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Benu / Crenn / Coi / Saison [San Francisco]

Hello all,

Will be visitng San Francisco on a job interview in early September and am narrowing my restaurant list. Have been to Manresa and TFL in the past, planning a couple days up in Napa to visit Cyrus and Meadowood this time.

Of the four above, which would be the least "wow" of the group - or perhaps, do any of the above offer more/less the same experience which would make them easier to omit?

http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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Manresa Restaurant
320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

Saison
2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

Benu
22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

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  1. My list right now is:
    Crenn
    Saison
    Benu
    COI

    But mostly Crenn is at the top with the other three behind.

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    Coi
    373 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133

    Saison
    2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

    Benu
    22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

    3 Replies
    1. re: bbulkow

      I completely concur with BBulkow. That is exactly the order I would have put the list in...

      1. re: CarrieWas218

        Thanks to you both - anyone with experience at the Saison Chef's table?

        http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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        Saison
        2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

        1. re: uhockey

          I will add one tick: my list is based on desire, not enjoyment of meal. Your respondents further on are giving you better reaction on the actual restaurants. So much of my eating has been south-bay focused (and in the last 12 months, my tasting menus have focused on manresa), I haven't been to any of them. At least I admit it!

    2. The original comment has been removed
      1. OK. I must respectfully disagree. To give you a sense of my tastes so you can evaluate the rest of this post, I too am a huge fan of Manresa. I was more of a fan of TFL in the early days, but the last time my wife and I visited in 2009, I felt that it had become a little "Disney"-fied, if that makes sense. I am more of a fan of Per Se.

        I respect what Chef Crenn is trying to do at Atelier Crenn, and I am rooting for her to succeed. Based on our visit last March, however, I just do not believe it belongs on the same list as the rest. I agree with the reviews that refer to her food as “art.” Unfortunately, I feel like in the process of creating dishes that are beautiful to look at, Chef Crenn forgot to bring the “yummy.”

        Of the rest of the restaurants, Saison at the chef’s table is my current favorite, competing with my love of Manresa. I would say that Chef’s table Saison has a similar feel to Manresa, and it is hard to say who is executing better. Even if you have tried Manresa, however, Saison is sufficiently different that it would be my top suggestion for your visit.

        I would follow next with Benu. I think that Benu has the potential to be on List, but at this point, they are still developing their point of view. As my wife says, if Saison and Manresa are naturally beautiful people, Benu is that person who is beautiful because of a team of stylists working for hours. Saison and Manresa have a sense of effortless elegance. Benu is in the same class, but you can feel the effort.

        Finally, I would follow with Coi , which my wife loves. I feel like Coi is doing what Atelier Crenn is trying to do, but Coi actually achieves it. If you are interested in that variation of cuisine vanguardia, I would suggest Coi over Atelier Crenn.

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        Manresa Restaurant
        320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

        Saison
        2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

        Benu
        22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

        Atelier Crenn
        3127 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94123

        15 Replies
        1. re: KS1

          Agree completely with KS1. Atelier Crenn is a fascinating place, and I'm glad it's here and I hope it survives. But for me the experience was more aesthetic and intellectual than food-related. I had the full tasting menu about a month ago, and a couple of dishes stood out (pork, plus the desserts). Mostly, however, it reminded me of a really interesting art exhibit the subject of which happened to be food. For me, the presentation and concept overwhelmed the actual taste, possibly because I ended up thinking a lot about the presentation and whether it was truly interesting or just over-the-top pretentious (not clear that eating off actual logs enhances the food experience, even when accompanied by dry ice fog).

          Again, I'm glad Atelier Crenn has opened in San Francisco. Right now, however, I'm finding it memorable, but the food itself isn't enjoyable enough to put it on my personal list of top restaurants in San Francisco.

          Personally, my current favorites are Saisson, Benu and Canteen. They're different experiences, and I'm not sure it makes sense to try and rank them. All three have excellent food and all three almost always knock it out of the park deliciousness-wise. Which is what I'm personally most interested in.

          On the other hand, re-reading the OP, if you're looking for wow-factor, Crenn is probably the place to go. I can pretty much guarantee a highly memorable experience. On that scale, I'd put Benu second and Saisson third. Again, this is based on overall memorableness of the experience, rather than strictly based on the food.

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          Benu
          22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

          Atelier Crenn
          3127 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94123

          1. re: KS1

            Very well written - though I've done Per Se and TFL both for the extended tasting and preferred TFL w/ Lee to Per Se w/ Beno.

            Manresa left me conflicted - the food was very impressive while the service was so forgetable and disinterested that I might as well have been at a chain. No doubt Kinch is doing magic down there, though.

            Going to look into Saison's kitchen table - not sure if they allow it for a solo, but if so I'll probably end up at Saison, Crenn, and Benu.

            http://uhockey.blogspot.com

            -----
            Manresa Restaurant
            320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

            Saison
            2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

            Benu
            22 Hawthorne St, San Francisco, CA 94103

            1. re: uhockey

              My comparison between Saison and Manresa ---

              I think Manresa's food is significantly better than Saison, simply because Manresa had more WOW surprising moments. Saison had quite a few, but in the last visit, Manresa was likely 2x better in that regard. Still, saison's doing great stuff with multiple preps, drying, smoking of veggiest that takes Into The Garden to a new level.

              Saison's wine pairings were better. Two that blew me away were the red with the rabbit. I didn't like the rabbit dish without the wine, because the fat was so forward without background taste. With the tannins in the wine, the fat was cut, and the very delicate tastes of rabbit and fois gras mingled. There was a "ici la bas" white blend from outside santa barbara that was spectacular.

              The service at Saison was ... different. Manresa does formality better. Manresa always does servers == guests, and their plate synchronization is better. However, saison is a little looser and more personal. We're talking about the fine points, though. I can see the reaction that the formality at Manresa is offputting - like they're going through the motions. I've also had the problem at Manresa where I literally could not understand the server's words through their accent.

              Regarding the chef's table at saison --- which is the point of the preceeding posts --- this is a set of 4 seats *IN* the kitchen. Not *bordering*, but really in. There's another set of "bar" seats facing the fire, which is cool, but really being *in* the kitchen seems a treat - although I think I'd be distracted and want to talk in nothing but hushed tones. For our party, I preferred to be out of the kitchen. As a solo diner, nabbing one of the chef's table seats would seem sublime.

              I think the price for Saison is about on the mark. It's high, but the quality is within range of the other great tasting menu restaurants. I only hope for one thing: that they keep it fresh and real, and keep changing up their menu. The menu we had was exactly one reviewed here a few weeks ago, or I read on a blog somewhere. I hate that, and manresa always gives me about 1/2 war horses, 1/2 new and fresh. I appreciate that.

              Oh - the music. Saison was rather pumping with '80's. My mother complained (!) and asked to change the channel. The server mentioned it was the Rhapsody Hall & Oates channel, chef's favorite, and they would not be changing it. I did enjoy that the other diners were nearly uniformly my age, where manresa and many other tasting menu places skew far older.

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              Manresa Restaurant
              320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

              Saison
              2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

              1. re: bbulkow

                Excellent notes - thanks!

                Saison's Chef's Table will be my first meal of the trip and as such will have every opportunity to wow.

                Also - don't get me wrong - the food at Manresa (save for the mustard granita) was amazing, but the service was just so disinterested and disconnected and unfriendly (especially compared to The French Laundry, La Folie, The Dining Room and other equally lauded Bay Area restaurants) that it made me cold.

                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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                Manresa Restaurant
                320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

                The French Laundry
                6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

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

                Saison
                2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

                1. re: bbulkow

                  "Oh - the music. Saison was rather pumping with '80's. My mother complained (!) and asked to change the channel. The server mentioned it was the Rhapsody Hall & Oates channel, chef's favorite, and they would not be changing it. I did enjoy that the to"

                  Well, good to know I will never be dining at Saison.

                  1. re: BacoMan

                    Your loss, unfortunately. It is the best restaurant in the United States today in my opinion and has only gotten better since this aged review.

                    1. re: uhockey

                      Yeah, I'm willing to admit it's my loss. Kind of hard to believe it;s the best restaurant in America...does it even have 3 Michelin stars?

                      Unfortunately, I am quite sensitive to music. To sit through three hours of that horrific stuff on their list would be one of the most awful nights of my life.

                      Maybe one day they'll change the music selection, or perhaps I'll convince myself to go for a shorter time period to their bar area, which some others have mentioned.

                      You never know how the future will go.

                      1. re: BacoMan

                        Simply my two cents. Because even the Michelin Man is subjective.

                        1. re: BacoMan

                          I think the music is mainly directed towards the kitchen area where the chef works. If you are in the bar/lounge area, you are a little further away from the open kitchen than the people in the dining room.

                          The strangest use of music I've encountered was in the very early days of Michael Mina's Bourbon Steak in the St. Francis. They were blasting music in the dining room and not because of some eccentric chef since people in the kitchen wouldn't be able to hear it. Hearing Michael Jackson being played quite loud in an upscale steakhouse with a not-very-casual ambience felt weird to say the least. I never understood that one. At least with Saison, you could attribute the music to being one of the chef's quirks, his chef's attire being another example of those.

                          As for Michelin Stars, I don't think it's the kind of place that fits the traditional stereotype of three-star places, the likes of TFL or Le Bernadin, but at least they have two, and the food is definitely three-star material.

                          1. re: nocharge

                            When I dined at Schwa, they were blasting speed metal in the dining room, at a borderline obnoxious volume. I happen to like speed metal, and I was well aware of the restaurant's eccentricities before I scored the table, but it was still a little shocking -- surely the only Michelin star headbanger venue in the world.

                            As it happened, Gael Greene was at the table next to mine, and she didn't appear to mind it, or at least she gamely tolerated it.

                            1. re: dunstable

                              No stage diving into the kitchen ?

                              1. re: dunstable

                                Wu-Tang followed by Slayer during my meal.

                                1. re: uhockey

                                  Now that is much more to my liking! I hope I get to dine there one day!

                            2. re: BacoMan

                              Give it time on the third star. Michelin is behind the times if they keep giving places like TFL 3* and ignoring what Skenes is doing.

                              ...and as someone who grew up in the 80's but admittedly has a predilection for Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and the Grunge ear 90's I found the music whimsical and humorous - and a lot of fun. Phil Collins 'That's All' while eating aged game meats - I can gladly digest that.

                            3. re: uhockey

                              Saison is absolutely at the top of the game and of all places, it should be 3 Michelin Stars for sure.

                    2. I want to stick up for COI here. I haven't been to the other three, but COI was the most wow-worthy meal we've had in a long time. Given my recollection of your experiences here last time, I don't think you will be disappointed.

                      Michael

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                      Coi
                      373 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: mdg

                        Let's say my experience re: COI was VERY different than yours . . . PASS.

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                        Coi
                        373 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133

                        1. re: mdg

                          I'm with mdg, and I also haven't been to the other 3, but besides Commis in the East Bay, Coi is my favorite restaurant around, and gave me the best wow i've had in 10 years. Even adding Commis into the mix, Coi excelled on all points - yummy, interesting, beautiful (food and space), service, quality for my money.

                          -----
                          Commis
                          3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

                        2. We have only visited Coi and Benu of these places - Coi was one the highlights for us this year with a very unique tasting menu, different to many other places and very well thought out. We have visited other places of chefs who worked at Coi before and even though each of them has their own style you can still "see" the influence of Coi with its focus on the taste of key ingredients of a dish. One of the best restaurants of SF and very unique.

                          Our extended tasting menu at French Laundry was one of our recent highlights and so we were really looking forward to visit Benu but it turned out to be our biggest disappointment so far this year. Some dishes of the tasting menu were very good, some decent but also many just disappointing with a chef which was more living by his reputation through TFL than by the actual dishes of Benu. The service was unfortunately beyond bad and some of the worst we ever had and it is very, very rare that we feel that we have to contact a GM afterwards to discuss it. If a new, unknown chef without the reputation of Chef Lee would have opened the same restaurant he wouldn't have gotten such good reviews. It seems that many feel with the TFL connection the food and service has to be on the same level which is unfortunately not the case.

                          It was an interesting experience to visit both restaurants at two consecutive days - what a difference.