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New Yorkers First Trip to SF, 4 dinner suggestions

I'm looking for a starting point for 4 dinners while I visit. I'm going to budget for one total splurge, one expensive ($150pp with wine), two moderate ($75pp with wine). I'm a big fan of local, farm to table, seasonal type restaurants, with excellent seafood options like Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Rouge Tomate, Eleven Madison Park, and Marea. Any suggestions would be great. Thank you.

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  1. Spend up a little bit and do either Saison (or Manresa if you want to drive) for the pricey one. Very much into the local/organic idea akin to Blue Hill. As a cheaper option, Plum in Oakland could be a great choice.

    I don't see EMP or Marea as local or farm to table, FYI, and neither bill themselves as such.

    http://endoedibles.com

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

    Saison
    2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

    13 Replies
    1. re: uhockey

      I really don't understand all these recommendations for La Folie and Italian for someone coming from New York where similar French is available (in plethora) and the Italian scene is arguably the strongest in the country.

      This person is looking for local/seasonal unlike the sort available in NYC. Places like Coi, Crenn, Saison, Manresa, Ame, Plum seem right on the money (for various amounts of money, obviously) and of places I've not been Chez Panisse, Aziza, Range, Ubunutu, Commonwealth all seem like logical choices in the same vein.

      http://endoedibles.com

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

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

      Chez Panisse
      1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

      Saison
      2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

      1. re: uhockey

        Well, I've not been to Crenn, Saison, Manresa, or Plum (or the French Laundry).

        But so many of the SF area places that SHOULD be great have been tremendous disappointments. I have no desire to ever return to Meadowood, Coi, or for that matter Frances.

        Others get hearty recommendations from me, but are flawed: Ame is wonderful, but seems a bit overrpiced. Quince was lovely but flawed and also overpriced.

        La Folie completely delivers on every level. And I like it as well as many of the finer French restaurants I've been to in other cities, including NYC (though places in the actual nation of France do better I admit)

        My disapointment with the SF places I listed is part of my reticence to try the others (Crenn, Saison, etc). I'll spend the money, but it IS a lot of money, and I balk at wasting it. So experience has made me skittish. I tend to find that other cities (NYC, Chicago, LA) come through better when what I am after is an elaborate multicourse tasting menu meal.

        I do love Chez Panisse, Aziza, and Ubuntu, and I do tend to recommend them, Aziza especially.

        And as for Italian, yes, I agree. I'm a red-sauce southern italian man and feel that NYC and Boston both do it a lot better.

        1. re: pauliface

          .....you've missed the best of the best in terms of local sourced cooking then, though I'll fully admit I feel your frustration on Meadowood (talk about overpriced.)

          I generally disagree that LA does elaborate/multi-course tasting better than SF, but Chicago certainly does (Alinea, Avenues, L2o, TRU, Schwa, etc) and New York still remains the best dining city in the US (though I really do think the vegetables in the Bay Area outdo anything I've had in New York save for Per Se.

          San Francisco is its own dining world - very local, very much based on the Chez Panisse concept, but I really think they are growing past that - places like Saison, Manresa, Crenn, and Coi (which I've not been to) are starting to infuse new age technique into that style and creating a whole new genre of "California Cuisine." I think it is really exciting and to anyone visitng from NYC I'd direct them to those places (though I FULLY admit La Folie is some damned fine French food and Passot is a really great chef and host)

          http://endoedibles.com

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

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

          Chez Panisse
          1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

          Saison
          2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

          1. re: uhockey

            For LA I was thinking specifically of Saam at the Bazaar, where I had a splendid evening last year. Way better than Coi or Meadowood or Quince. Admittedly I'm otherwise out of the loop where LA is concerned.

            I am eager to try Crenn, Saison, or Manresa . Crenn is the one that's captured my imagination the most.

            I had mentioned a week or two ago that I was considering these for a dinner in October, -- treating friends -- but I've gone and reserved Wakuriya instead. Japanese is a favorite and -- while my eyes are wide open here, I'm not expecting Kyoto-level cuisine -- I'm hoping that this will turn out to be a local kaiseki destination.

            So I'm angling for Crenn in February, for my best friend's birthday...

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

            Wakuriya
            115 De Anza Blvd, San Mateo, CA

            Saison
            2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

            1. re: pauliface

              I think the trouble is justifying spending $200+ when you can get a very good meal for $50-75 all in. For more than $100, I expect exceptional, consistent food and even better service.

              One solution is not to limit yourself to tasting menus. We got 4 courses each at Crenn, and spent hardly any more than Commonwealth. It also let 3 of us try most of the menu. There was a miss, and a couple of less exciting dishes, but also so many hits.

              Strive for a great experience rather than something that has to be perfect in every way because of its price tag.

              1. re: Windy

                Exactly, Windy. At top places, for me, value really comes into play.
                And I tend to be forgiving on service gaffes if the food is worth it (although in my experience, if the food is up to snuff, the service almost always is excellent as well).

                Our dinner for 4 at Quince topped out at $1000.
                If it had been $600 I'd go back.
                But it's too expensive to merit a return visit.

                And I don't mind a miss or even two in a long meal; in the right setting it is indicative that risks are being taken, which is a good thing.

                We don't always do tasting menus either (did not do at Ame or Quince or Meadowood). But it is, for me, the highest ideal. When it's good, it's the best!

                1. re: pauliface

                  I enjoy tasting menus for a special occasion, but not the requirement that everyone at the table order the same thing. If more high-end restaurants offered a couple of options, I'd get them more often.

                  Who wants to try only one dessert at a place you've heard so much about?

                  1. re: Windy

                    I'll still never forget my first meal at Jardiniere. The two of us ordered the tasting menu and they brought us two different dishes for each course. Now that was something. But they stopped doing that about a year or so after opening.

                    1. re: Windy

                      ...you could always ask to add on more desserts. :-)

                      IMO, considering his pedigree Atelier Crenn should strongly consider a dessert tasting menu akin to what WD50, TRU, and Providence offer.

                      http://endoedibles.com

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                      Atelier Crenn
                      3127 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94123

                      1. re: uhockey

                        We got 3 desserts without the tasting menu. And while we loved the chocolate merengue rock (with pear), the best was the coconut & mint tapioca.

                        We did talk Commonwealth into swapping out one dessert from their tasting menu for another dessert on the regular menu.

                        1. re: uhockey

                          Atelier Crenn does offer a dessert tasting menu, it's just not listed

                          -----
                          Atelier Crenn
                          3127 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94123

                          1. re: plaidbowtie

                            ...damnit.

                            Note to self for December return visit. Dinner somewhere interesting, dessert at Crenn.

                            http://endoedibles.com

                  2. re: pauliface

                    I just put up my thoughts on Crenn in the review thread from my trip and in the blog. The woman is extremely talented and with time I've no doubt it can be one of the 5 best restaurants in the city limits. While there are still small service gaffs and one dish that was just.....bad.....it was perhaps the best meal I've had under $200 (tax/tip inclusive) in the US this year.

                    http://endoedibles.com

          2. total splurge: Saison
            expensive - Chez Panisse
            moderate - Locanda, Range

            -----
            Chez Panisse
            1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

            Range
            842 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

            Saison
            2124 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94110

            Locanda
            557 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

            1. Seafood, in my opinion, is not a San Francisco strength. Having said that, maybe consider La Folie for a fancy meal. Think "Daniel" except chef is hands-on and always in the kitchen. The room is pleasant, not fancy. Bring an appetite. Chef will come out to greet you near the end of your meal. Wine pairings are quite good. Service is competent and comforting.

              Both Cotogna and Barbacco top my list for moderate dining. Cotogna is the child of Quince (the Tusks) and has David Lynch (formerly of Babbo) as wine guy. I like to sit at the bar so I can see the grill/rotisserie action. The pastas are outstanding. Barbacco is just plain fun and totally gets the idea of small plates and wine. Sit at the bar. Staff at Barbacco is informative and engaging: they like what they are doing and are pretty damn proud of their shop. They are good pathfinders.

              "Expensive" could direct you to Incanto in Noe Valley. You can take the J-Church light rail from downtown (it's like a confused electric bus) to the front door. Chris Cosentino is chef. I like this place a lot.

              The produce in Northern California is quite good. Many restaurants can cite you chapter and verse. Same goes for the animal protein.

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

              Barbacco
              230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

              Cotogna
              490 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

              10 Replies
                1. re: bbulkow

                  I think that's a good description of the mythical J-Church.

                  1. re: Windy

                    I don't know whether I love Incanto or not. I think it has to be approached in the right light. It's not just about organ meat, it's about fat -- which offal has in spades. Every bite was delicious, but the entire experience was overwhelming. I would have preferred a glass of tannic red to cut the fat, and just having a couple of the chalkboard items at the bar. I think that would have made the meal sublime.

                    But I also don't get to that part of SF enough. Maybe with a couple of meals, I'd fully appreciate Incanto. It's certainly worth a stop, and one of the top contenders in the up-to-$150/pp category.

                    Everyone's mentioned the total splurge list. I'll go with uhockey on the Saison rec, even though I didn't do the chef's table like he did. Enough of the preps are unusual, and it's a very california experience.

                    1. re: bbulkow

                      You're correct that Incanto dishes are high in fat (and salt), although they do have great salads and vegetables.

                      I recommend ordering mostly appetizers and pastas, and limiting the number of entrees. And drinking a lot of great red wine. For 1-2 people, the bar is the best place to eat there, so you can watch the kitchen and wine pouring.

                2. re: steve h.

                  Incanto is neither expensive nor worth a detour to the far reaches of Noe Valley. To recommend a SF Italian place to someone visiting from NYC, the place needs to be outstanding, and Incanto is not. For the same amount of money one could have a far superior experience at Perbacco, and by investing more, a sublime experience at Acquerello.

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

                  Acquerello Restaurant
                  1722 Sacramento St., San Francisco, CA 94109

                  1. re: Paul H

                    How does Acquerello compare to the Vetris, Babbos, Spiaggias, Mozzas, and Ai Fioris of the US?

                    In your opinion, is it the best Italian in SF?

                    http://endoedibles.com

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                    Acquerello Restaurant
                    1722 Sacramento St., San Francisco, CA 94109

                    1. re: uhockey

                      I have not been to the new Quince location, nor have I been to La Ciccia yet, but Acquerello has the most sophisticated Italian food that I've tried in SF. It was so good, that I was mad at myself for waiting so long to try it.

                      Some regard the food there as "Frenchified" Italian, which is a reasonable comment, given that I regard Delfina as more Californian than Italian.

                      Of the restaurants on your national list, I've only been to Babbo, and only once. The food at Acquerello is more refined than the food at Babbo, but I'd rate them similar on quality. (Babbo is much more boisterous)

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

                      Delfina Restaurant
                      3621 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                      Acquerello Restaurant
                      1722 Sacramento St., San Francisco, CA 94109

                    2. re: Paul H

                      I guess that's what makes a market. I am a New Yorker who happens to frequently visit the Bay Area (back next month). I like Incanto a lot. There's no direct correlation to a Manhattan restaurant. I like Perbacco but there are many restaurants here that do just as good a job. Interestingly, Barbacco, Cotogna, SPQR, Bar Crudo add a wonderful Northern California spin to familiar-sounding dishes that a New Yorker would find interesting. Mid-priced restaurants seem to be the sweet spot. I'm also impressed with pizza in San Francisco.

                      I'm not saying you're wrong, just saying I don't necessarily agree.

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

                      Bar Crudo
                      655 Divisadero Street, San Francisco, CA 94117

                      SPQR
                      1911 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94115

                      Barbacco
                      230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                      1. re: steve h.

                        Steve, I thought you preferred La Ciccia to Incanto. Or am I thinking of someone else?

                        And heartily agree that it's the midrange (and upper midrange) where SF excels. Of course the most expensive restaurants in the city cost the same as upper midrange in NYC.

                        As noted, NYC (and especially Manhattan) has a million Italian restaurants at all price points and levels of quality. It's probably less interesting than other cuisines that the West Coast is known for.

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

                        1. re: Windy

                          Howdy Windy,
                          I have a bunch of favorites in the Bay Area but I force myself to get out of my comfort zone and visit at least one new place every trip. In a perfect world, I would move to the left coast and hit every one of your lunch places. San Francisco is very cool.

                  2. splurge: La Folie

                    expensive: Aziza

                    moderate: La Ciccia, Kappou Gomi

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

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

                    Kappou Gomi
                    5524 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: pauliface

                      splurge:

                      expensive:

                      moderate: Bar Tartine

                      quality budget: Outerlands Cafe

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                      Bar Tartine
                      561 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

                      Outerlands Cafe
                      4001 Judah St, San Francisco, CA 94122

                    2. $150pp - Ame. Awesome place, nothing like it in NYC.

                      $75pp - Delfina or Perbacco (both N. Italian) and NOPA

                      Splurge - if willing to go down the peninsula, Manresa. Otherwise Coi; not my favorite splurge restaurant in town, that would be La Folie, but La Folie is straightforward Provencal French, which you can get in NYC, whereas Coi is much more innovative.

                      Edited to add: My moderate places might be too expensive if $75pp was after tax and tip. If so, Barbacco and Bistro Aix would work.

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

                      Perbacco
                      230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

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

                      Delfina Restaurant
                      3621 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                      1. At the bottom of this page you'll find links to many similar recent threads from New Yorkers, several with trip reports.

                        1. Wow, awesome information. I'm going to carefully look at all the suggestions and start to make my decisions. Thanks so much for the help.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: misnatalie

                            Let us know what you decide and please give us a report when you get back! :-)