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Aug 10, 2012 06:51 AM

Help me WOW my English partner with amazing SF food...


I have done a good deal of searching through the boards and am now looking for a bit more advise to firm up an eating itinerary during an upcoming trip to SF. Here are the details:

WHO: Former SF resident (and foodie) bringing my London born and bred partner on California trip of a lifetime. Trip is based around wine and food. SF will be our third main stop (after Santa Barbara/Central Valley and Big Sur). We will be moving on to Sonoma (Forestville) after SF. I am extremely adventurous (will eat pretty much anything). My loving boyfriend has gotten better over the years, but I would say he's into more traditional combinations - nothing too 'out there' in terms of ingredients and 'weird' combinations. We both love italian, he doesn't like chinese, or vietnamese (bummer), neither of us are very interested in French, and a major coup has been turning him on to sushi - woohoo!

WHEN: 4 days/3 nights, arriving on Tuesday Oct 9 and heading for Sonoma County on Friday Oct 12. Planning far in advance as I know some places book up quickly.

WHERE: San Francisco (obviously) - Haven't booked hotel yet, but thinking either Hotel Vitale (by the Ferry Building) or somewhere in/around Union Square. Food recommendations can be anywhere in SF, Oakland/Berkeley, Sausalito, etc. as we will have a car or can cab it.

WHAT: Looking for variety and good food without going into the 'Really, those ingredients go together?' area. I know SF is well known for 'creative cuisine' and happy to push the envelope slightly
* We definitely want at least 1 sushi dinner (note: we are coming from London so pretty much ANY sushi in SF is better than what we currently get) Was thinking maybe doing Sushi Ran in Sausalito for lunch or dinner as I want to show the GG bridge;
* Definitely 1 Cal-Italian place (when I lived in SF, A16 had just come on the scene and I loved it, same for Delfina - happy to go back to either of those, or something similar that's newer, Perbacco or Barbacco look good but are they better than A16 - I like the pizza option)
* Must show him what a burrito should actually taste like
* Probably want to do 1 more 'special occassion' place (though we will be coming from Big Sur - staying at the Post Ranch Inn and eating one dinner at Sierra Mar; and we will be heading up to stay at the Farmhouse Inn in Forestville and eating one dinner there so don't want it to be overkill)
* I love pastry so will likely hit Tartine or Arizmendi - are there any new places similar that I should know about?
* Will probably go to the Ferry Plaza Thursday Market - anything not to miss? (I know its not as big as Saturday's market)

Apologies for the long post, just thought I would give all the details as I know vague questions can be very annoying. Hopefully this provides some helpful guidelines.

Thanks in advance - promise to post reviews upon our return!

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  1. Cal-Italian: This is huge in SF right now - there are so many options it is very overwhelming. There's Cotogna, but they seem not to take reservations for dinner at many popular times (at least not on OpenTable you may want to call)
    Flour + Water
    Perbacco and Barbacco are great Cal-Italian options but one thing I'd say they lack is the SF neighborhood vibe.

    Special Occasion - You may want to try Commis in Oakland or Aziza in SF. I'm also going to throw two new restaruants in that may work but I don't know too much about (but could have a good vibe for a special occasion) Plaj (Scandinavian) and Dixie (southern food reimagined) out there. I haven't been yet, and haven't even read too much about them, but it looks like it'd have good atmosphere and the food is promising without being too adventurous.

    Pastry - Would add Knead and Craftsman + Wolves

    3 Replies
    1. re: goldangl95

      Fabulous - those are great ones to add as I think those are all new since I left SF in 2005. Both Dixie and Plaj would add a bit of variety - I don't want to overdose on 'California cuisine,' as much as I miss it terribly.

      Thanks again for taking the time to respond!

      1. re: goldangl95

        +1 Cotogna. If these are just two of you and if you are willing to sit at the counter, you may be able to get away with some flexibility on reservations. On a friday night I made reservations for 2 at 9:30 or so (by calling) --the only available time, but arrived at 8 with hopes of getting seated sooner. We waited 15 mins and got a place at the counter at 8:15.

        Another Hound favorite if you are willing to push the envelope a bit on Italian is La Ciccia (Sardinian). They are small and friendly and have a really unique wine list.

        1. re: goldangl95

          Cotogna takes reservations; call one month to the day before you want to dine. My wife and I ate there last weekend for our anniversary and had a nice meal, although the food was very rich (and I don't usually complain about that). If you want a really nice meal, Quince, next door, is even better, and the service is much better. More expensive, of course.

        2. The Thursday Ferry Building Market is mostly a prepared foods market. Lines are long at peak lunch hour, so go early or late. Roli Roti porchetta is the big deal there. Don't miss the 4505 chicharrones (if you're just buying chicharrones you don't have to stand in line, just walk up to the counter and ask for them). When you're up in Forestville you can hit the Saturday farmers market in Healdsburg.

          I think Aziza is a great suggestion for a special occasion that won't be too "do these ingredients go together."

          18 Replies
          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            Awesome! So sounds like people are advocating Cotogna over A16 or Delfina? Perhaps we could do Pizzaria Delfina for a lunch to get our good thin crust pizza fix (pizza in London pretty much sucks all around - though we are closer the Naples). I think I might've gone to Quince before I left SF but it sounds like it has changed considerably since 2005 as I don't remember the meal and people seem to rave about it on these boards. I'll give it another look.

            Any sushi recommendations?

            Here's what I'm thinking...
            Dinners: Cotogna, Quince (or another higher end place), and a recommended Sushi place
            Lunches: Pizzaria Delfina (maybe breakfast at Tartine and then hang around the mission), La Taqueria, and Chez Panisse or Zuni
            Breakfast: Dotties...any other recos?

            Thanks again!

            By the way, any recommendations Forestville way are greatly appreciated too!

            1. re: jimicat

              Sushi Ran is a great choice for sushi, better than anyplace in San Francisco.

              Cotogna has amazing pasta. If you're already going to Delfina for pizza, another option to consider would be Incanto. I wouldn't go to both Cotogna and Quince - the restaurants are related. If you love Italian, another place to consider is Acquerello.

              Since you're coming up from Big Sur, another special occasion dinner to consider would be Manresa.

              1. re: calumin

                Thanks for this info. I actually had a look at the Quince menu last night and one thing I neglected to include in my initial brief is that my partner is pretty weary of tasting menus - he doesn't like not having a choice in what he eats, which I suppose I can understand for someone who has a few random foods that are off limits (prawns, for instance). So, unless I'm absolutely sure (I.e., I've already dined at the place with the tasting menu and know he will like it) I don't generally bother since it could be a waste of money and not a particularly enjoyable experience.

                So, long story short, the 'special occasion dinner' is still up for debate. Will have a look into Aziza...anyone know how far in advance you generally have to make reservations?

                Also, would you recommend Sushi Ran for lunch or dinner? I'm thinking maybe make a day out of Sausalito and the Marin Headlands or even Muir Woods...

                1. re: jimicat

                  Just a thought from a gastrotourist who visits SF twice yearly (so lucky!) to eat: we had a lovely and memorable lunch at Cotogna in April. No problem at all getting a reso though IIRC correctly we did book a couple weeks in advance. Could be an option for you...

                  1. re: jimicat

                    Quince is very Frenchified / Michelin-friendly Italian, which is probably closer to what you can get in England than the Cal-rustic style of Cotogna, Incanto, or Delfina.

                    1. re: jimicat

                      forgive me if i'm replying to a dead thread, and your trip has already occurred.

                      for something coming from london, i'd suggest chez panisse cafe over cotogna, and chez panisse downstairs over quince.

                      i think the way michael tusk has changed his menu / style from chez panisse is to make it more like a standard italian restaurant -- which you can easily find in london.

                      when i had their tasting menu at a few months back quince, they imported a lots of european / french ingredients (some white asparagus, some langoustine, etc.) great -- but but not if you are visiting from europe.

                      i also get really tired of tasting menus, but won't ever get tired of the set menus at chez panisse.

                      for japanese, you can do better than sushi ran -- again, i suspect sushi ran is similar to what you can get at places like nobu. i'd suggest you look into kappa, sushi sho, or sawa (if you want to drive).

                      i believe sf also has much better chinese food than london -- i'd suggest you look into jai yun (recent thread:

                      1. re: Dustin_E

                        Many thanks for the recommendations - the trip has not yet occurred (two weeks and counting!)

                        Of the sushi you receommended, is only Kappa in San Francisco. I think I see that sushi sho in el cerrito and sawa is in sunnyvale? Unfortunately I think those last two might be too out of the way for our three days in San Francisco - I will look into Kappa though - its in Japantown?

                        To be honest, I expect ANY sushi will be better than what we can get in London. It makes me sad really. I used to really enjoy Ebisu - anyone know if Ebisu is still as good as it was then? I know it is quite a neighbourhood place, but how would this compare to your recommendation of Kappa?

                        I had thought about Chez Panisse, but my boyfriend doesn't really enjoy tasting menus and with CP Downstairs, I always get nervous that the menu of the day won't necessarily be to his liking.

                        I have reservations at the following places:

                        Monday: Slanted Door (I know its cliche) (but considering replacing with La Mar)
                        Tuesday: Sushi Ran (or another sushi place)
                        Wednesday: Flour & Water

                        What your opinion?

                        1. re: jimicat

                          Better do more reading on Kappa. If you are expecting a traditional sushi restaurant. that is probably not what you want.

                          1. re: jimicat

                            Regarding the sushi aspect...

                            Sushi Ran is a nice place. It's very 'marin'. A bit out of the way, well-kept clientele, quite busy. Excellent food. You can go straight on sushi there, but they tend to also have some imaginative sushi-style options. Definitely a california place.

                            Kappa is in SF. Very small. You sit at an 8-person counter and the chef gives you a variety of dishes, only some of which are sushi/sashimi. I went there once and was not impressed. Dustin and I have agreed to disagree about this restaurant in the past. My main issue was that a number of things seemed prepared ahead and room temp, where I would prefer them fresh and warm/hot.

                            In a similar vein to Kappa we have Kiss Seafood, which for me is a perfect little 5-6 course japanese meal. At kiss, one course will be perfect little bites of sashimi, and another is gorgeous sushi. The others vary and are always quite nice.

                            Still in the same vein, if you are willing to travel south to San Mateo, we have a glorious kaiseki restaurant called Wakuriya. Flawless and the best of its kind in the bay area if you ask me. The chef actually worked at Kitcho Arashiyama in Kyoto, which about as good as it gets anywhere in the world for kaiseki.

                            On to straight-on sushi in SF:
                            Ino Sushi is a quiet small sushi bar in Japantown. The way to do it there is to call ahead and reserve seats at the counter, and then order omakase from the chef. He is a quiet somewhat dour man, but his fish is the best in SF (in my opinion). It will be all sushi, and he plunks the pieces down on the counter 2 at a time as he prepares them. For pure sushi, this is my first choice.

                            In Alameda (east bay) there is Yume. Same approach as Ino but they do not take reservations. Sit at the counter and order omakase. This place is cheaper than Ino, and a happier place. But the fish is not quite as good as Ino. Although he's got a giant scallop thing he does that is amazeballs.

                            I'll mention two other sushi joints:
                            Zushi Puzzle -- here you want to sit at the counter again and order omakase. This guy is really fun, a real character, and the food is very good.

                            Last off there is Sushi Time in the Castro. Just a neighborhood place, but the sushi is good, and their traditional appetizers (oshitashi, hiya yakko, sunomono, etc) are all very well done.

                            Oh oops and I should mention my current favorite local Japanese, Izakaya Yuzuki. The have little (or sometimes no) sushi on the menu, but all their food is fantastic and unique.

                            1. re: pauliface

                              Great post, pauliface, bookmarked. Haven't really tried a lot of sushi in SF as we have so much at home but your post makes me want to correct that.

                              1. re: pauliface

                                Yuzuki is great, some of the best non-sushi Japanese I've had.

                                In Oakland, Uzen in Oakland is old-school classic Japanese and very good. It's just a couple of blocks from Rockridge BART. I sit at the counter so no idea how table service might be.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  I have friends who won't go back to Uzen because the table service was dreadful. But it's busy enough ....

                                2. re: pauliface

                                  Thanks very much for the detailed response. We are definitely looking for sushi only Japanese and unfortunately, one with a menu. It has been an achievement in and of itself, getting the BF to eat sushi, but he is still not so experimental that he allows it to be left to the chef to decide what he will eat!

                                  Based on that, what would your list look like?

                                  1. re: jimicat

                                    Hi jimicat.

                                    Given what you've said, I do think Sushi Ran could be a great choice. (They are not sushi only, but they are sushi mostly, and you can do your whole meal as sushi if you like quite nicely). Their menu is interesting and fun, and they always have cool specials.
                                    Most importantly, it will really make for a nice day when you do the bridge.
                                    Tips for that trip by the way: There are viewing areas on both sides of the bridge. If that's what your day is about, I'd research the locations (the one on the SF side is a little tricky to find) and stop at both. If only one, do the one on the marin side. You get to that one by crossing the bridge in the right lane and exiting to the right immediatly at the end of the bridge.
                                    I'd also recommend a visit to Muir woods. Go there in the morning and hit sushi ran for lunch/late lunch, it'll make a great day. Or spend more time there and hit sushi ran dinner...

                                    I'd stay away from Ino because I'd do that omakase only.
                                    You could have a great time at Yume without omakase. But I'm not sure they have a menu, you might have to point.

                                    Sushi Time is not really the same class as those others, but if you are in the Castro for any reason and want a 2nd sushi meal, I'd recommend them.

                                    1. re: pauliface

                                      Awesome. That's exactly the day I had envisioned...grab some pastries for late breakfast at either Tartine or Knead...then head over the bridge...stop at the Marin headlands for a viewing and the on to Muir Woods for a hike...maybe stop at the Tourist Club for a beer...and then back thru Sausalito for an early dinner at sushi Ran. Yes! I can't wait!

                                      Thanks for confirming my plan :-)

                                      1. re: pauliface

                                        +1 on Sushi Ran given what you've described regarding Boyfriend.

                                        Don't forget beer at the Pelican Inn off of Muir Beach, I don't know what was stated about beer but that's a great cozy place out of the wind, unless it's too much like home. Sometimes one spot like home will relax someone during a trip.

                                      2. re: jimicat

                                        If you sit at a sushi bar, you don't have to leave the choice to the chef. You can just look at what's there, ask what things are, and order what you want.

                                        Menus are problematic. The fish available at a great sushi bar changes from day to day or even hour to hour if a shipment happens to come in while you're sitting there.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          I also recommend sitting at the bar.
                                          It tends to be more fun and you might strike up a conversation with your neighbors, which is especially nice when traveling.

                                          But I'm pretty sure Sushi Ran prints their specials on the menu, and also that you can get the menu while sitting at the sushi bar if you like.

                                          Either way it's a good idea to chat up the sushi chef and ask what's good...

                        2. I know you said no French (not sure what you mean by that - ?classic) but I think La Folie is amazing for special occasion.
                          Even tho the chef is very french it isn't anything like classic French, or even much like what I get in France. Maybe I'd call it Cal-French (IMHO). Their website has a lot of pics which might give you a better idea of what the food is like.
                          When I last ate there a few weeks ago they had two courses that were sushi like (or rather sashimi) and up there with the best Japanese, but with a slightly different style and presentation.
                          I don't know Post Ranch or Farmhouse so don't know how this rec would fit with those experiences

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: estnet


                            I just wanted to say that you should know that you are a great boyfriend! There are so many "help me plan" posts on Chowhound, and so many of them focus on the name/ rep of restaurant or the cost (both valid considerations by the way) but you're obviously trying to make sure HE is happy and that the restaurant suits him, not the other way around. Basically, you are a planning the way it should be- about the other person, and it is so nice to read! Hope you have a wonderful time. Post back would love to hear it!

                            1. re: arugala

                              Aw thanks. That's very sweet. I just want to make sure he loves it as much as I did when I lived in SF. It's going to be an amazing trip. I absolutely cannot wait.

                              Promise to write reviews when I return. Any favourites you recommend?

                          2. California is about produce. Go to a good farmers' market and cruise the fruit. Taste what's offered. Buy peaches, berries, and whatever else appeals, Take it back to your hotel and gorge.
                            Some people say that California cuisine is more about shopping than about cooking. And the problem with that is what?

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: AnnKnepper

                              Agreed. Go to the Allemany farmers market on a Saturday, and you'll find really good food stalls in addition to the produce.

                              1. re: ernie in berkeley

                                Yeah, as we will be in Forestville on Saturday, was thinking of hitting up the Santa Rose Farmers Market which sounds supreme. As we are sparing no expense for our hotel stays and a few blowout meals, I would love to save a bit of money and do some cheap-er eats and even grab rations for picnics from local farmers markets to save a few bucks here and there.

                              2. re: AnnKnepper

                                2nd on farmers markets...or head to Berkeley Bowl. The produce part is the size of a normal store. Not as good as the best stuff at a FM but overall the variety/prices are hard to beat. As a regular supermarket it overwhelms a lot of people. If that doesn't wow them, not sure what will.

                                I'd also get a burrito or taco in the Mission or Fruitvale in Oakland. Plenty to choose from, cheap. Basically it's CA's version of the slice in NYC (as noted by Wolfe).

                              3. The original comment has been removed