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Help This BC Hound fine-tune his SF culinary escapade

Okay, I'm a bit sheepish to ask for the locals' advice given how many similar posts I see here. Y'all must get sick of this nonstop tourist traffic on the board (the BC board is very sleepy by comparison, but I'll happily return the favour if anyone here is looking for recommendations for Vancouver and Vancouver Island).

But here I go anyway.

My wife and I are planning a week-long getaway to the Bay Area and Monterey/Big Sur during the first week of April. I have spent weeks prowling the boards here and have come up with some plans (and plenty of reservations). What I am asking is for some "fine tuning" re: best dishes at certain restos and wait times for restos where we don't have reservations.

Night 1: Arrive on Sat Mar 31. Reservations at La Mar. Looks like a fun place but maybe not the best Peruvian in town. What dishes are recommended? The ceviches look really appealing.

Sunday April 1: Get up and hit Blue Bottle (thinking Mint St location near the street car line) early before heading to our obligatory Alcatraz tour at 10 AM.

Post-Alcatraz, we are considering walking to North Beach with the following places in mind for lunch (est. arrival time 1 pm): Tony's for pizza; Mama's; or L'Osteria del Forno. Given that we have a 6 pm dinner reso at Slanted Door, we don't really want to wait too long. Which of these places will likely have the shortest wait time on a Sunday around 1 pm? Or are we deluded and will they all have hour long lineups on a Sunday?

Sunday night: Slanted Door (I know, I know, it's not the greatest place, but it's close to our hotel and a friend of ours swears by it).

Monday April 2: Coffee again at Blue Bottle. Then off to Golden Gate Park for a morning at the De Young.

Monday lunch: Yummy Yummy. What are the favourite dishes here? Looks like a nice little spot and walking distance from the park, where we plan to return after lunch.

Monday Dinner: Perbacco. Menu looks great. I see the mixed reviews on the board, but again it is quite close to our hotel so we'll have time to get back and freshen up pre-dinner after a day in the park.

Monday night: Resos at Bourbon and Branch for 9:30 PM (taking cab from Perbacco as I hear the neighbourhood isn't the greatest at night).

Tuesday AM: Thinking of hitting Boulette's Larder right at 8 AM for breakfast. Can we expect a wait?

Tuesday-Thursday--We'll be in Monterey/Big Sur area and have plenty of recommendations. (Easier to make choices here because of the comparatively limited number of good restaurants. Looking forward to Restaurant 1883 and Parker-Lusseau, though)

Friday lunch (arriving back in SF around lunch time): This is our wild card. Our favourite choices thus far are Mandalay or Lers Ros. Will both places have a wait for lunch on a Friday?

Friday night: Dinner resos at Nopa. Thinking of Bi-Rite for dessert afterward.

Saturday--AM flight back home!

Any feedback would be appreciated. We made the decision to go on this trip just a few weeks ago and I found that lots of places that were hyped up on the board did not have any reservations available (i.e. Flour and Water's earliest available reservation was for May 1 at 8:45 pm. And that was three weeks ago. What gives?)

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  1. If the weather is nice Tony's has a slice place/takeout next door. There are plenty of seats outside, but no table service or booze.
    Still, if there's a wait at Tony's it's a way to quickly order a slice or anything off the Tony's menu.

    1. The food scene here, sadly, is bigger than the real estate of good restaurants in the city. It makes it hard to eat out without forethought/planning unless you are willing to eat before 6 pm or at 10 pm.

      If you have dinner reservations at Nopa, Bi-Rite is quite the drive/trek and parking can be a pain, lines can be a pain. I would suggest Candybar instead. It is not amazing, but it is satisfying, a cute concept, and convenient. It's also open until midnight.

      If Candybar is too packed or not what you want - I would go Humphry Slocombe over Bi-Rite on a Friday Night as parking is easier and lines aren't quite as long. It does close an hour earlier however.

      4 Replies
      1. re: goldangl95

        Thanks. Ooops, I made the mistake of writing down the address for the "coming soon" Bi-Rite location, which will be 550 Divisadero, which will place it just a few doors down from Nopa. I assume it won't come soon enough for our visit in April.

        I'm sure Nopa will have fine desserts.

        Any feedback on Mandalay vs Lers Ros? (I know it's apples and oranges, but if you had to pick one lunch....)

        1. re: anewton

          I'd pick Lers Ros over Mandalay. Burmese Kitchen is three blocks from Lers Ros, you could do both. I wouldn't expect a wait.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              i would also pick Lers Ros over Mandalay, but I'd take Mandalay over Burmese Kitchen.

        2. Rest assured Perbacco is a great choice.

          Although small, Boulette's Larder shouldn't have a line on a weekday. Checked the prices? :)

          1. I'm not a local but was in SF last week and had very good meals at both Slanted Door and Perbacco. My only caveat on Perbacco was that the homemade pasta identified on the menu as "tagliatelli" was in fact more like spaghetti -- rounded, thinnish noodles rather than flat, broader noodles.

            1 Reply
            1. re: masha

              Oops, that's a bad translation on their menu. Tajarin is Piemontese dialect for taglierini, not tagliatelle. In order from narrow to wide it's taglierini, tagliatelle, fettucine, pappardelle.

            2. I would remove Mama's from consideration. L'Osteria del Forno is an excellent choice but the place is small so there could be a wait.

              There is no shame in going to Slanted Door. Very few come away disappointed and it isn't SF most popular restaurant for nothing.

              I'm not fond of Yumi Yumi although it certainly has its fans. I find it bland for Vietnamese food and not very authentic. IMO, PPQ just up the street (Irving at 19th Ave) is a better option, particularly if you are looking for pho.

              Agree with Robert about Lers Ros and Burmese Kitchen (hole in the wall that is better than Mandalay).

              And I agree with goldang about parking and long lines at Bi-rite, especially on a Friday night.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Civil Bear

                I think L'Osteria wouldn't have much if any wait on a Sunday at 1pm.

                I think Burmese Kitchen is a step up from a hole in the wall, at least compared with Yamo.

              2. besides flour and water, where were you unable to get reservations? i never run into this problem, but maybe i've just conditioned myself to only regularly frequent places i know i can get into with reservations on short notice, or be happy to squeeze into a seat at the bar.

                1. don't miss the desserts at la mar, especially the lime-pie-type-thing and the honey with deep-fried-thing. these are among my favorite desserts in sf.

                  causas and ceviches are good. i usually only go for happy hour, because causas and ceviches are ~50% less expensive in the bar during happy hour.

                  1. there is nothing wrong with perbacco -- i just think san francisco is blessed to have many, many other italian restaurants that are just as good imho.

                    1. Part of the explanation re no res @ Flour and Water--they leave half their tables open for walk-ins (and it's not a huge restaurant, to start). If you really want to go, the best bet is early--i.e., be in line a good bit before they open. The last time we were there (using this strategy, since we also failed at snagging a res.), the pastas were brilliant, the pizzas not so much. I was going to say, I'm showing my (middle)age in a place that packs in a young crowd,when I whine about noise and sometimes overly-laid-back service--but Senator Feinstein and her family were at the table behind us!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: sundeck sue

                        The best luck I've had with flour + water is to walk in late or be prepared for a wait. Their margherita di buffalo is my favorite pizza anywhere, and the pasta dishes are always good as well. Don't forget to end with the chocolate budino!

                      2. La Mar is some of the best Peruvian seafood in the city, only place I've been that compares is Mochica.

                        I don't get the wild popularity of Flour+Water, maybe some people just like lines. It's great but no better than Cotogna, which is similar, nicer, and not quite as hard to get into.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          i have to agree about F+W - overrated. I haven't been to Cotogna yet.

                          1. re: mariacarmen

                            agree, I found Cotogna to be far better than Flour + Water.

                        2. Hi anewton,

                          It looks like you have done some great research. A lot of your picks were on my list for my SF trip as well. A few suggestions:

                          I would pick Mandalay over Lers Ros for your Friday lunch. We tried both last week and enjoyed Mandalay a lot more. Great atmosphere, service, and food. I have heard that Burmese Kitchen (balada, tea leaf salad - delicious) is good as well and is in the same area as Lers Ros. Lers Ros was one of our more disappointing and less impressive meals, but maybe we just ordered the wrong dishes (coconut milk based soup - good, duck salad - good, crispy pork belly - strange texture and the meat was cut in really large cubes).

                          I highly reccommend going to Brenda's French Soul Food for breakfast one day (maybe instead of Boulette Larder) and getting the beignets. My husband also loved his shrimp and grits dish here. We got the beignet sampler. I wish I could go and get some there right now!

                          For Sunday brunch I would make a reservation at Canteen - this place is small but amazing. We got up really early because the only reservation they had left was 8 am, but it was totally worth it! The pancake and French toast were amazing. Hounds also like the eggs benny there.

                          Bi-rite is good but if you are looking for something more unique, try Humphrey Slocombe. I had secret breakfast and my husband had Jesus Juice (a sorbet mix of red wine and coke) and we both tried the salted chocolate. THe consistency of the ice cream was very creamy, at Bi-Rite it was a little less so. Also, if you are in that area and like patisseriers you must absolutely go to Knead Patisserie and get a pomme d'amour. They close at 3 on weekdays, and their sign is not well displayed so go by the address and keep an eye out for the sign. Best patisserie I ever had, and I lived in France for a year.
                          I know Monterey is a seperate board, but we had dinner at 1833 a week ago when we were there and it was delicious. Highly reccomend the deep friend hen's egg and cheese and bacon biscuits. Delicious!! If you are there on a weekend night, request the corner table for two on the 2nd floor by the window. My husband had the bone marrow starter, and for mains he had the lamb and I had the short rib tagliatelle. Everything was great!

                          On the drive there we stopped at Kelly's French Bakery in Santa Cruz - had a nice lunch there.

                          Have a great trip!

                          1 Reply
                          1. Bi-Rite ice cream is so good, esp salted caramel. I'm told that if you want to buy an already packed pint, you can skip the line and just grab it and pay for it.

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: walker

                              Thanks for all the replies. I'm really looking forward to this trip. I will certainly try to find a way to incorporate a visit to Bi-Rite in our itinerary.

                              I realize that in my original post I exaggerated when I said that I had trouble getting reservations at "lots of places." A more accurate statement would have been that I had trouble securing reservations at my most desired dining times--7-7:30 pm. I'm fine with dining a little earlier (do not like eating late at night), but it might kind of rush our sightseeing. Oh well, food is always a highlight of our trips so that takes precedence.

                              I had to chuckle when I read here that there are often 30 minute wait times at the Blue Bottle in the Ferry Bldg (for coffee?) and that there are often 30 minute lines outside of Tartine Bakery (to order a pastry?) Also had to chuckle at the advice that one must order bread at Tartine 3 days in advance to secure an evening pickup (seriously?). I'm sure that the bread and pastry at Tartine is excellent but there are so many other fantastic (and fanatical) bakeries in N America and even right here in my home town of Victoria that I won't lose any sleep over skipping the lineups. I hate what hype does to places (and don't like the herd mentality). I'll head to Knead if I want a good pastry.

                              One more question: my wife and I always like to pick up some healthy snacks when we travel to offset our indulgences. Unfortunately we will miss the farmer's market at the Ferry Bldg because we arrive Saturday early evening and fly out Saturday first thing in the morning. We are staying at the Palace Hotel at 2 New Montgomery. We would love a tip on where to pick up some really good organic fruit, dried fruit, and nuts that is close to our hotel. Preferably a place (or grocery store) that would be open on a Saturday night so we can buy some things right when we arrive. Are there any tips on our best bets?

                              And one more question: if we are feeling peckish at any given hour, are there some good dining options right close to the Palace Hotel (i.e. within 1-2 blocks) so we could grab a snack without having to travel or make a big deal of it. I'm not talking fancy sit-down places, but more places with either takeout or fast service. Any style of food would do.

                              Also want to comment on what a friendly and helpful board this is. You Bay Area chowhounds are such an enthusiastic lot that it is no wonder your restaurants and cafes are packed every night!

                              Thanks again.

                              1. re: anewton

                                Hi fellow BC Hound! We go to SF twice a year and are fixin' to head down in mid-April again.

                                Yup, SFers will line up! The description of lines at Blue Bottle (all of them, actually) and Tartine are not exaggerated.

                                Near the Palace (what a beautiful hotel -- we did a City Guides tour of it a couple of years ago, neat bar on the main floor), I like the Sentinel for a grab-and-go snack in the am (muffins etc) and for great sandwiches at lunch (love the corned beef) though there are lineups there too at peak times.

                                1. re: grayelf

                                  The Palace Hotel is lovely and conveniently located. But it is also in the Financial District and a lot of the places that busy during the work week are closed on weekends and evenings. Even the Starbuck's and Walgreen's in that area close early on Saturday.

                                  You should probably pack some snacks with you for Saturday night. Or take a look around at the airport before you leave, there are some good vendors there.

                                  One place that should be open on Saturday night is House of Shields, right across from the hotel's main entrance. It's a historic SF bar that has recently been updated.

                                  1. re: grayelf

                                    One more thing to keep in mind: Sunday and Monday closures, though not legion, are fairly common. We've found ourselves standing in front of Lime Tree on Irving of a Monday lunchtime with the sad music from Charlie Brown Christmas playing virtually in the background because we didn't double check :-). My notes and Yelp say Yummy Yummy is open Monday, just a wee warning that other stuff around there might not be.

                                    1. re: grayelf

                                      Excellent point, Greyelf! I did not think of the Monday issue.

                                  2. re: anewton

                                    you're less than a mile away (.7) from Whole Foods Market on 4th Street but i don't know if 10:00 p.m. closing will help you on your first night.

                                    399 4th Street
                                    San Francisco, CA 94107 USA
                                    Phone 415.618.0066
                                    Store hours:
                                    8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. seven days a week.

                                    your other option just get/bring enough to last you thru Tues. a.m. and then hit the Ferry Bldg. early for the Tuesday Farmers' Market - it's not as extensive as the Saturday one but you'll be able to pick up healthy snacks.

                                    1. re: anewton

                                      Unfortunately the neighborhood around the Palace is pretty dead evenings and weekends. Sammy's is open until midnight: http://www.sammyson2nd.com

                                      There's a Whole Foods six blocks away, they're open until 10: http://wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/soma/

                                      The lines at Tartine aren't usually anywhere near that bad. There are probably two or three other places in town that make pastries of similar quality but their bread is the best in the world.

                                  3. Having tried several of the Vietnamese restaurants in that area, we keep coming back to Yummy Yummy. Their (cold) spring rolls with pork are very good. The other nice thing about choosing it as your destination from Golden Gate Park, is that you pass a number of other restaurants on the way in case you find yourself in the mood for something else. Hotei, at Irving and 9th has good ramen and sushi, and Manna at Irving and 10th is Korean.

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: klynne

                                      Awesome feedback re: places close to our hotel and Golden Gate Park.

                                      One thing I must say about this passionate group of Bay Area hounds is that you do not come to consensus on much. Tony's in North Beach has a lot of fans but some pretty strong detractors too. Aziza seemed to have almost universally strong praise until I read a damning review on this board lately. Slanted Door, Perbacco, Flour and Water, Delfiina, Chez Panisse, Boulevard, Nopa, Bar Tartine: reviews ranging from raves to indifference to disdain.

                                      One place that everyone seems to love is Contonga, but I was a bit late on the draw with this one and have already made reservations at Perbacco.

                                      I guess the same thing goes for all the boards. It's easier when you live somewhere to know whose tastebuds you can trust (i.e. I can always trust a recommendation from grayelf or fmed re: Vancouver restos). I guess I'll just have to take my chances and see what I like.

                                      I'm sure if I was willing to spend $200 on a tasting menu (a la Saison) I might be guaranteed a flawless meal but I'm afraid I'm a little too tight and not overly into extremely fussy (i.e. prissy) food. I'm more of a flavours man than a presentation man, and I like to be able to loosen up and tell a few jokes in a restaurant without feeling like I'm pissing on the floor of the temple.

                                      I'll make sure to post a full report upon my return!

                                      Thanks once more.

                                      1. re: anewton

                                        With something like 5000 restaurants in the Bay Area, no wonder consensus is so tough! Plus there's the turnover and changes eg we loved Bar Tartine when we went but it fairly recently changed completely to a Hungarian influenced menu. Prolly still great food but totally different.

                                        Since you honour me with palate trust, I'll comment on the places we've been that you've targeted. Blue Bottle is a top coffee destination for us and Mint Plaza is our first choice (we've been there half a dozen times). The setting is lovely and they have full breakfasts with the baked option always a hit so far -- good call before Alcatraz. Someone mentioned Canteen as an alternative and they have even fuller breakfasts, though their coffee won't make you as happy if you like the third wave stuff delivered by full-time baristas (I like Mr Espresso just fine myself which is what appears on Chef Leary's menus). You can get an early reso at Canteen which would be good. There is a chance of a line at BBC Mint at any time.

                                        We had an excellent celebratory meal at Perbacco with my parents in 2010. Nothing rocked my world but it was all solid. Dining upstairs vs downstairs seemed quite different (we were on the mezzanine which was surprisingly still quite loud. I would agree based on my limited dining that there are other more interesting choices for Italian in SF but Perbacco is a good choice. Barbacco is also nice, much less formal with I thought more intriguing options.

                                        We are ironically struggling with the Mandalay vs Lers Ros decision also! We've been to both several times each so I guess that shows we think they are worthy. If there are only two of you I might give the edge to Lers Ros. We've been lucky to have a Chowdown and three subsequent meals there with multiple diners so have had a chance to try a reasonable number of the recommendations on the thread referenced. Our most winning strategy there has been to order all appetizers, as I feel that is where they shine. And you get to try more! Of course, if you've never had Burmese food, then you might want to hit Mandalay and get the samusa soup, a balada and the tea leaf salad to share. Best to have the salad at lunch as it will keep you awake at night if you are caffeine sensitive. Really like nothing else I've tasted. And BTW FWIW Burmese Kitchen was our favourite for several visits but the quality seemed to dip a bit so we switched to Mandalay.

                                        I've tried Birite a couple of times and it didn't blow me away but then again I am not a huge ice cream fanatic. We went there about five times but the line was too silly the other three FWIW, even at 10 at night on a weekday when it was raining. YMMV.

                                        Nice one re House of Shields, pamf! We loved this bar strictly for the history and the setting, thought the drinks were more than adequate if not cutting edge, just wish we'd come at happy hour as it was 'way loud on a Thursday night.

                                        1. re: grayelf

                                          The changes at Bar Tartine aren't that new, Nick Balla has been chef for about a year now. The food has changed so much it's basically a new restaurant.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            Yup, that's the point I was illustrating.

                                          2. re: grayelf

                                            2nd the trying Burmese if you've never had it. My husband and I tried it for the first time while on our vacation there (at Mandalay) and ended up going back for more Burmese at Mingalaba in Burlingame before our flight home. We love the tea leaf salad. We only have one Burmese restaurant in Toronto, and we haven't tried it yet (reviews aren't great and it's a bit of a drive for us), but yesterday we used a recipe we found online to make our own and it turned out quite good! It involved buying some Japanese green tea leaves and boiling them in water and white vinegar to produce a similar version to the Burmese Tea Leaves used in the tea leaf salad.

                                            If you are at all into pastry, I must re-recommend Knead Patisserie for the Pomme d'Amour - my mouth is watering just at the mention of it.

                                            Also, Canteen for breakfast was a great experience. The portion sizes are big, but not gargantuan, which is nice.

                                            Post Alcatraz I would recommend visiting the Ferry Building and getting some goodies for a picnic - Boccalone has excellent "Tasty Salted Pig Parts" (as reads their logo).

                                            Make sure to do the "17 mile drive" in Monterey - breathtaking views.

                                            1. re: TeacherFoodie

                                              Have really enjoyed your feedback TF on your SF experiences. Looking forward to reading more on the CA board as you forage forward. TIA



                                      2. I just realized today, Monday, that the De Young is closed on Mondays. All the other sights in that area of the park appeared to be open, but you might want to check.

                                        The restaurants in the area, including Yummy Yummy, were mostly open, except for some of the sushi-only places.