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Sep 13, 2012 12:35 AM

For Fun! - Your Top 5 in SF Bay, standards or up and comers?

I won't even post mine, but I am really interested in all of your faves. Basically, I have an anniversary coming up, and want to find something great. We have our favorites, and just realized that's stopped us from exploring. We're also totally nice and kind people that just realized we may be insufferably pretentious foodies. I got made fun of, tonight, for asking if it was "truffle oil" or "shaved truffles". I mean, seriously, that is a GIGANTIC difference. So...

After a wonderful trip to France, we really want to search out those exceptional spots. Masa's, Atelier Crenn, Waterbar, Canteen, Aziza, Masa's, Marlowe, Bix, Coi, Quince, Palomino, or whatever the heck you have experienced lately that you love. I don't mind your top 5 standard classics, not at all. But I am more interested in the stuff that snagged one star early and is moving to two. I don't live and die by those stars, but I just wanted an easy analogy. =)

Here's a funny picture, that's true, for no reason. Pardon, but I am not really sure if jocularity is appreciated on these boards.

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  1. I had another great meal at AQ last night. The food is beautiful, intricate and uses innovative techniques, and yet the overall effect of the dish isn't tortured or weird.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      Fantastic. I know it's about a year old or so? I wonder if the cocktails are still as sweet as everyone says. I might have to find out! =) I really hope more people add on this thread... would love to hear the "pulse" of our scene! =)

      1. re: unclefishbits

        I would also say that even though it's not formal, AQ handled a special request I made beautifully and also comped us a special dessert for the birthday girl, so I think it might be able to make your occasion special.

    2. Jocularity is always good imo.

      And we're nothing if not old school here. But for our "big" events, we always look to a wonderful experience @ Chez Panisse.

      1. AQ, Bar Tartine, and St. Vincent are my current favorites in SF.

        For an anniversary, personally, I'd be more inclined to go somewhere more classic, like Perbacco, Acquerello, or La Folie.

        14 Replies
        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          I am sort of thinking Coi, Atelier Crenn, or AQ, b/c the concept mixed with La Folie's chef is so awesome. But, yeah... I like to keep it classy, and am sort of angling for a proper tasting menu. Probably Coi, but maybe Acquerello.... thanks for commentary and advisement people! =)

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              of the sf 2 stars, i definitely think saison is the best.

              1. re: Dustin_E

                Here's my thoughts on Coi:

                I am not sure where to go with this, yet. I will write down the courses and wine pairings, but I realized why I wasn't excited to write a review, and why it was going to take a bit to work up the energy.... and that simple reason is because I came out of the experience, *immediately* with passive ambivalence. After a meal like that, and a check like that, there should be nothing but active raving. But it's almost that I wanted it behind me.... it was fantastic, beautiful, and delicious...

                The product here is so unbelievable in the Bay Area, the execution matters so much more.... all the product is the best in the world, in this area, so plating is vital. All the chefs go to the same markets, they are using the same products from the same farmers... so unless you grow stuff yourself (which so many chefs are doing), there is no real way to differentiate yourself beyond the plating and execution..... therefore we find more insecurity, and too much flourish, capping the SF food scene - people jockeying for position with little daring maneuvers and attempts.

                Coi was taking simple, beautiful, accessible products and making them uppity with no real depth, or too inaccessible, favoring art over function. It was not disappointing, but I should be raving.

                This one sentence sort of explains it.... I just wrote it to a chef friend:

                "Daniel is epic, and art is fun, but when the form goes so far over function, that the beauty on the front end is tempered by the fact you are just eating fancy veggies, the bill gives you a sticker shock that makes you forget about the plating."

                That is as simple as I could put it. When getting into multi-coursed stuff, maybe I want something a bit more traditional, or maybe I like artistic food to match it's visibly distinguished exterior, but in the end it just felt like fresh veggies that were played with for a bit too long. It was delicious, and the product was solid - but making such obviously simple stuff into expressively pretentious plates fell far shorter to my mind than the final bill did.

                1. re: unclefishbits

                  Very few chefs in the area mess with their food as much as Daniel Patterson does. Any competitive game he's playing is mostly in his own head.

                  Not all the best local ingredients are easy to get. Some places manage to differentiate themselves by finding rare or exceptionally good items such as chepil, fresh aji amarillo, the hazelnuts at Chez Panisse, or the fish sauce at Saison.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Which is why I still love Plum so much. Even if patterson isn't directly in the kitchen, it's still very playful without being a 4 hour investment.

                  2. re: unclefishbits

                    In other words, just give me the fig on a plate and the tripe in a bowl.

                    (i kid.)

                      1. re: dunstable

                        I was thinking of this... the fig comment. Chatting on a different board, we touched on the newfound awareness that is leading to a less pretentious food scene.

                        Hawks Head surprised me, in Mill Valley. I have to go back before endorsing it. But for as often as I finish a 4 hour experience and think "pretty good", I finish a 3 course two hour meal and think "outstanding". I am starting to understand I really like unpretentious.... a lot. the high concept stuff is silly...


                        The new lack of pretentiousness in SF is so under the radar, people don't realize what's happening. A full reaction to the machine of white tablecloth, multi coursed, inaccessible food, molecular bs, etc..... Uppity reviewers and cow towing to Michelin inspectors... it's all paving it's way to simple, fresh, accessible, delicious, food.

                        It's exciting.

                        It's also exciting to see how few people are noticing this. Costentino sort of did his own offal thing, then David said the "figs on a plate" thing, and it brought the city back to self awareness. I think people like Joe Humphrey (Dixie) are ahead of the curve... people don't get it because they want it to be concept "it's southern!", or they want it to be fine dining...

                        but if people stopped being so self involved and allowed the chef to do what they wanted to do, instead of assuming they should defer to what the public expects of them.... our food scene would be the best in the world.

                        And it still is.... =


                        But interesting times. Can't wait until people realize there is parity with Paris' Gastropub revolution.

                        1. re: unclefishbits

                          Lots of people know what's happening. AQ and State Bird Provisions got national recognition quickly. The final round in Top Chef Masters season 4 was pretty much new school SF vs. old-school international French.

                          There's still a place for high-end expensive perfection. Ron Siegel taking over the kitchen at Michael Mina isn't likely to be boring.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            I need to watch some of these shows! It's a great point. It's just so funny, that a move back to simplicity with non pretensious food means that people won't notice because it's precisely unpretentious. *YOU* do, and others on the board, and foodies around get it.... but it will be nice to see the scene develop. Lockwood had a place called Fork in Marin, The Alice Waters stuff is rooted and informing new people. Stuff like Nopa is about 5 years in.... it's just refreshing. It's exciting to go out to a good meal with friends and enjoy it, rather than go out with good friends to an exciting meal that grabs all the attention.... =)

                      2. re: unclefishbits

                        Yes, well, I think my wife said it best (of course, I'm biased) when she said of Coi, "I don't want to have to think that hard about my food."

                        1. re: zin1953

                          It smacks a bit of the insecurity around no formal training? Maybe? I don't know. the tomato dish was delicious, but it was surreal to take a perfect, natural object in taste and quality, like a tomato, and then make it nearly inaccessible and bizarre. I felt bad for the poor thing. It was amazing, I have nothing but respect.... because it's just my opinion vs his execution. My opinion means little. I will say, we went on Wed Sept 19th, and the ENTIRE evening there were 3 other tables, only. That seemed weird. Also saw Patterson talk w/ Pepin at Herbst. The way he speaks about chefs at cooks, craftsmen not artists.... seems disconnected with what is happening in his kitchen. But I am just some random guy talking on line.... so who cares. =)

              2. i love making lists.

                keiko's a nob hill - best classical french
                chez panisse - best "californian"
                sawa - best raw fish
                jai yun - best chinese

                gary danko - nice "new american"
                kappa - best old-school japanese
                farina - best italian, if you can stomach the high prices and mediocre service
                tadich - best old-school classic sf
                yum's - best cantonese
                sushi sho - best traditional sushi
                harris' - best steak

                5 Replies
                1. re: Dustin_E

                  I'll take Alfred's over Harris' and Sam's over Tadich.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    need to try alfred's -- their "bull market menu" looks like a bargain.

                    when i went to sam's they were out of sand dabs, which was annoying. sam's certainly didn't have the atmosphere of taddich, but i might have felt differently if i was with a group in the back room.

                    1. re: Dustin_E

                      For me, Sam's atmosphere is improved by not having to wait in line as you would at Tadich.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        I like Sam's. Where else can you get a serving of sweetbreads that fills the plate?
                        Stil, it's not Tadich. The places are similar in an old-school vibe kind of way but different.
                        Key for me is I know when to visit Tadich (very late lunch) and when to visit Sam's (late supper works for me). Both prefer regulars.

                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Fine points aside, Alfred's, Harris', Sam's, and Tadich are all way off base for this particular request.

                  2. We moved out of SF and now that we're retired, don't get back to the city very often. We spend more time traveling around NorCA to eat than on BART these days, but when we do drive or take transit into the city, we love:

                    - La Folie, although our last meal there had some irritating minor flaws.

                    - Fifth Floor, which replaced Boulevard/Prospect in our affections after Ravi Kapur left. Both kitchens promptly crashed and burned, despite the attendance of Nancy Oakes and Pam Mazzola during the post-Kapur dinners we had at the two restaurants.

                    - Perbacco, where the food is always good and the service matches. One of our dinners there was all small plates, and the waiter that night did a magnificent job on timing, the best we've encountered in 45 yrs of dining in SF.

                    We would normally add Aziza but have not been back in a while. We have reservations for next month when my brother is in town.

                    Also, there is one dish at One Market that qualifies as magnificent: the smoked Tasmanian ocean trout appetizer by chef Mark Dommen. If you love runny egg yolk and cold-smoked fish, this plate is sheer heaven. Also, the desserts finally improved. The meat dishes have always been good, now they just have to work on the soups, which are occasionally weird combinations that don't succeed. You also need to ignore the coldly snobby hostess, because she's been like that ever since the place opened. The waitstaff, once you sit down, is excellent and welcoming. I have always ranked One Market below Fifth Floor and Perbacco, but they do certain dishes extremely well. It is one of the very few restaurants you can take hearty eaters to, without having to apologize for tiny portions, but without compromising quality.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: jaiko

                      I cannot thank you enough for relating *all* your experiences.... this thread has been as enjoyable and illuminating as any I have seen in a long time. I love that this medium can bring so many varied experiences together, all with the passion of dining. I cannot agree more about our last La Folie meal - in public, I would feel entitled and pompous to complain about the irritating minor flaws. But deep down I know I felt them. So funny... I try to supress my nitpicky fine dining foodie-ism, because I am sure it seems a bit arrogant. But it was certainly there.

                      I think, for the prices you end up saving up for, and then paying, their shouldn't be anything minor, nor should there be any flaws, no matter how teensy. =)

                      I love this thread.

                      1. re: unclefishbits

                        Well....perfection is hard to pull off for hundreds of diners, every evening. I eat out as my hobby, so we're as likely to stuff ourselves with injera at an Eritrean restaurant for $40 as we are to pay $140 to eat at Artisan Bistro/Lafayette, which we consider the best Cal-French food we've found so far in the East Bay. And I like to cook, so considering my own "hits and misses" percentage, I'm willing to cut a little slack for minor errors.

                        It's the "big" mistakes we object to, especially when it shows through multiple courses. When a dish is ill-conceived from the start, not even perfect execution will save it. As Joyce Goldstein pointed out in her debut column in the Chron, "You can do it, but WHY?"

                        There is also personal bias that has to be accounted for - we are not fond of fusion, we don't drink alcohol (I used to love wine, but had to stop), and my entire family is on a low-salt diet, so we're sensitive to over-salted food. Others are going to have their own biases, which makes it challenging to evaluate diner reviews, but also gives an element of fun and serendipity to it.

                        1. re: jaiko

                          That's funny that Joyce Goldstein should say that, since I had the most ill-conceived dish of my life at Square One: grapefruit sorbet with chocolate sauce.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            lol Robert. Eww. Jaiko - outstanding comments. I am no fusion gent, either, and I want my function to outdo my form every time. Molecular bubbles just because you can isn't my speed, either.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Oh, I could offer a few just as bad. We had a weird dessert at "B" in Oakland (now gratefully replaced by Borgo Italia). This is exactly what I wrote in 2008:

                              "I can’t believe the olive-oil chocolate mousse ever made it onto the menu. It was a pudding, not a mousse (who’s making all these mistakes in describing the menu items?) and they used a virgin, fruity, heavy olive oil (heavily drizzled over it). It clashed horribly with the chocolate, ending up a waste of two gourmet ingredients.

                              Even the pumpkin seed brittle garnishing it, had been cooled on a sheet greased with the same olive oil. Blecch."

                              1. re: jaiko

                                I love it. I realized I am insufferable when I couldn't choke out "is that shaved truffles or truffle oil" in asking a simple question at a restaurant, because I felt so pompous. LOL. I am far more specific than I ever thought I would be. I can't help but think the entire SF food scene is hilariously ungrounded and totally pompous.... still, post fig call out.