$500 to spend on a meal for 2 in San Francisco Bay Area--where would you go?
Long story short, we were given a fancy meal from a very generous person as a birthday gift and now we need to decide on a restaurant. I love to eat everything but it would be nice to go somewhere that is a little accommodating (boyfriend does not like shellfish although he will eat around it). We live in the South Bay and we will probably have to drive no matter what, so any restaurant is appropriate.
Also, I went to Manresa once, so it is off the list. They really failed to impress with the proteins.
Atelier Crenn was hands-down a sublime experience when I went last month with my daughter. She had the regular omnivore tasting menu, while I had a mind-blowing vegan tasting menu. We both had the wine pairings. The chef came out after we were seated to reassure me that she did vegetarian and vegan regularly and that my meal would be a treat. It was, start to finish, one of the most sublime eating experiences of my life. Cost for 2, including tax and tip, was just under $700. You could certainly do dinner here for much less if you did the 5 course menu and skipped the wine parings. Actually, the pours were generous, and 1 pairing shared between 2 diners would be adequate. Wonderful, wonderful place.
we (2 of us) didn't do wine parings when we went (though we did have some wine - 2 glasses of bubbly and then i had a glass of wine with dinner) and spent just about $500 with tip - and we had the full-on long tasting menu. spectacular. especially if chemmefatale is talking once in a lifetime, as it probably (sadly) was for us.
it really just comes down to your personal taste:
- do you like traditional or more experimental / modern cooking?
- do you like long tasting menus?
- do you want to spend half of your $500 on booze, or no alcohol?
- do you for sure want a single meal for $500 instead of two for $250 each, etc?
- is decor and service important? do you prefer a particular style of either?
- do you want a large amount of luxury ingredients, or a creative and elaborate preparation of less expensive ingredients?
besides manresa, any other loves / hates you've tried?
all the expensive places have their fans / detractors, so it really comes down to taste.
also $500 for 2 w/o alcohol is relatively high for the bay area if it is w/o booze -- i think only TFL, Benu, Meadowwood, and Saison have menus that will use up your entire gift.
-Experimental is good but it has to be tasty and not just throwing random ingredients into a plate. On the other hand, I have had safe experiences, and I don't really plan to spend $500 on something that is just 'conventional.'
-I love long tasting menus
-We will probably have one wine pairing, due to the designated driver
-This is a one time meal, so If it ends up being a single meal for cheaper, but it is a good value, I can't complain.
-Decor doesn't matter, but I was really put off by Saison's lack of ability to accommodate diners. I think it shows that they are a bit amateurish. I love good service, and it is really important that the wine is paired well with the food.
-As far as ingredients go, my only request is that they are sustainable, wild-caught, and great quality. I am not looking for an insane amount of truffle or foie in my food.
As for restaurants, I had wonderful experiences as Kaygetsu, The French Laundry, The dining Room at the Ritz (when Ron was there), Aqua (under Laurent Manrique), and I am somewhat hesitant to say Commis, because I thought their menu was a little boring, but the food was prepared nicely.
If you thought Commis was boring, I would say Atelier Crenn would be your speed if looking to be adventurous, and Benu if you want to be a bit more safe.
Atelier Crenn is very earnest, some of the dishes were amazing, and the dessert/pastry courses unparalleled. I would wait a month before going there, until they have firmly hit their stride on their summer menu. As a word of warning, not all their dishes work, and there can be more than one misstep. The room is very basic, and the service is wonderful though not at all discreet, as due to the size of the room the waitstaff are always pushing past, stepping out of the way etc.
Benu is safer, more conventional in tastes despite the exotic ingredients. The service felt effortless, and it was an easily enjoyable meal. I ended up appreciating my experience at Benu more, despite more dishes lingering in my memory from Atelier Crenn. The beverage pairings were amazingly conceived, dessert was acceptable.
you might consider meadowwood, though it is the one i've never been to.
if you enjoy eating large amounts of raw fish, sawa in sunnyvale would be a pretty amazing place to blow through $500 on sashimi and sake (this would probably be my choice), but this is a pretty unique place and not everyone enjoys it -- steve sawa can be very accommodating, though.
yeah, it sounds like benu or atelier crenn could be good fits for you. They are not my favorites, but i tend to not enjoy long experimental tasting menus as much.
fwiw, i really like keiko's a nob hill, chez panisse downstairs, and kappa more than the ones you mentioned, but these are not long complicated tasting menu type places.
I don't want to sound like a shill for the restaurant, but Atelier Crenn sounds like it would be right up your alley. The food is not at all show-offy; I would say that it's thoughtful, creative, and a bit playful. Things are not done for the WOW factor, but rather to bring out the best qualities of the ingredients at hand. I've never before paid this much for a meal, and I expect I never will again, but I do not begrudge one penny of this 4-hour experience.
Recently had the foie gras tasting menu at Fifth Floor. $120 per person. Wine pairing an additional $70. We did not do the wine paring as one of our party (a sommelier) brought wine and we mixed and matched off Amy Goldberger's list. We had a marvelous time. The staff was very acomodating of our seven person party (a couple were late due to a pet emergency). The dishes with lamb neck and squab were stand outs.
I'd never been to Fifth Floor before, but I was very happy I got to do a proper send off to foie gras.
Below is a photo spread of the meal.
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from your replies I would think Atelier Crenn would be the best fit followed by Benu. I actually have enjoyed Atelier Creen in terms of creativity and food more than Benu but Benu has amazing consistency in service and food. Both have been quite accommodating when I've gone there with folks with dietary restrictions.