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Romantic Unforgettable Restaurant in or around Bay Area/Marin for Special Occasion?

I'm spending a long weekend over NYE with my little lady (unbeknownst to her!) at the Ahwahnee in Yosemite Nat'l Park and plan on popping the question to her on the 31st. We're driving back into the city late afternoon or early evening on Tues, Jan. 1st.

I would like to make reservations somewhere really special for this night, as it will be our first "engagement" dinner. I was considering either Saison or Benu. I also really want to take her to that goat farm (they offer seasonal barn dining) just across the bridge; I forget what it's called- Harley's maybe? I'm not sure how the quality of food compares to the surroundings, but it looks really special.

I want to find a place with really great ambiance; somewhere romantic and intimate. I just read that Saison was moving into some old 1800s building, but I'd think it would be too soon after switching kitchens to risk the night. I've never been to Benu before and have been wanting to try it ever since I moved to SF, but this is more about the lady. I think she would enjoy that and I'm keeping it as an option, though modern/contemporary French would be my preferance and most well suited to the occasion. It's the cuisine of amour afterall... and I'm from Montreal. I want to avoid anything that remotely resembles a hotel banquet room though!

I'm taking her for early tea service at the N.M. Rotunda just before the long haul to Yosemite (same morning), and then to the Garden Court at The Palace the following Saturday. I would ideally like to find the equivalent of these settings in a dining venue, but with a more refined and unique or interesting seasonal menu. Some really iconic or historic San Francisco building-landmark to dine or snack at, or else somewhere in one of the neighboring counties that's more rustic and intimate. I've even considered the Dining Room at Meadowood, though a trip out to Napa from Yosemite just for dinner, only to return to SF might be tolling; especially after countless flutes of champagne! I haven't been to the Dining Room at the Ritz and am not sure what the ambiance is, but something evocative of a ritzy old grand dame with equal (modern) kitchen and service would be ideal. Does anyone have any suggestions?


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  1. I would consider Top of the Mark - if the weather is clear, you will have an incomparable view of the city that is stunningly romantic and intimate - if just for a glass of Champagne (but eat elsewhere).

    Also, have you mapped how far the drive is from SF to Yosemite? If you are starting with tea in the Rotunda, you are not going to get to Yosemite until quite late. In light of that, I would forget about adding Napa or Sonoma to the trip; just too much time in a car.

    1. Harley Farms, with the goat dairy is in Pescadero, which is south of SF on Highway 1, no bridge required. They offer a couple of dinners each month. But according to their web site they are booked for November and December and January dates are not listed yet.


      1. How about La Folie? That kind of meal seems more romantic to me than a 20-course tasting menu.

        The Dining Room at the Ritz no longer exists and Ron Siegel has moved to Mina.

        Saison's supposed to move to its new location in the first part of December so that's iffy.

        1. The Dining Room at the Ritz is no more. La Folie might be a good choice. Have drinks at Top of the Mark and then take the cable car to La Folie. Sounds romantic to me! If it's one of those clear, crisp winter nights it would be breathtaking.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            Thanks! We've both been wanting to go for drinks at Top of the Mark forever as well!

            To clarify for Carrie's post above... we aren't driving to Yosemite for one night. We're leaving on the 28th (after an 11am brunch at the Rotunda - on the road by 1:30pm!) and then driving back to San Francisco on the 1st in the late afternoon/evening. Even with terrible weather conditions that drive is no more than 5 hours max. so we should be fine.

          2. The decor at La Folie looks exactly like what I am trying to avoid:


            It looks more like a place you'd want to bring an out of town business exec to close a deal than a romantic space to spend an evening with your new fiancee. This is the problem I'm continually encountering as I try to find a suitable place for a really special and memorable meal.

            4 Replies
            1. re: OliverB

              I don't think that photo captures the feel of La Folie with its usual nighttime lighting. It's definitely not a business-dinner atmosphere.

              How about Acquerello? They bill it as Italian but the cooking is very French to me.


              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                acquerello would be a great choice.

                keiko's a nob hill would also be a really good choice.

                1. re: Dustin_E

                  Heartily agree on the Acquerello suggestion for this particular occasion. Excellent food, tables well-spaced and that old world kind of service that is rare. Oh, let's not forget the cheese cart.

                  You will leave feeling very special. Let them know the occasion, they will be take service to the next level, if that's possible.

                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                  The brown dining room in the back of La Folie is as romantic as a morgue. Be sure you don't get stuck there.

              2. Thanks, I suppose it doesn't have to be French afterall, but it does have to be really memorable and unique. A really interesting setting. Benu for example, doesn't necessarily strike me as a very intimate space as it's so sleek and modern, almost museum like in layout, however there is something very unique and memorable about it. I am looking for that type of setting. Whether it's at Harley Farm or an innovative Michelin-starred kitchen or an old historic city landmark. I don't just want to go to a "very good restaurant" though... I'd like to find something more special.

                4 Replies
                1. re: OliverB

                  Funny - I found Benu rather anasceptic and cold; far from memorable. Of course, I didn't care much for the food either...

                  1. re: CarrieWas218

                    I actually haven't been... I just find their website very impressive, but perhaps it's not accurately reflective of the interior space?

                    1. re: OliverB

                      Do they even have photos of the dining room on benusf.com? I can't find any.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        I'm sure I've seen photos between their site (perhaps Facebook?) and Yelp that seemed interesting and impressive. I don't know if that reflects the experience of dining there, but given the up and down reviews, I wouldn't opt to try it on this night regardless.

                        What about Keiko?

                  1. Does anyone have any opinions on Keiko à Nob Hill?

                    I like the comments I've read of "old world ambiance" and "private dining club" coupled with the location and proximity to Top of the Mark. The Yelp photos and descriptions of dishes look and sound really thoughtful and creative as well. Any thoughts?

                    Would anyone chose to dine at Keiko over Saison or La Folie, are these places even comparable?

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: OliverB

                      Yes, I would, easily. Keiko's is the best french restaurant in SF proper. I definitely will be returning here before i return to TFL or any of the others (i've been to all of them within the last couple years).

                      Compared with the other two:

                      The cooking at Keiko's is _way_ more careful, precise, and well thought-out than the cooking at La Folie. (actually no comparison imho)

                      Saison is also very good (i'd say saison and keiko's are probably the two best in sf) but it is twice the number of courses, twice the price, and shows less "restraint" than keiko's. I like the atmosphere and service and both (a lot), but saison's decor is a lot more contemporary (they play lots of 80s music during dinner.)

                      Actually, one of the things i really like about keiko's is that the cooking is on a very high level, but you aren't overwhelmed by 15 very different courses over 4 hours.

                      1. re: Dustin_E

                        As alluded to above, Saison's last day in its current location is supposed to be November 30, and they hope to open in their new location by mid-December, but that would depend on no delays in inspections or permits.

                        1. re: Dustin_E

                          This is great!!! Thank you so much, Dustin!

                          Sounds like I've found my place!!!

                      2. Do Meadowwood or TFL, but do it via hired car / small limo. The trip will go by like nothing if you're in the back and someone else is driving.

                        The "old grand dame with and updated kitchen" doesn't exist. That would have been the Ritz, but that's closed as noted.

                        Consider Village Pub in Woodside, down the peninsula. It's closer, has very cozy ambiance.

                        Acquerello is not a bad choice. I haven't been in over a decade, though.

                        1. I enjoy La Folie a lot and unlike most people, we actually prefer the back room: quieter, and the chairs are frankly more comfortable. On the downside, our last two dinners there have shown increasingly annoying errors in execution.

                          However.... >> a place with really great ambiance; somewhere romantic and intimate>> is just not the style any longer. "Intimate" now means tables crammed together elbow-to-elbow, and "romantic" has been replaced by "so ear-splittingly noisy so you have to scream across the table."

                          We sent a couple of retired friends to Acquerello two years ago and they adored it. Sadly, the food at Fleur de Lys wasn't equal to its romantic beautiful interior the last time we were there (it was once one of our favorites, but no longer). I think bbulkow gave a good suggestion of using a limo for a dinner at Meadowood or TFL.

                          Also, may I ask why the Garden Court? The food at the Sheraton's Garden Court is mediocre, and I have never felt the same about the room (the former carriage entrance) since they changed the sightlines by cramming more tables in. If you're not careful/lucky where you sit, you get the less-than-delightful view of the outside service aisles instead of the expansive sightline across the room with the SF Glassworks antique glass-paneled ceiling. It might be better to just peep into the Garden Court, and have a drink at the Pied Piper Bar with its original Maxfield Parrish murals. I used to prefer to eat at Maxfield's, the casual grill straight behind the PP Bar. It's a smaller version of the Garden Court, same ceiling panels, but double-height classy dark wood paneling on all walls, with the most gorgeous old-time hand-laid intricate mosaic tile floor (and the service was always much better than the GC). Maxfield's had decent salads and a nice burger. The only specialty of the kitchen is any chocolate dessert - the Swiss-born pastry chef (assuming he's still there) had a secret chocolate blend recipe and it was quite good. Both GC and Maxfield's use the same kitchen, BTW.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: jaiko

                            Thanks jaiko,

                            I wasn't planning on eating a proper meal at the Garden Court as I've seen and heard all the stories and know it's a total rip-off... we're just doing the afternoon tea and pastry service, I think. Maybe a few glasses of champagne. It's all about the setting and I'll be sure to call ahead and reserve a preferred table.

                            Acquerello is an option I suppose, I just don't feel there's anything *that* special about the place. It's a restaurant we might chose to eat at and I suppose it's a fairly intimate setting, but doesn't feel like a truly memorable destination for an occasion like this. Perhaps the food is really exceptional though... Still no thoughts about Keiko?

                            1. re: OliverB

                              I suggest asking for updates as a post to this thread where the subject line matches your inquiry.

                              1. re: OliverB

                                I haven't been to Keiko yet, but its wine cellar if nothing else puts it on my radar for a special occasion. I missed my chance when it was at El Paseo.


                            2. I was going to chime in with ACQUERELLO as well.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: psb

                                Acquerello went through my mind as well.

                              2. Just to clarify are you talking about dinner on New Year's Day? That's how I read your post. Thinking that might limit the options but maybe not. Or was this for sometime that week?

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: Celery

                                  No, I am spending New Year's at the Ahwahnee in Yosemite (as well as the 3 nights prior) and am planning to pop the question while in Yosemite over NYE. It's the following night, January 1st, that I'm trying to decide on. Our first "engagement" dinner, I suppose. It should be something really celbratory. Not just a nice restaurant but something truly memorable.

                                  Let's try this... if price was not a consideration at all, what restaurant in or around the Bay Area would you chose to dine at and what would you consider to be the absolute best in terms of thougtful and unique food and atmosphere?

                                  1. re: OliverB

                                    Here's a fantasy you - and she- might like. Choose a unusual venue that's available. A park, a landmark , someplace unusual. You take her there in a limo . Blindfolded. A personal chef has set up a beautiful table there with wine, wonderful food .Not a restaurant but something quite special. I don't know San Francisco but I will bet they have a party planner that could set up something like this . Of course it would cost the world:)

                                    1. re: OliverB

                                      Tough combination. None of the places with that kind of food are intimate and romantic. The places that are intimate and romantic do relatively traditional food.

                                      Maybe you should reserve for Saison in case the move goes as planned and the atmosphere turns out to be right.

                                      1. re: OliverB

                                        Okay here's my take on the usual suspects:

                                        La Folie -- my personal pick. I love the food, think the noise levels and table spacing are right. Had a most wonderful birthday celebration in the back room about 1 1/2 years ago and at the time, I felt the chef had been continually getting better over the last few years. Others have written here that the food seems to be slipping. My feeling was the opposite, but I admittedly have not been since my party.

                                        Atelier Crenn -- foodwise, this is an even-up pick with La Folie. But it's too noisy and tables too close for the romantic experience you seek. Still, though, the food was so great and unique, and wine parings were so excellent, that I would consider it even up with La Folie.

                                        Wakuriya. -- this is south of the city, and so there's that. But if you would are considering Japanese, this would be the recommendation. Excellent Kaiseki. Chef comes from one of the finest kitchens in Japan.

                                        Acquarello -- Like others here, I'd say yes. The dining experience has an real old-world politeness to it, and the food is excellent.

                                        Benu -- maybe a good bet. To me, food not as good as crenn, but better than coi or saison. However, we were placed in a tomb of a room off to the side. I think the main dining room, while modern, would make for a nice evening.

                                        Saison -- sat at chef counter. Food was very good but not great. Wine pairings were attrocious. Chef counter not romantic, but the main room perhaps. However, to me, not a happy place. Very subdued in an odd way. Also, the point is moot since moving!

                                        Fleur de lys -- they've got the room, but according to all, the food has fallen too far.

                                        Coi - tried once, food and wine were both far under expectations.

                                    2. Jigger your itinerary and dine at Edna's Elderberry House in Oakhurst, just south of Yosemite.

                                      10 Replies
                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          Actually, that place looks really lovely indeed. While the menu does not seem very inspired in terms of unique selection or interesting preparation, I've yet to read a poor review and the setting certainly seems to compensate for any potential lack of innovation or flair in the kitchen.

                                          I think I will do the following: plan our extravagant and special night out *prior* to leaving San Francisco (on the evening of Dec. 27th) and I will make reservations at Erna's on our final night, before driving back; both for convenience and in keeping with the intimate wooded country surroundings of the weekend. Thank you SO much for this suggestion!

                                          I've read outstanding reviews on Yelp and TA, which I generally take with a grain of salt however it's unique to see so many uncontested glowing praise for a $$$$-priced establishment in such a remote and obviously tourist driven area -- they certainly aren't catering to a local market, and at high end Relais&Chateaux prices, I'd think they'd be serving at least a margin of well-traveled discerning eaters!

                                          While the menu does not exactly excite or inspire with it's classic style 'amuse, soup-salad, meat or fish, and vegetable' approach, it certainly seems to source the very freshest of local meat and produce and they must do what they do really well as the reviews are extremely consistent.

                                          I think this would make for a really nice and "different" dining experience after 4 nights at the Ahwahnee, and a wonderful contrast if opting to go out for our more interesting and refined meal in San Francisco before we leave for this special weekend...

                                          Now the big decision is still a toss up between La Folie, Acquerello, or Keiko for our pre-holiday getaway dinner on the 27th!

                                          1. re: OliverB

                                            Too bad Manka's resstaurant burned down, that was sort of the local counterpart.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              Robert, was Manka's ever rebuilt/reopened after the fire?

                                              Their website (along with yelp) sure makes it seem as such, but I've seen no evidence of that on these forums. If it exists at all in some form or another, is there anything special leftover since it went up in flames?

                                              1. re: OliverB

                                                They still have cabins but the main building has not been rebuilt yet so no restaurant. The room service is supposedly very good but I haven't gotten around to trying it yet.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  I was looking for Mankas just last week and saw a dining/menu option on their website (awesome of course). Unfortunately, I believe the dining room is only open to their lodge guests.

                                                  Would sure be romantic to book a room, walk on the beach and have their $58 tasting menu!!

                                                  1. re: MSK

                                                    The menus on mankas.com are from 2006, before the fire. They haven't had a dining room since.

                                                2. re: OliverB

                                                  Manka's is open for lodging only; last I heard meals were served at a nearby location. BUT Margaret Grade, Manka's chef/owner, and her partner D. DeLong, purchased the long-standing Olema Inn earlier this year and I have been awaiting the completion of renovations for signs of an opening. I have missed her quirky menus, good cooking and lovely service at Manka's.

                                                  1. re: alfairfax

                                                    I've seen reports of Manka's having room service dinners. Re their forthcoming restaurant at the former Olema Inn:

                                                    "We’re not doing a prix fixe menu ... The intent isn’t to obligate people to a long, lingering meal – you could come in and have a simple bite of food and something to drink … whatever your mood is."


                                              2. re: OliverB

                                                Erna's is beautiful, intimate, and romantic, and the food and service are excellent. You won't be disappointed. When reserving, I recommend asking for the table next to the fireplace -- I think it's the nicest one in the room, and nothing beats a lovely meal next to a warm fire on a cold evening. And let them know about your engagement celebration. They do a good job of recognizing special occasions.

                                          2. Wow, this is looking really difficult. Open New Year's Day for dinner? Isn't that one of the holidays that often many places are closed? Not a day when most people dine out, even in SF.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: jaiko

                                              Some places close for the holiday but it's not like Thanksgiving or Christmas.

                                            2. How about Quince? The atmosphere and service are quite nice.

                                              1. Well I've decided that I'm now doing this on Dec. 27th -- a pre-holiday dinner followed by champagne and cocktails at Top of the Mark, then our more intimate celebratory dinner at Erna's in Oakhurst on the way back from Yosemite. The best of both worlds!

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: OliverB

                                                  You won't be disappointed with the atmosphere at Top of the Mark - very special indeed....

                                                  1. re: OliverB

                                                    Sounds like a wonderful plan! Best of luck to you and your sweetie.

                                                  2. I walked through El Paseo in Mill Valley the other night and was reminded of what a special location it really is.
                                                    I've had some wonderful meals there although I know there has been some turnover in the kitchen recently. The potential is there so lets hope they can staff it to the caliber it deserves.