three, now they have only one. The Oakland branch used to have one, now they have zero. I saw one at The Trappist a few times, but have yet to see them use it.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              Toronado typically has three hand pumps running.

                                              1. re: tranewreck

                                                any discussion of beer without the Toronado is not complete. Toronado is teh awesome.

                                                1. re: tranewreck

                                                  They had three going yesterday :-).

                                          2. re: morningbun

                                            Alembic (by the Magnolia folks) with additional guest beers, great cocktails and small plate dining
                                            Monks Kettle-beer (25 + taps) and bar food

                                            -----
                                            Alembic
                                            1725 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117

                                            The Monk's Kettle
                                            3141 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                                        1. re: LemonLauren

                                          Anyone got any feedback on Tonga Room and Bourbon and Branch?

                                          -----
                                          Tonga Room
                                          950 Mason St., San Francisco, CA 94108

                                          1. re: LemonLauren

                                            The Tonga Room is campy fun, drinks are average, food's not good but you don't have to order it. For the best tiki drinks, go to Smuggler's Cove.

                                            -----
                                            Tonga Room
                                            950 Mason St., San Francisco, CA 94108

                                            Smuggler's Cove
                                            650 Gough St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                                            1. re: LemonLauren

                                              If you want to go to the Tonga Room, go before the "entertainment" otherwise there's a cover charge. Personally I'd pay to not hear the band. They keep saying that they're going to close the bar so you may want to see it before this happens. It's worth the price of a drink to see it. But better tiki drinks are to be had at Smuggler's Cove as RL pointed out.

                                              Bourbon and Branch is also a great place, with great drinks. Not a great neighborhood though so be aware.

                                              -----
                                              Tonga Room
                                              950 Mason St., San Francisco, CA 94108

                                              Smuggler's Cove
                                              650 Gough St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                                              1. re: cosmogrrl

                                                I don't see the point of going to the Tonga Room if you're not going to see the band. The decor's fun but Smuggler's Cove is even better on that score.

                                                -----
                                                Tonga Room
                                                950 Mason St., San Francisco, CA 94108

                                                Smuggler's Cove
                                                650 Gough St, San Francisco, CA 94102

                                          2. A few other ideas...Dosa (on Fillmore, or in the Mission) is great for Indian small plates and pretty creative. If you are looking for great fish tacos, when you are in Yountville for Ad Hoc or Bouchon, definitely go the bar menu at Redd (I think it's only 2 to 5pm, but call to find out) and get the fish tacos. It's the recipe from one of their kitchen staff's family and they are amazing. For a cheap lunchtime/happy hour option, try Pacific Catch (yes it is a chain but also fresh and unique tacos) Mon to Fri from 3 to 6pm there is special pricing and a good value gets even better. Also re: Nopa, you should check out Nopalita and see if you may like it as well.

                                            -----
                                            Ad Hoc
                                            6476 Washington St., Yountville, CA 94599

                                            Nopa
                                            560 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117

                                            Pacific Catch
                                            1200 9th Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94122

                                            Bouchon
                                            6534 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: ciao.izzy

                                              Pacific Catch (the chestnut location) has my favorite fish tacos (haven't tried Redd's yet), but I don't really consider them a "chain". They have 4 locations all in the Bay Area....

                                              1. re: ciao.izzy

                                                amazing, love the fish taco idea, thanks!