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Anniversary trip--Looking for recommendations and comments

My wife and I are travelling to San Francisco in October to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. We will be staying 4 nights in San Francisco and 2 nights in Petaluma (as a base for exploring Sonoma wine country). I am looking for recommendations for at least 3 of our nights in San Francisco (want these to be special) and 1 evening out in Healdsburg (just looking for something good yet casual).

For the San Francisco dinners, money isn't really a constraint, although we probably won't consider the most expensive places since they probably don't fit our criteria anyway. Hoping to spend considerably less $ in Healdsburg.

We will be staying at Le Meridien in the Financial District. Would be a plus to eat close by.

I am a fairly adventurous eater; however, my wife is not. Any restaurant that provides only tasting menus (especially with no options or substitutions) is out. In addition, my wife can’t handle anything too spicy. She does love most seafood. We are usually OK as long as we’re provided enough options.

With that in mind, here are some places that caught my eye. Please comment on these places and provide any recommendations of places I may be omitting.

SF

Perbacco, Ame, Waterbar, RN74, Boulevard

Healdsburg

Scopa, Willi’s, Barndiva (might be more $ than we are looking for)

Would also be interested in hearing about cheap lunch places that would be uniquely San Francisco. During the day, we will be all around the city (although mainly in the more touristy areas). Was also planning on eating lunch in Sausalito on the way to Sonoma, so any recs there would be welcome.

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Perbacco
230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

Barndiva
231 Center St, Healdsburg, CA 95448

Scopa
109 Plaza St, Healdsburg, CA 95448

RN74
301 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94105

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  1. Happy Anniversary!

    Here are a few suggestions per your post:

    San Francisco, near you at Le Meridien

    Wayfare Tavern - You must try their Organic Fried Chicken and their butter lettuce salad is delicate and wonderful. This is homey food gone upscale. The restaurant space is pretty special too. Exposed brick white tableclothes and dark wood make this place both swanky and cozy. One of my favorite downtown spots. Dinner and Lunch - make ressies. http://www.wayfaretavern.com/

    Lunch on the cheap in SF - go to the Ferry Building!! (Both a great place for tourists and close to your hotel.) On Tues and Thurs they have a Farmers Market to boot! Taste some cheese at Cowgirl Creamery, get a sample of Salumi at Boccalone, Mexican at Mijita, oh man - and even a slamin buger and sweet potatoe fries at GOTTS Roadside. Il Canne Rosso and Hog Island Oyster Co are great choices too. Don't forget a cup of coffee at Blue Bottle!! The Farmers Market features food vendors as well. There's a guy with a mobile brick oven for fresh wood fired pizzas and a stand that does tamales - I love the chile and cheese - not spicy - I promise. Everything at the ferry building is pretty spectacular. http://www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.c...

    Sausalito -
    Off the beaten path is FISH. Its not where the ferry would drop you off, but if you're in a car, this is a must.. http://www.331fish.com/ Their fish tacos, ceviche and fish and chips are pretty amazing and fresh as you can get. Casual and fabulous.

    If you'd entertain the idea of Japanese (not all sushi), consider Sushi Ran. I'd highly recommend reservations. Their website will give you a good idea of what you're in for - i must say its pretty spectacular. A little on the expensive side but oh so worth it. www.sushiran.com/

    Just a thought and since you're in the area - I might recommend a couple places just down the road in Mill Valley. Depending on the time of day you're there I'd recommend the following:

    If you're up for a fantastic breakfast, go to TOAST. Classic american fare done well. Thick cut bacon and service with a smile. There will most likely be a line but it moves fast. Their eggs benedicts (3 or 4 varieties are so great as are their scrambles) http://www.toastmillvalley.com/

    Another sure fire hit for dinner is Buckeye Road House. I'd definitely recommend reservations. The food, service, cocktails and ambiance are fantastic. There's definitely something there for everyone. Personal favorite is the ahi tuna, oysters bingo and the filet mignon I ordered last time was positively perfect. www.buckeyeroadhouse.com

    Tyler Florence and Sammy Hagar just opened up a (well, reopened) Paseo. Very cozy dining rooms linked together. Very special and very romantic. Both Florence and Hagar are Mill Valley residents - not that it matters but they've done very well for themselves in the restaurant business. Perfect steaks and chops. http://www.elpaseomillvalley.com/

    Lastly, while I haven't dined in Healdsburg in a while, I'd recommend the following should you find yourself meandering throught the napa valley.

    Mustards Grill in Napa - perfect place for lunch or dinner. I'd highly recommend reservations. Their mongolian pork chop was lick the plate good. They souce a good part of their ingredients from their garden out back. www.mustardsgrill.com

    Bottega in Yountville - we had a lovely lunch of 3 or 4 appetizers while sitting outside on their living room deck. Perfect wine pairing suggstions - the outdoor fireplaces and the overall ambiance make you feel as if you're in a tuscan garden.

    Bouchon Bakery in Yountville - For a quick snack or just something to muse over I'd hightly recommend this little treasure www.bouchonbakery.com/

    and Bouchon Bistro in Yountville - Oh my goodness! Classic french bistro fare - their trout almondine and their steak and frites were impeccable.

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    Bouchon Bakery
    6528 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599

    Cowgirl Creamery
    1 Ferry Building, San Francisco, CA 94111

    Mijita
    1 Ferry Plaza, San Francisco, CA 94111

    Sushi Ran
    107 Caledonia St., Sausalito, CA 94965

    Bottega
    6525 Washington Street Suite A9, Yountville, CA 94599

    Bouchon
    6534 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

    Mustards Grill
    7399 St. Helena Hwy, Yountville, CA 94558

    Wayfare Tavern
    558 Sacramento Street, San Francisco, CA 94111

    1. Here are some random comments:

      Perbacco would be an excellent choice and is close to your hotel.

      On the same block as Perbacco, you have Michael Mina if you want to go really upscale but still be able to eat a la carte.

      RN74 is part of the Michael Mina group. It has a great wine selection, but I've never warmed up to the food there.

      Ame is great and has lots of seafood although I'm not sure it would be the first place that would come to mind when asked for a recommendation for a truly unadventurous eater.

      If all you want is straightforward seafood of the uninteresting kind, both Waterbar and its sister restaurant Farallon are decent upscale places with nice ambience.

      Boulevard would be a pretty safe choice for fine dining.

      Also not too far from your hotel:

      Kokkari, if you want to try upscale Greek in a nice environment.

      Quince, for upscale Italian.

      La Mar for good Peruvian. I've taken unadventurous eaters there with good results.

      Further away from your hotel, La Folie would be a good place for a special dinner if you like French food.

      3 Replies
      1. re: nocharge

        second La Mar for this couple. Plenty of seafood options and room for more adventurous diners, too. Some of the food can get spicy, but there are plenty of non-spicy options and the staff seem very well versed in the dishes. Good view. Close to their hotel.

        1. re: selectiveomnivore

          La Mar would also be great for the late night drinks with a view...
          They have decent drinks and a great view (although not really from the bar). Not sure how late they are open though; their website doesn't have a closing time.

          1. re: lrealml

            Monday - Thursday: 5:30pm - 10:00pm Friday - Saturday: 5:30pm - 10:30pm Sunday: 5:30pm - 9:00pm

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            La Mar Cebicheria Peruana
            Pier 1 1/2, The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94111

      2. La Folie (French) is excellent for a special meal. It's fun, not stuffy. The owner is the chef and he does all the cooking. Bring an appetite. Quince (fancy Italian) in their new home near your hotel is also wonderful. I'm a fan of Perbacco but it comes up just a tad short when compared to the other two.

        Lunch at FISH in Sausalito is pretty good. We sit outside at one of the picnic tables. Cash only. Not cheap but worth it. The views are cool if you're a boater.

        1 Reply
        1. re: steve h.

          I'll second La Folie and also suggest you look at Atelier Crenn, one of the newest high-end restaurants in the city. They have a tasting menu or like La Folie, you can get 4 courses each instead.

          It's spectacular looking and tasting, with several seafood dishes and many vegetables. The chef is French but the food is modern--still, not too outrageous for the palate, if you don't mind an occasional spoon of frozen peas. There are many writeups of Atelier Crenn on this board to give you an idea and the menu is on the website.

          I might also suggest you take the opposite approach for SF versus Healdsburg considering Cyrus is there. Generally Healdsburg isn't less expensive than the city; whereas San Francisco has many more budget options.

          You could eat dinner at the bar at Cyrus if you want to skip the tasting menu, but see if your wife would be open to the tasting menu there. If you call them, they are likely to be accommodating to modest substitutions.

          I'm not a fan of Perbacco like many here. The food is certainly competent (Italian food by a Swedish chef), but I find the room and whole experience a bit sterile.

          The city is quite small, so limiting yourself to dinner near Le Meridien is unnecessary. You're within an easy cab to Russian Hill, the Marina, Pacific Heights, the Mission, and Potrero Hill. That opens up a whole world beyond expense account restaurants like Michael Mina. The city is full of inexpensive and midrange restaurants that are more fun than the top tier.

          As far as budget restaurants, it would help to know where you're from to be able to recommend foods you might not have at home.

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          Perbacco
          230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

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

          Atelier Crenn
          3127 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94123

        2. Quince's much less expensive spinoff Cotogna next door is really good. Super-popular and seems not to take reservations at peak hours so lunch, brunch, or early or late dinner might be the best bets.

          I liked the Willi's in Santa Rosa a lot. That's much closer to Petaluma.

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          Willi's Wine Bar
          4404 Old Redwood Hwy, Santa Rosa, CA 95403

          Cotogna
          490 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

          10 Replies
          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Thanks to everyone for the comments. So many choices now! This is going to be tough.

            For those who aren't sold on Perbacco, is it more the food or the ambiance? While I certainly always value the quality of the cooking more, my wife and also like places with lots of energy (although those places also tend to be on the loud side--can't have everything).

            I like the suggestion for Cyrus, but wonder how difficult it would be to get bar seating. I thought I also read somewhere that you can substitute between the vegetarian and regular tasting menus?

            Does anyone know if there is much difference between the Willi's in Healdsburg vs. Santa Rosa? I was planning on spending the day exploring Dry Creek Valley vineyards, so either location would probably work, although Santa Rosa would be closer to our hotel in Petaluma.

            Last, I forgot to ask for recommendations for a late-night drink that is romantic and possibly has a view. We aren't huge into libations, so as long as the drinks are passable we are OK.

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            Perbacco
            230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

            1. re: ArlingtonVA

              Perbacco's pretty lively when it's full. Some people have complained that it's too loud, but I haven't experienced that myself.

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              Perbacco
              230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

              1. re: ArlingtonVA

                In Healdsburg
                Healdsburg Bar and Grill. outside nice
                Baci
                Zin
                I like Willi's but it can add up....those are small plates

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                Baci
                336 Healdsburg Ave, Healdsburg, CA 95448

                1. re: ArlingtonVA

                  I don't like the ambiance at Perbacco (feels very Financial District to me), but the food hasn't dazzled me much either despite a few attempts. Service is fine. You can eat at the bar in front; there are four or five booths.

                  The best views and romantic/best cocktails are usually not the same places. Also a warning this is a notoriously early town. It's hard to find more than a bar open after midnight. A few good old school spots for drinks: Bix, Absinthe, maybe Slanted Door.

                  Call Cyrus and see how flexible they're willing to be. Most high-end restaurants in California offer vegetarian tasting menus (La Folie and Crenn both do), so that's an easy request. The food is worth it in every regard. I suspect bar seating is much easier on a week night.

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

                  Perbacco
                  230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                  Bix
                  56 Gold St., San Francisco, CA 94133

                  1. re: ArlingtonVA

                    >> For those who aren't sold on Perbacco, is it more the food or the ambiance?

                    both. i don't think it is too loud, but i don't think it is that fun or interesting either. the food is very solid italian, but not somewhere i'd go out of my way for. i don't think it is uniquely sf either. but i'm in the minority. the place definitely has fans.

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                    Perbacco
                    230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                    1. re: ArlingtonVA

                      I think the varying opinions about Perbacco reflect to some extent different ideas of what Italian food should be. To me, it's about as good as Italian food gets, while Acquerello and Quince seem to have wandered off some ways into France.

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

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        i'd agree with that.

                        but i also think perbacco is a very "safe" and "comfortable" type of place, with no dishes that really disappoint, but also no dishes that really hit a home run, at least for me.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          No, it's not about any idea I have of Italian food. I just don't see what the excitement is about and can think of many other places I'd prefer to eat.

                          1. re: Windy

                            One person's perfection is another's boring lack of creativity. To me that's the distinction between Italian and haute French cuisine.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              i do think quince and acquerello have wandered into france, but i still don't see what the excitement is about with perbacco. i think perbacco has creativity (my tortelli dish there last night had blueberries in it), it just comes out in a way i don't particularly love. don't dislike it, just don't love it.

                              i wonder if on the spectrum from traditional to creative, perbacco falls kinda in the middle, and i'd rather have something at one extreme or the other. similar for cheap / expensive, perbacco is in the middle, and i usually have more appreciation for the extremes.

                    2. my picks for you. for dinners:
                      - quince (definitely choose this over perbacco or cotogna if $$$ isn't an issue.)
                      - michael mina (lobster pot pie is pretty good)
                      - sushi ran (if you're willing to go to sausalito)
                      - restaurant mirepoix in windsor, ~15 mins south of healdsburg is nice.

                      for lunches:
                      - swan's oyster depot -- worth the cab ride, one of the best spots in sf
                      - boulette's larder and/or other random ferry building places
                      - kokkari, but not a must, so if inconvenient i'd skip it.

                      also, i know saison doesn't strictly meet your criteria (tasting menu only), but i think you should consider it regardless. the menu is mostly seafood and vegetables, and none of the flavors are particularly challenging. to me, sitting at the semi-outdoor bar in front of their wood-burning oven is heaven.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Dustin_E

                        Michelin-starred Mirepoix in Windsor has closed and the same owners have opened a BBQ restaurant on the site.

                        To address the OP's question about Willi's --- the Healdsburg location, Willi's Seafood & Raw Bar, specializes in seafood and has some Latin twists. The Santa Rosa location, Willi's Wine Bar, also has a fair amount of seafood on the menu. Sample menus are available on their website for you to check out. As far as ambience, the Santa Rosa space has always felt more casual to me, but that's not to say that Healdsburg is formal. Also the H'burg location recently expanded its space and I've not been over to see the changes.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          thanks for the update on mirepoix -- but that's too bad. how's their bbq?

                          1. re: Dustin_E

                            The new BBQ place is called Mamma Pig's, haven't had a chance to try it yet. And the owners have closed down their other restaurant too, Bistro M. I'll miss the oyster bar. Sad for Windsor dining options.

                            -----
                            Bistro M
                            610 McClelland Dr, Windsor, CA 95492

                            Mamma Pig's
                            275 Windsor River Rd, Windsor, CA 95492