Trying to Avoid Brothers Bad Taste & Obsessive Parsimony
I'm visiting SF for 4 days and my older brother always drags me to some hole in the wall restaurant that is notable simply because the bill is under $10 and he is greeted like an international celebrity. I do recall one establishment that served an apple fritter with chunks of garlic nestled within the fruit. I smelled like a Calabrian garbage dump for weeks.
These are the restaurants I am thinking about after my research. My desire is just for good food and a great experience that echoes San Francisco rather then NYC, LA, or Chicago.
Any help the Chowhounds could provide would not only add to my holiday, but could temper my familial neurotic behavior. Thanks
Hmmmm the Calabrian Garbage Dump -- I think I have been there once.
Thanks for the hilarious post, and good luck getting to a good place to eat.
Benu is about two price points above the rest. I think the food is very unique (california cuisine with some distinct asian notes). The service is flawless and unbelievably competent, but it does not give a California "vibe." On the other hand, it's not steak house/white table cloth formal in the same way that many East Coast and European Michelin star places are. I really enjoyed my experience at Benu. I found the food and service better than Atelier Crenn or Cyrus (my other tasting menu experiences for 2012). But I would say Atelier Crenn is a little more "Californian" (though I don't find Atelier Crenn as smooth an experience, and I find the food more uneven.) Many on this board love Atelier Crenn.
Chapeau is not uniquely Californian nor does it feature foods/cuisines you can't get elsewhere. It's French bistro food with a twist here and there.
Of the places I've been on the rest of your list, Cotogna or Frances represent the San Francisco neighborhood food scene at its best. Nopalito is a fun neighborhood place -more casual than the other two.
Aziza and Plaj feature very unique cuisines.
I'm unfamiliar with Rich Table, Campton Place, and Le Charm.
Of places on your list I've been within the last two months, I'd say Frances, Cotogna and Nopalito the most San Francisco. I finally made it to Aziza in August and it was very good--with excellent cocktails--but something about the room didn't quite come together for me.
I'd consider Atelier Crenn and AQ. Maybe throw Delfina into the mix.
I'm curious about these ten dollar meals. Were any of them okay?
Anyway, that's not a bad list. Personally I think Nopalito is a little boring, especially considering that SF has plenty of good cheap Mexican, but it is much loved by locals and it is very "san francisco," so.
Chapeau! has a pretty good early bird special. It's like $30 for three courses; totally worth it.
if there's just two in your party, consider SPQR. we've enjoyed all of our meals there sitting at the cook's counter (easier to converse there, and pleasant ambience). the ingredients (fresh local stuff) and staff are what might set it apart from NY or Chi places -- have not eaten in those cities in quite some time. cal-italian is somewhat of a genre unto itself and native ingredients is intrinsic to it.
Nopalita is a good in between from the $10 meals, and more inventive restaurants you named, but what you get resembles the new finessed Mexican popping up in other cities instead of the legendary cheap Mexican we have here. Good Moles with delicate presentation isn't exactly unique these days. Nopalita doesn't really capture the heart of what is considered uniquely San Francisco. Instead, I would look into Nopa, their parent restaurant, which is more California-centric.
Campton Place - the trick is to find current reviews. Over the years it's gone through transformations. Some great chefs have passed through, and it's a classic. It's also had some dark periods.
Frances is the closest to what you want. Expect over the top in pretentiousness, while still hoping it's coming off casual. Menu is seasonal based, and inventive.
Aziza is beloved more than any other place on Chowhound, it seems. Visitor reports usually reflect happy experiences from people who think they've visited somewhere unique and inventive. My personal opinion is that it's not unique, or representative of California flavors or trying to be, and that it helps if your less familiar with the cuisine. It's fusion, and the presentation is different, and they source locally with a long list of farms on their website, but I think it falls closer to the echoing New York, than SF problem.
You might check into Coi, 25 Lusk, AQ, Nopa, or Bird State Provisions instead.
I'd cast a vote each for AQ and Rich Table. Of the other restaurants on your list, I didn't like Benu, haven't been to Campton, and don't think San Francisco does particularly well with French food. Plaj is interesting because it's the city's first Scandinavian, but that's way behind the curve of NY or, uh, Scandinavia.
IMHO, what we're best at is mid-range, inventive seasonal cuisine that relies heavily on local produce. Rich + AQ will give you that--on your list, also like Cotogna and SPQR, but whether their cuisine "echoes San Francisco" might depend on where you live now and what your context is.
Best of luck and report back.
I am not as well dined as others on here, but have done most of the major tasting menus. I really liked Benu. The food was good, inventive and the service spectacular.
However, I would just note that if your brother likes $10 meals he might feel very out of place at Benu or even some of the other places. I would go for the midrange places. This summer my SIL was describing this horrible meal experience she had on vacation - where the salad was so small, the main dish had a few slices of meat and the dessert had fennel in it. I had to laugh and showed her pics of Benu, where the dessert had fennel! She was describing a lot of restaurants in SF but wasn't used to the amount of food vs. price point. I see the value in a well prepared meal that is quality not quantity. They did not.
Anyway, I think SPQR is a good choice.
Thank you so much for all your help! It is amazingly refreshing to get opinions that have commitment and passion. I moved to the "South" about two years ago, and other then a perverse attraction to the Fox News Network and a warped affiliation with Rand Paul, I just am told that everything is great, wonderful and peachy. I dared to criticize an iconic restaurant here, and was thrown off a food blog. I guess there's a reason why the cost of living South of the Mason-Dixon Line is so low. All the great cities are just too expensive to move as you head towards senior citizenship......
As for restaurants in SF, it's not that my brother may feel uncomfortable in an expensive restaurant, he has more money then most of us will ever see, it's simply a matter of bad taste and the utter need to be cheap. It's almost a mission for him. If he can save a dollar, he feels like Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela!
I will let you know what I chose once I am 30 days out for reservation purposes. Thanks again for all your help.
I second that--re including some fabulous cheap eats for your brother's affinity for dives (eg. for quintessential Bay Area fare, great, cheap Mexican in the Mission or on International Blvd. in Oakland).
For your purposes, you might also include some of the wonderful, storied high-end East Bay spots--eg. Chez Panisse.
fwiw, campton place did get a micelin star this year.
for upscale mexican, i prefer mamacita to nopalito (or even tacolicious).
le charm is now owned by the same people as l'ardoise (phenomenal french bistro food), but i've heard reports of inconsistency.
would definitely add NOPA to the list.
much prefer delfina (the restaurant) to spqr.
chapeau and aziza are absolutely amazing