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looking for the perfect representation of California cuisine for one night in SF

I will be in SF at the end of May (22-25), and I am looking for a restaurant that:
- I can make reservations for 3 after 7:30 pm at this point
- I can access by public transportation from Union Square
- I'm not looking for fancy, but rather innovative, unique etc. Something I won't find in NY!
- It's awesome but isn't pre-fix $160 per person kind of thing.

i know I should be doing research but maybe you guys can give me some entry points? Please!!

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  1. - Zuni for true Californian (Chez Panisse disciple)
    - Aziza for Cal-Moroccan
    - Slanted Door for Cal-Vietnamese

    2 Replies
    1. re: Civil Bear

      thanks. I am already going to Slanted Door. i was looking at Eater- any input on Bar Agricole or Canteen?

      1. re: adamandeve

        I would think Agricole would be more "classically californian".

    2. Frances - If you can't find reservations on opentable (difficult) call from 2-5pm (not Monday) and talk to the reservationist. Explain your situation and maybe she can either squeeze you in or put you on the waitlist for a cancellation. Otherwise, the bar is a great option. Go either at 5:30 when it opens, 6:45 for the first turn at the bar, or 8pm for the 2nd. You might have to wait for bar seats, but it's totally worth it!

      Personally, I like Bar Agricole's cocktails, but I think the menu is overpriced. At least that's how I felt the last time I went. I haven't been to Canteen, but I've herad good things.

      Have you looked into either State Bird Provisions (very unique) or Local Kitchen Eatery? I was very impressed with Local Kitchen, and I'm from SF and grew up eating here...

      1. Try Resturant Gary Danko. One of the best anywhere in country. Likely booked months in advance but you can sit at the bar. Still a nice thing to do. You won't regret it.

        10 Replies
        1. re: Jperryrt

          Nothing against Gary Danko, but it's French, not California. That menu could with only minor tweaks be served anywhere in the world.

          http://www.garydanko.com/site/menu.html

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Then why bother to waste your words with a reply? It's California & French among many other influences. Isn't that really what "California" is anyway?? Do you think California is privy because we grow fresh produce here??

            Bottom line is this is one of the great restaurants of SF and worth a visit. Yes you can eat food anywhere in the world but Danko's and SF is not anywhere in the world is it.

            Gary Danko is widely recognized as one of America's most talented and respected chefs. His achievements include a James Beard Foundation "Best Chef - California" award and reflect his lifelong pursuit of excellence in the culinary arts. Danko's successes can be attributed to his many years of study and hard work, combined with an innate ability to create dishes of both elegance and depth that evoke the simple pleasures and warmth of home cooking.

            Danko combines classical training with focuses on French, Mediterranean, and regional American cooking. He incorporates influential culinary traditions from around the world into his own work, adding seasonings and techniques drawn from Asia and India. He infuses precise technique with creative flair and adventuresome spirit to create a cuisine of great finesse and balanced flavors. Danko is dedicated to using seasonal, locally grown and raised foods. He forged close relationships with artisan cheese, meat, and produce suppliers long before other chefs discovered the virtues of this approach.

            1. re: Jperryrt

              To me, the menu's far more French than Californian and not terribly different from menus at some French places in New York. Despite the claims in his bio, it's not very focused on local or seasonal ingredients compared with a couple of dozen other places that to me are more representative of the emerging local cuisine, which is the request at hand.

              "He forged close relationships with artisan cheese, meat, and produce suppliers long before other chefs discovered the virtues of this approach"? Good grief, Chez Panisse was doing that when Danko was in high school.

              1. re: Jperryrt

                I have to agree with Robert here. No one is saying that Gary Danko isn't a great restaurant; it's just not something you can't get in New York.

                In my mind, this part of your description is what defines "California": "dedicated to using seasonal, locally grown and raised foods." That describes many, many restaurants in San Francisco. A place like Nopa or Maverick is probably a better representation of that.

                1. re: Jperryrt

                  That sounds copied from his bio or a press release!

                  The original poster asked for the "perfect representation of California cuisine" and I agree with the posters who point out that whatever Gary Danko is, it isn't that. At least, not anymore.

                    1. re: dunstable

                      Excellent idea. Like the suggestion. What's your take on Smashburger?

                      1. re: Jperryrt

                        I've not had Smashburger, alas. But I have a low opinion of Shake Shack, which is supposed to be similar.

                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Tripadvistor- 2012 Choice Awards #1...........drum roll please

                  Travelers' favorite restaurants in San Francisco
                  Restaurant Gary Danko 1

                  Restaurant Gary Danko

                  San Francisco, California
                  4.5 of 5 stars 656 Reviews
                  Cuisines: American
                  β€œOthers could learn so much from the skill and good nature that is everywhere in this exceptional restaurant.”
                  β€œThe service is impeccable, the decor intimate, and the food sublime.”

                  1. re: Jperryrt

                    No doubt that Gary Danko is one fine restaurant, even with tourists apparently. Still not the City's best example of California cuisine though, per the OP's request.

              2. I'm not sure there's a lot of wow factor in the San Francisco dining scene. The strength is in the middle somewhere and that strength is very deep. I'm a fan of SPQR, Bar Crudo, Cotogna and so on. Don't underestimate the pizza scene: It's vibrant.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    considering prix-fixe $160pp is out, i doubt the op would like prix-fixe $248pp.

                    State Bird Provisions, Zuni, or maybe Bar Agricole seem like good options. If you have any desire to cross the Bay, I'd highly recommend Commis.

                  2. Commonwealth might be a good option. We took NY friends there earlier this year who were looking for a similar culinary experience and they were utterly pleased. Meets your timing and public transport parameters as well.

                      1. Perhaps a trek to Gather in Berkeley?

                        In a certain sense, "innovative" and "perfect representation of California cuisine" are contradictory: I love Zuni, and is a good choice for Cal cuisine, but i would not call it "innovative." I suggest Gather because it combines the California cuisine (agreeable) obsession with local/fresh/sustainable with what I think are actually fairly innovative dishes. And it is reasonably priced. Alternatively, how about a great bowl of cioppino? And, no need to apologize: this IS your research, and is exactly why boards like Chowhound exist.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: MagicMarkR

                          actually that's not a bad choice at all, except for the fact that it's in Berkeley...

                          +1 if you're willing to go to Berkeley.

                          1. re: dunstable

                            Not a bad choice, except the food is meh.