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May 21, 2012 06:56 PM

First Trip to SF since 2010. Best of what's new?

Hi All,

My husband and I were lucky enough to enjoy wonderful vacations eating our way through SF in 2009 and 2010. We weren't able to make it back last year, but are looking forward to another trip out very soon. I'm hoping to enjoy a lot of novelty this trip. We've had some incredible food experiences on our last two trips, but most of them (other than maybe Commis and definitely Ler Ros) probably don't rate a return experience. I've been spending a lot of time trying to catch up on the boards, but I'm feeling overwhelmed by the options and hoping to get some help sifting through what's new and worthy.

We're looking for interesting, innovative and exciting food - mostly medium range type of places, with one blow out dinner. I'd also like to spend some time this trip exploring the range of Chinese food available in the Bay area, so any suggestions about how to hit some of the greatest hits would be most welcome.

As background, here's a mostly comprehensive list of where we've already been: Coi, Incanto, Commis, Slanted Door, Bar Tartine (old incarnation), Range, Ler Ros, a full exploration of the Ferry Building and a couple of tourist traps that some well meaning friends dragged us to.

Some places I'm thinking about: Benu (for the blow out dinner), Hakka Chinese, Mission Chinese Food, Commonwealth, and Plum. Thoughts on these?

All suggestions welcome! Thanks so much for your help.

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  1. Blowout dinner: Atelier Creen instead of Benu although Benu is also a really good choice too and I wouldn't say no to a meal at either place.
    Mission Chinese- I just find it overrated and some dishes really are one note and too salty but others love
    Commonwealth has also been hit and miss for me. Some dishes are good some are really quite subpar. The service was pretty uneven too.

    Plum: I've liked all the dishes I have gotten there since they opened but they do seem to have some consistency issues for other people that have dined there.

    Place that are worth trying are AQ, large dishes around 24-25, smaller ones are 8-14, creative while still being seasonal and approachable, nice atmosphere, really good desserts.

    Also State Bird Provisions are lower price point but have a large selection of small dishes, are creative and tasty and again really tasty and interesting desserts.

    4 Replies
    1. re: tjinsf

      I would go for Benu over Atelier Crenn, but it's really a choice where reasonable minds will differ. Atelier Crenn is more molecular gastronomie, a bit more ambitious and so, for me, hit and miss, pastry/dessert chef figures prominently in the menu and is completely amazing. Wine program didn't seem to rise to the same level as the food.
      Benu is a little less ambitious with the foams etc. I found the food more satisfying and easy to enjoy. The sommelier/wine program is quite excellent and so I would advise doing the pairings. Desserts are fine.

      1. re: goldangl95

        As you said, reasonable minds will disagree :) The only time I went to Benu was new year's eve, so I don't think the menu was typical, but to be perfectly honest it seemed quite tame and ordinary despite its extraordinariness. In the end, it wasn't very memorable. It was just well executed without saying anything. Atelier Crenn on the other hand has always been an experience that sticks with me like a good art work should.

        Another choice that's recent and worth looking into is Keiko à Nob Hill. They have a ridiculous wine selection:

        1. re: weshoke

          Thanks! We already have the Benu reservation, and I find the menu a little more intriguing than the Atelier Crenn reports, but I'd be interested in arguments to switch.

          AQ & State Bird Provisions both look like good options to explore. Anything else along these lines?

          1. re: VintageMolly

            If you search around, you'll find some videos and images of dishes from Atelier Crenn. That will probably give you more of an idea of what to expect than the menu. Whichever you go to this trip, you can always come back and try the other next time :)

            As for other ideas, there's the brand new Central Kitchen.

    2. I've eaten almost the entire menu at MCF over a number of visits, and I think you can have a great meal if you're careful about how you compose your meal. Be kind to yourself and order a progression of contrasts instead of every dish hot/salty/spicy (in fact I might only order a couple of the spiciest). You can really taste the differences in their dishes much better this way. Standouts for me: savory egg custard, mouthwatering chicken, beijing peanuts, pork jowl, rice porridge, smoked beef brisket soup noodles, wild pepper leaves. That said, they offer their own version of Chinese so you'll want to explore authenticity elsewhere. Hakka feels like homey Chinese food to me but it probably wouldn't be a destination for me.

      1 Reply
      1. re: rubadubgdub

        My default selections for a meal at MCF are tea smoked eel, ma po tofu, and either the rice porridge or broccoli with beef cheeks.

      2. definitely Mission Chinese (check the SF board for passionate discussion of preferences, counter-preferences)
        Bar Tartine (new incarnation)
        Lers Ros on Hayes (second outpost, spiffier ambiance, but I still prefer the funkier Larkin St. location)

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            St.. Vincent looks awesome! That's definitely going on the list.

            I feel sort of mixed about the new Bar Tartine. I was meh about the old incarnation, but my husband loved it and I think he'd feel really sad eating totally different food in the same space.

          2. >> the range of Chinese food available in the Bay area

            where are you visiting from? have you explored chinese food in any other cities? (la, nyc, hong kong, etc)?

            yum's (in fremont)
            jai yun
            yank sing

            you should consider. these are all much more traditional chinese places than mission chinese. but equally important as finding a good place is navigating the menus at these places (except for jai yun -- it is a set menu.)

            12 Replies
            1. re: Dustin_E

              I'm from Boston, and while we have some excellent Chinese food, it's almost entirely either Sichuan or Taiwanese, so I don't haven't done much exploration outside these regional variations.

              1. re: VintageMolly

                jai yun is shanghaiese with heavy vegetarian influence.
                yank sing is dim sum
                z&y is sichuan, so maybe skip this one. (though i think a lot of people who like lers ros also like z&y)

                there are a bunch of decent cantonese places in town -- i'd suggest exploring live seafood from the tanks. yum's is the best, but driving to fremont sucks.

                don't know if you like japanese food, but my last visit to kappa (a japanese place) i sat next to a couple from boston who really liked it, and felt it was a lot different from what they had found there.

                these places i've mentioned are more traditional places that have been around a long time, cooking dishes that have been around forever -- in contrast to most of the others you mention you've tried. (not "innovative", but very "interesting", at least to me, because their dishes have withstood the test of time.)

                1. re: Dustin_E

                  Last time I ate there at Jai Yun, 18 of the 22 dishes we had were definitely not vegetarian, and I'm not 100% sure about the others.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    really? when was that? last 5 times i've been i'd say ~half have been vegan. (but i'm not sure i've been in the past 12 months)

                    1. re: Dustin_E

                      Not that recently. I see they've started taking reservations through Opentable and improved the wine list.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        last few times i've been, around 2/3 of the starter dishes were vegan, then he'd alternate a meat course with a vegetable based course for the main dishes. i thought it was interesting how he used zero starch in the meal (only noodles made from soy bean skin and another made from mung beans.)

                        wow, opentable and a better wine list -- maybe someday they'll stop serving dessert from a candy jar too!

                  2. re: Dustin_E

                    Thanks! I've read a lot about Jai Yun . . . may have to work that in this trip.

                    Japanese food in Boston (outside of a couple of very expensive sushi places) is completely mediocre, to the point that I'm not really sure I have much of a sense of the cuisine. I'll look into Kappa.

                    I'm definitely interested in the interesting as much as the innovative. Ler Ros totally blew my mind on the last trip. I couldn't believe the difference between that and the sweet glop I had thought was Thai food.

                    1. re: VintageMolly

                      You may want to try Jai Yun for lunch. We've had the $18 one three times now when visiting from Vancouver, BC and really enjoyed it. As an aside, there were aspects of the plating and flavours that reminded us favourably of Japanese food though it is obviously not.

                      1. re: grayelf

                        i'm not sure jai yun still serves lunch, unfortunately -- but if they do, it is definitely the way to go.

                        1. re: grayelf

                          The Web site says they're open for lunch only for groups of 10 or more. As for dinner, reservations are required.


                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            i yearn for the good old days when they'd serve lunch to single diner.

                            1. re: Dustin_E

                              Thanks for the heads up on the change in lunch policy. I'm really glad we made it in three times before they nixed it.