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SF - tasting menu food, served a la carte?

It looks like I'll be getting a few days in San Francisco this summer after having been away for about three years. We have our favorites, but this trip I'm mostly interested in catching up on what's new since we were last there (though we still have many gaps to fill on places that have been around for a while).

Here's the dilemma: if left to my own devices, I'd be looking primarily at places doing degustation style menus - Saison, Atelier Crenn, Coi, Benu, Commis, Sons & Daughters - but my family, I've learned from sad experience, often doesn't have the patience for such things.

So my questions are:

(1) Where can I find "tasting menu" style food, but served a la carte so it's not a 3-hour plus affair?

Knowing my limitations, it seems I'll probably have to scratch several of those places above off the list. I'm considering adding the following:

Commonwealth
Prospect
State Bird Provisions
Frances
Mission Street Chinese
Lers Ros
Aziza
Flour + Water
A16

Thoughts? Other suggestions?

(2) I see that Benu and Commonwealth have both a la carte and tasting menus - how do they compare (in other words - do they make sense to try if you're not doing the tasting menu)?

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  1. I don't think Mission Chinese takes reservations. That might be a pain, if you have to wait a long time outside; they don't have like a lounge area for waiting or anything -- and if you are showing up later than, say, 5, you're definitely waiting a while. If you've got small kids who will grow impatient, I might not recommend it.

    Not sure what you mean by "tasting menu food," but Flour + Water and A16, though excellent, aren't super creative about their menus in the way that you seem to be looking for.

    Yah I often wish SF had lower-level food that was a bit bolder, something like Longman and Eagle in Chicago, but alas.

      1. Yeah, I know "tasting menu food" isn't really an actual genre, though I think you actually get what I mean: creative, chef-driven, not necessarily fixated on the "appetizer then a big protein" format.

        What's the typical wait like at Mission Chinese on a weekday? The kids aren't small any more (14 & 12) but it's true there's only so much patience they have for standing around (of course, I'm not remotely averse to plying them with Bi-Rite or Humphry Slocombe ice cream while we wait - those kind of bribes work on older kids too).

        Plum is Daniel Patterson's more casual space right? Thanks for the reminder.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Frodnesor

          There's also Patterson's other casual place, Haven.

          1. re: Frodnesor

            Personally I have absolutely no patience for lines, so I always show up right at open. Thus I don't know the exact wait time, but there are ALWAYS a dozen or more people outside, even during the week. Get there when it opens, and you should be fine.

            They also do take-out, I believe even delivery, although I've never done it.

            1. re: Frodnesor

              At MCF weekdays can be 30-45 min wait. Much depends on whether there are other simiIar sized parties ahead of you. On the other hand, we waltzed right in after prime lunch hour on Sat..

            2. Try AQ. And I think Commonwealth is worth a shot with Ala carte. Haven't been to benu.

              2 Replies
              1. re: sonj818

                Yes, I think AQ is doing food that's creative, chef-driven, not necessarily fixated on the "appetizer then a big protein" format for a reasonable price.

                1. re: sonj818

                  Second on AQ. The cooking's creative and technically sophisticated but in a very understated way.