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Oct 15, 2012 12:59 PM

Visiting soon - pls review my San Francisco and Napa restaurant list

I'm visiting San Francisco in three weeks, so this is my last chance to tinker with reservations and make sure I have the best choices lined up.

I'm looking for ridiculously delicious. But not ridiculously expensive. I prefer places where the average entree is in the $15-25 range. I like cozy, comfortable, not too loud. I heard that Delfina, for instance, is crazy loud. I like to be able to talk to my boyfriend when we're at dinner but, more importantly, he has a bit of hearing loss and it actually pains him to be in a room that has such loud conversation because the voices kind of bounce off the walls and ceiling and hurt his ears. If a place is too loud to talk in a reasonable voice to your dining companion, then it's too loud for us. So please let me know if any of these places are like that. And if the places I've picked, and my backups, are good options.

We are staying on Market near SOMA and close to Union Square. We will be taking public transporation. We are a block from a BART station, if you have transportation suggestions.

Here are the restaurants where I've reserved spots:

Frances (could only get a 5:15 reservation. is it worth it going this early?)
Canteen (a la carte menu)
Local Mission Eatery
Foreign Cinema (Sunday brunch)

We will do a dim sum lunch one day, perhaps at Yank Sing, and a mexican food lunch at perhaps Puerto Allegre. and a visit to sausalito and 331 fish for lunch another day.

My backup restaurants are the following. Please tell me if you'd swap out one of these for one on my list above:

Zuni Cafe
Comstock Saloon
Slanted Door
Rich Table

And then we have two nights in Napa (staying near downtown Napa, so we're trying to limit ourselves to restaurants within a reasonable taxi drive from our hotel). Here are the places I'm considering in Napa:

Ad Hoc (have reservations, but not sure this is a special enough place for the quiet, romantic vibe I'm hoping for in Napa)
Bistro Don Giovanni
Bistro Jeanty

We only have two dinners, so not sure how to narrow down this list. Definitely don't want Italian two nights in a row. Looked into Auberge and Etoile but they're too expensive for me.


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  1. You have a good SF reservation list going. I'd say they are all Californian cuisine - so you may want to break it up see below:

    I'd say Nopa, Frances, & Canteen are all in the "SF neighborhood Cal Cuisine scene" genre. (Local Mission Eatery may also be in that genre - I had never heard of it)

    Nopa is loud and bustling
    Frances is bustling and in a house like structure, that is very intimate
    Canteen is diner atmosphere and service turning out excellent Cal comfort food.

    All three are great.

    I would say the one thing you may want to switch something out from your reservation list is there's no Italian - lots of good Italian and cal-Italian options in SF right now. Maybe switch out Bix for Quince? or Local Mission Eatery for Incanto/Locanda/Flour + Water/Cotogna (SPQR works too...)

    1 Reply
    1. re: goldangl95

      thanks! what about perbacco? I have that as a backup. it's italian and I read good reviews.

      my friend who lives in s.f. suggested local mission eatery. it's one of her favorites. she also suggested flour + water but all the reservations are taken. she mentioned 1/2 the tables are saved for walk ins, but I don't want to wait two hrs for a table while on vacation. too much to see.

      thanks again.

    2. Dear Taz....If I was looking for a great dinner in the Napa area, with a great vibe, then Redd would definitely be my choice. And, if you take a cab from Napa to Yountville for dinner at Redd, then for the other dinner you will probably wish to eat in Napa. I'm sure some of the locals will log on and offer you tips as to what is good right now in Napa. Enjoy yourselves.

      1. We had a lovely and quite romantic meal at Local Mission Eatery on our last trip to SF -- we've been visiting twice a year since 2007 to EAT. Definitely not too loud. Canteen is our favourite restaurant (so far; there are so many yet to try!) in the Bay Area and the atmosphere would be perfect for your requirements. We were not at all impressed with Frances on our visit there, either food or atmosphere wise (tables are cramped). Bix is a nice room, sort of an ersatz speak easy but it is hella dark, the food was just so so and expensive and there was a jazz combo playing the night we went which might not work for your SO. We did a birthday dinner with my parental units at Perbacco a couple years back with some of the best service I've experienced in a restaurant but the food wasn't amazing and it was quite loud (Dad has the same issues as your SO and I have tinnitus). We were seated on the mezzanine level which I understood to be the quietest area. I'm really looking forward to trying Rich Table in November, and AQ also is very high on my radar but haven't been there yet. The most innovative/best Italian we've had so far was last trip at Cotogna for lunch but I understand dinner reservations are hard to come by. La Ciccia is a great choice but can be a wee bit loud. Apart from Canteen where we've been for half a dozen dinners and several now-discontinued-alas brunches and La Ciccia where we've dined three times, my comments are all based on single visits so YMMV. Have a wonderful time in this fun and exciting food town.

        1. I would like to second pinotho's Redd recommendation. That really shouldn't be missed.

          Skip Bistro Don Giovanni. Overrated, overpriced, and not worth the hassle/bad service. I don't know why this place keeps popping up on "must dine" lists.

          Ad Hoc is not going to be quiet or romantic. The food is quite good, but it's a madhouse.

          If I were to take all this into account and pick two places for dinner, it would be Oenotri and Redd, no question. Angele and Zuzu can both be done at lunch. Bistro Jeanty, while a longtime favorite, just isn't in the same league as these four.

          1 Reply
          1. re: skinnysweaty

            I have a different opinion.

            I've eaten at Bistro Don Giovanni a hundred times, and never had a bad meal. I love the outdoor fireplace room and the restaurant looks beautiful during harvest season. The appetizers are especially good, and the fresh pastas.

            Redd is wonderful, but austere and somewhat urban, meaning not romantic.

            Bistro Jeanty is romantic. Either inside or, especially, on the patio. Have dined there recently a couple of times and the food and service was excellent. Classic French fare. Charming.

          2. thanks for the info. Much appreciated.

            I cannot get a good reservation time at Redd. I see that there is Redd Wood. How is that ambiance? They have reservations available. More casual is okay with me. we will have had 7 nights of "fancy" dinners before our last night in California. I'm okay with delicious but casual. And lots of good wine.

            I've tinkered with my restaurant list based on what everyone has said. Here is what I've come up with. With my "or" options I'm still open to suggestions. I opted for Bix originally because a friend suggested it, and it's for a Saturday night, our first night in town, and I thought that the jazz scene would be a fun date night kind of thing and the food seemed to be acceptable. Our appetites probably won't be raging because of a day of cross-country travel and such. But good cocktails and a place to unwind and feel romantic would definitely be appreciated.

            Bix or AQ
            Slanted Door or Rich Table or Foreign Cinema (dinner)
            Canteen (a la carte menu)
            Foreign Cinema (Sunday brunch)

            Redd Wood or Ad Hoc

            Should I consider somewhere else for Sunday brunch rather than Foreign Cinema? We might be having dinner there, too, so that would be a double up kinda thing. My friend who knows me well, tho, says that I will love the atmosphere and the food and that she'd go twice. She's a foodie who lives in S.F. so I tend to trust her opinions.

            36 Replies
            1. re: taz99

              Cotogna is delicious but is so loud it makes my ears ring, even at lunch. There are some two-tops outside, though, and if it's nice out, that might make it doable. Or, go off hours on a weekday, at 3:00 or so, and maybe that will be okay indoors.

              1. re: BAnders

                I've been to Cotogna around 5:30/6:00 and the noise level was very pleasant. All the trendy-ish SF restaurants with the exposed brick etc. get really loud between 7:00 and 9:30/10.

                1. re: BAnders

                  Ack, we went to Cotogna at 1 pm on a Friday and didn't find the noise a problem at all but maybe just luck? It was full most of the time we were there. I hate noisy restaurants, so now wondering if I should reconsider our plan to re-lunch there next trip...

                  1. re: grayelf

                    I haven't found Cotogna terribly loud except when there were a bunch of people waiting for tables around the door and bar.

                    1. re: grayelf

                      I went for lunch at 11:30 and it was fine, until 12:30 or so at which point my tablemate and I were practically shouting at each other across the table. I was sitting along the windows, so maybe it is better at the bar? Given the variety in experiences, it does all sound like luck of the draw.

                      1. re: BAnders

                        At Cotogna I think I've always been seated near the east wall, so I don't know about the bar or the windows, but I've been there when it was completely full and didn't find it particularly noisy. The times I've found it noisy were when I walked in to find out how long the wait for a table would be and there were lots of additional people standing around waiting for tables.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          We were seated on the far end of the tables by the window and it was fine. I may request that spot again for our revisit lunch, since it worked well noise-wise last time and it looks like there'll be three of us again.

                  2. re: taz99

                    Redd Wood is pretty casual but not slovenly. I don't think the food is as good as Redd (it's obviously different fare as well) so I wouldn't really go out of my way for it. It's a great lunch stop during wine tasting, though.

                    If you want something along the lines of Redd, look into Celadon in Napa. It's frequently overlooked but is outstanding. Same sort of "elevated California cuisine".

                    Otherwise, if you want to keep it casual and you can get a table at Ad Hoc, go for that.

                    1. re: skinnysweaty

                      okay, thanks. I have a prime reservation time already slotted at ad hoc, so maybe I will stick with that. at least for now.

                      maybe ad hoc and onoetri....

                      zuzu really appeals, too. tapas are fun. I'm not a big eater at all, so having small plates of delicious bits sounds yummy to me.

                        1. re: skinnysweaty

                          Thanks. I've heard mixed reviews of Celadon.

                        2. re: taz99

                          Have you actually called Redd for reservations, or are you just basing this on OpenTable? When we were in Napa earlier in the year, I was able to get reservations at 2 restaurants by calling them directly, even though OT indicated there was no reservation available.

                          We did not eat at Redd, but very much enjoyed Redd Wood. Although not "romantic," the tables are reasonably well spaced so you can have civilized conversation.

                          1. re: masha

                            good point, masha! I just called, after reading your suggestion, and alas, any reasonable time was taken. they did have a 9:30 p.m. reservation available, tho, while opentable shows that they're fully booked. but that time is too late for my tummy.

                            1. re: taz99

                              Taz, if you really want to do Redd, keep calling as the day nears. Even on the day of.
                              Have a good backup reservation.

                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                thanks. I called and booked a backup at 5:45 at Redd, but will remain flexible since that is earlier than we will probably want to eat.

                                1. re: taz99

                                  One thing about Redd -- the acoustics are horrible. There are few wall or floor coverings and the noise is loud. I have excellent hearing and the noise and the disturbance it causes -- besides not being able to hear my dinner companions converse -- has bothered me on every visit. Something to consider in light of your companion's hearing sensitivities.

                          2. re: taz99

                            For dinner on the day of your arrival, I recommend Gitane. Tucked away in a little alley in Union Square, it has a dark, sexy vibe I think you will like. Spanish/Moroccan influenced dishes & cocktails are great. On recent visit, loved the flank steak & lamb tagine. Lastly, there is a crescent shaped banquette which will allow two people to sit side by side; perhaps you can request that when making reservation.

                            As much as I enjoyed Cotogna recently, it seems one needs to reserve 30 days out to get a dinner reservation. Believe me, I've tried otherwise. Not sure if walk-ins are relegated to the bar seats. Also, I didn't find the restaurant too loud at 7:30 on a Friday; Perbacco is definitely louder. Slanted Door is on the loud side as well.

                            1. re: ceekskat

                              Cotogna doesn't always book up 30 days in advance, but I think they take reservations only before and after dinner rush.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                thanks, robert. I managed to get prime time reservations at cotogna by booking at 6 a.m. east coast time exactly 30 days out!

                              2. re: ceekskat

                                thanks, I will look into gitane. I've ruled out Perbacco. Cotogna sounds much better.

                              3. re: taz99

                                Taz, RedWood is not worth the cab drive up to Yountville and back because it is wood-fired pizza. Granted, it is GOOD wood-fired pizza, but since you are in downtown Napa, you can get just as good wood-fired pizza at Pizza Azzuro, Oenetri, or Ca'Momi in Oxbow. You'll easily spend $100 to a from Yountville for a cab...

                                Unlike SkinnySweaty, I can't recommend Celadon. They were riding the wave of Asian-Influenced from the 80s but now the cuisine is staid and overwrought.

                                Other walkable eateries in downtown Napa would be:
                                Zuzu - great Tapas, no reservations available
                                Grace's Table - locals' favorite; go for their happy hour and fill-up on half-price small plates
                                Angele - sit on the river front and enjoy the ambience and great food

                                1. re: CarrieWas218

                                  wow, $100 cab to/from yountville? that will make me stay in Napa for both dinners. or drive and not drink. but where's the fun in that????

                                  sidenote - I'm wondering if my boyfriend and I should hire a driver for the day in Napa where we tour the most wineries. we will probably go to 3, maybe 4 if we can manage. I think most cars are about $270 for 6 hours or something like that? where's the best place to book a driver? thanks!

                                  1. re: taz99

                                    The drive from downtown Napa to Youtville is about 20 minutes which is in the $35/$40 range. Add a tip and you are in the $80 to $100 spectrum to-and-from, depending on traffic.

                                    1. re: CarrieWas218

                                      thanks, Carrie. that's really good info to know. it means that if we do dinner in Yountville, we will be opting to limit ourselves on wine and drive there in our rental car. This trip was just added onto an existing business trip and isn't my biggest upcoming vacation and so I need to budget a little. It's the first real trip away I've ever taken with my boyfriend tho (other than occasional weekends away), and it's his first time to Napa and San Francisco for fun (he's only been once for a couple of days for business), so I want it to be special.

                                  2. re: CarrieWas218

                                    Taz, is there a reason you're not renting a car? They're inexpensive -- you can even get one at the Budget rental in Napa -- and your dining and winery choices are severely limited without one. You really cannot visit wine country without a car, either with you driving or someone else.

                                    If you do decide to rent a car, many more (better) options for dining and wining open up for you.

                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                      ML - From her response just above, I think they do have a car, but don;t want to have to worry about drinking & driving; " Carrie. that's really good info to know. it means that if we do dinner in Yountville, we will be opting to limit ourselves on wine and drive there in our rental car. "

                                      1. re: CarrieWas218

                                        Ah, yes. Thanks, Carrie. I re-read the posts and missed this.

                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                          yes, we have a car. just don't want to risk DUI's.

                                  3. re: taz99

                                    Redd Wood and Oenotri are both pizza places. Neither is romantic. I'd rethink this.

                                    Have you combed through the other Napa threads? Farm is romantic and beautiful. Terra is very romantic (an old stone building, mullioned windows) and the food is outstanding.

                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                      yes, I have, thanks, maria. I ruled our Farm because the entrees were $30-$40 and I didn't want to have a $200 dinner with wine, etc. for some reason the jump from $20-$25 entrees to $30-$40 just makes me (and my bank account) shudder. Terra looked lovely but it's too far north, isn't it? near St. helena?

                                      1. re: taz99

                                        Yes, Taz - Terra is in St. Helena and if you are not doing your own driving, you are going to add to it with these cab rides. You can dine just fine in downtown...

                                        1. re: CarrieWas218

                                          awesome, thanks. I'm seriously considering Zuzu. It sounds great. No reservations, but as long as we can sit and have wine for a while beforehand, I'm okay with that.

                                          1. re: taz99

                                            There is a bar area where you can sit and have wine beforehand, but a lot of locals (and couples!) just sit there to eat. It is later in the season so the crowds are diminishing.

                                            Also, you haven't indicated if this is weekend or weeknight; week nights are pretty easy to dine anywhere in downtown.

                                            And, for the Yountville jaunt, just go easy on the alcohol and you should be fine. It is not a difficult drive and except for The French Laundry, there isn't a place there worth getting sloshed at...

                                            1. re: CarrieWas218

                                              it's a weekend in napa. the previous weekend and week will be spent in san francisco.