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Need an Asian restaurant rec!!!

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My wife and I will be in San Fran for two nights. We're going to Saison the first night and are looking for an Asian restaurant recommendation for the second night. We live in NYC and are a bit disappointed by the Asian food here. Slanted Door looks like too much of a tired, asian-fusion, Morimoto type of place.

Anybody been to Saison? some feedback would be great. Aziza and Canteen were our runner-ups. We had considered places like Nopa, Range, Frances, and Zuni, but while I'm sure they have great food, they don't seem all that unique. Is Aziza (Richmond District) kinda out of the way? We're staying in Nob Hill.

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Canteen
817 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94109

Saison
2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

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  1. When you say "Asian restaurant" what do you mean? An upscale place like Slanted Door but less "tired, asian-fusion, Morimoto"? A more modest but "authentic" place? Regional Chinese? Vietnamese? Thai? People will say not to bother with Japanese in SF because it's better in NY.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      Not over-the-top like Morimoto. In other words, the focus should be more on the food rather than the scene. Upscale or modest, but definitely authentic. let's say chinese, vietnamese, or burmese. we eat thai and japanese all the time in NY.

      1. re: thomasblack

        Maybe Jai Yun. It's somewhat unique although not everyone's cup of tea.

        As for Saison, the food is absolutely delicious. Far better than the service. It's not cheap, but at least the food is worth it.

        1. re: nocharge

          Don't know why Jai Yun did not link but here is a recent thread about it.
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/785242

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          Jai Yun
          680 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94111

        2. re: thomasblack

          Jai Yun is an interesting suggestion. Personally, since I understand there is no Burmese in NY, that would be the way to go. If you search "Burmese" you can read about the pros and cons of various options and suggestions on what to order.

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          Jai Yun
          680 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94111

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            do you have a favorite burmese?

            1. re: thomasblack

              My personal experience with Burmese in SF is not current enough to make a recommendation, and I haven't tried what I believe is the current consensus favorite: Larkin Express Burmese Kitchen.

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              Larkin Express Burmese Kitchen
              452 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94102

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                I'm less enamored of Larkin Express than most, but I agree Burmese is a good choice. Generally anything but Burma Superstar which is pleasant but Americanized/dumbed down (less assertive flavors) compared to Pagan, Mandalay, Little Yangon.

                Aziza isn't that far, especially if you combine it with a trip to Golden Gate Park, the ocean, or the Legion of Honor.

                There's a lot of great Vietnamese. Slanted Door really is nothing like Morimoto; it started in a funky location 15 years before it became the expensive, blander behemoth it is today. Fusion is kind of a dirty word in San Francisco (unlike LA, where people say it without derision).

                Bodega Bistro remains my favorite Vietnamese. Open for lunch as well as dinner, which might be nicer given the neighborhood.

                But having now responded to both of them, I'm confused about why you have two threads. You might get more responses if you ask the moderators to merge them.

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                Slanted Door
                Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

                Bodega Bistro
                607 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                Little Yangon
                6318 Mission St, Daly City, CA 94014

      2. for mid-price to high end restaurants there won't be many SF places that will seem unique from a NYC perspective (<.5 million population in SF). the food at Aziza isn't unique either, similar to the other places you name in terms of high quality but not particularly unusual.

        to me, the places that are unique to SF are defined less by the style of cooking (many of the chefs trained in similar academies, or apprenticed under the same chefs after all), but rather how successfully they use the great ingredients produced within 1-2 hours by truck from the city.

        4 Replies
        1. re: moto

          fair enough. so what are your favorites?

          1. re: moto

            I have to disagree except about the great ingredients. NY has lots of wonderful food, but it has plenty of bad and mediocre restaurants and is missing a lot of cuisines including (as noted above) Vietnamese, Mexican, regions of Chinese. Most SE Asian food is better on the west coast.

            There is nothing in NY like Aziza, and there's a tremendous amount of creativity in town at the moment, just looking at the variety of popups, bakeries, and cafes.

            1. re: Windy

              there's a sampling bias that leads bay area c-hound types to overrate what SF (and the original query refers to the city proper, not the surrounding counties) has. NYC includes many different ethnic enclaves, and it would take extended jaunts through the boroughs and wading through many mediocre spots to identify a top ten in a given category. the best stuff is more accessible and easier to find in SF proper, but if a visitor from NY who's had years there to find their fancies has but two days in SF, it's not terribly likely they're going to find much to surpass what they're familiar with. not to say it's impossible. there are so many places in NY, yet it is certain there's nothing there like Aziza ?

              of course it's merely my personal taste, but after trying Aziza a few times, my impression was, high quality, but nothing special (i.e., *unusually* good), and whatever uniqueness it possesses as an ethnic style/fusion was of relatively lesser significance. Burmese food might be more unique than Laotian or Thai, but if a fresser prefers the great exemplars they've had of the other cuisines, the uniqueness might be a mere novelty rather than something deeply satisfying. if novelty or uniqueness for its own sake are high priorities (and for some it might be the key to their finding something revelatory), that's certainly a valid approach to the adventures of eating out.

              yes, our area is part of the Pacific rim so your generalization about SE Asian food is probably accurate. but for a two day visit, the sampling issue is relevant -- someone has had years in another town with a huge restaurant base, but even the 'average' places here are so great that a one meal sample will make that experience equal to the best they've had at home ? since alta california was formerly part of Mexico, yes, good Mexican food is easier to find here, but mr.black didn't mention that type of food. however, great restaurant cities all over this country have a way of attracting good Mexican food, so NY could be surprising in that regard.

              1. re: moto

                Folks, there's already one NYC vs. SF Bay argument going on here today, and one is more than enough. We'd ask people to please drop this line of argument. Thanks.

          2. It is Japanese fusion, so violates your rule, but you might want to consider Ame. It has a following.

            1. Thanks for all the advice! What about the The House? I'm leaning toward Jai Yun so far…looks delicious!

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              Jai Yun
              680 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94111

              7 Replies
              1. re: thomasblack

                I haven't been to The House in a while, but when I go I'm always surprised at myself for not going more often. It's not brilliant, daring, or authentic anything, but it's all well-cooked, thoughtful, and satisfying. Menus are here: http://www.thehse.com/ . If you took some traditional Japanese and Chinese dishes and turned them into American comfort food, you'd get The House -- unagi avocado sandwich; caesar salad with crispy scallops; etc.

                Tastier than Slanted Door; cheaper than Ame; less surprising than Jai Yun; less unusual than the Burmese places discussed here.

                And there's Mission Chinese Food. See fierce debates elsewhere on the board and recent NYTimes Bittman write-up for a New Yorker's perspective. I'm a fan, but many are not.

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                Slanted Door
                Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

                Jai Yun
                680 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94111

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

                1. re: thomasblack

                  Very different. Hard to compare.

                  The House was one of the original Asian fusion places from the 90's. I greatly enjoyed their original location on 9th Ave. Very comfortable, neighborhood place (at the time). Chinese American owned, good moderately priced wine list, fusion that didn't try too hard. As I said, it was a favorite. I've never visited them in their current location. My fusion focus shifted to Isa instead (which was about 90% Euro / 10 % Asian), but a similar neighborhood feel.

                  Jai Yun is a regional Chinese restaurant (not fusion). It's a bit more Western friendly if only because the menus are decided by he chef. You need a group to dine there (minimum 4, 6 is better).

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                  Jai Yun
                  680 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                  1. re: jman1

                    You don't need a group to dine at Jai Yun, in fact I think two is the best number:

                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7852...

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                    Jai Yun
                    680 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Good to know. It's been 5 years since my last visit. When I first visited, I was informed of a minimum group size of 4 (possible that there was a communication problem) and never saw smaller groups.

                      1. re: jman1

                        I think it was a communication problem, or a short-lived experiment. There was no minimum size when Olivia Wu wrote about Jai Yun in the Chronicle in 2002.

                        http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

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                        Jai Yun
                        680 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Looking back over my email archive, I see that for my visits in 04-06, I mention the minimum, but not where I got that idea. Oh well.

                          In any case, ideal group size may be a personal preference. It seemed to me that a larger group allowed for more variety (but yes, small portions for each individual dish). I always left satisfied in groups of 5 or 6. It was also necessary to bring your own wine if you wanted to drink well (the O.P. should be made aware unless that has changed).

                          One reason I haven't gone more often/recently is the difficulty in arranging a group; so now I shall try with a smaller posse.

                          One last caveat is that while all of my non-Chinese friends have enjoyed Jai Yun, among Chinese friends it seems to satisfy 50% at best. For those not satisfied, their biggest complaint was price/value.

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                          Jai Yun
                          680 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                          1. re: jman1

                            As discussed in the topic I linked to, how many dishes you get at Jai Yun has nothing to do with how many people are in your party, only with which fixed price per person you choose.

                            In my experience (which matches some other reports) you sometimes get less food per person with larger groups, even though you're paying just as much per person.

                            They have some wine now, but it's not very good, and last time I was there they still charged no corkage. Best to bring your own.

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                            Jai Yun
                            680 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                2. I would ditch the Asian idea and go to Locanda instead. By the same owners as Delfina and inspired by Rome - it's my new favorite restaurant in town. Order the halibut collar roasted in the wood fire oven.

                  Have a great time at Saison! Mr. scarmoza and I dined there in April and my only regret is that I didn't take notes or pics. We didn't do the additional wine pairing because we had been beer tasting/drinking earlier in the evening. If I had known beforehand that you can order any of the wines by the glass, I might have made a little room for that (but it was really nice that part of the amuse bouche was a glass of champagne).

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                  Locanda
                  557 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                  1. How are you disappointed by the Chinese food in NYC? I heard the Queens Chinatown is far more authentic than what we have in SF.

                    Here are some recs nonetheless..
                    Vietnamese - Turtle Tower (chicken pho), 2nd the Bodega Bistro rec, PPQ Dungeness Island (bus or taxi it out to the Richmond District)
                    Chinese - If you can venture off, Hakka Restaurant in the outer Richmond Dist or San Tung. Closer to your Nob Hill area - R&G Lounge for roasted crab
                    Burmese - Mandalay

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                    Bodega Bistro
                    607 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                    Turtle Tower Restaurant
                    631 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109