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eliminate 3 out of 5; final itinerary decisions for 3 night stay

Hey all, after a ton of research on these boards, I've narrowed down my dinner options in your beautiful city to 5 choices. as background, my SO and I come from NYC and will eat anything, and enjoy both white tablecloth as well as hole-in-the wall places. on this trip we plan to do our ethinic/neighborhoody eating during the day, and focus more on mid-tier/fine dining for dinners. I prefer experimental cooking (not necessarily only technique-wise but the combining of odd/surprising flavors and textures as well). The SO enjoys good food, period. She'll enjoy creative cuisine if its well done, but doesn't search it out as I do. For some final background some of our favorite places in NYC are EMP, Momofuku Ko and Blue Hill on the high end, and Louro and annisa as more mid-tier. we also really enjoyed red medicine in LA and zaytinya in DC.

We will also be eating at Commis on the way into the city from Yosemite. That is the only meal set in stone. The other 2 dinners are up for grabs.

In no particular order, here are our 5 options:

Rich Table: hadn't really considered it before, but read a bunch of good things recently and the menu intrigues. is on the same level as some of the other best mid-tier restaurants in SF?

Atelier Crenn: if we are going to do one true fine-dining place, I've decided this is it. It is much more appealing than Benu or Coi and while Saison looked amazing as well, I just can't justify that price. Along those lines, is Crenn worth it? Since we have almost no end of fine-dining options in NYC, is Crenn good and/or different enough to merit a visit, or are we better off sticking with more mid-tier places?

AQ: Seems to be right up my alley, and people seem to think its excellent as well as cutting edge.

Slanted Door: I know it touristy, I know it may be past its prime, but is it still worth a visit as an "only in SF" place? As long as the food is truly excellent, if its a little more $ than it should be I dont really care. that's what vacations are for.

Commonwealth: the menu and idea seem interesting, but it seems to get hit or miss reviews. seems to invite a direct comparison with AQ, in terms of mission/purpose. which is better?

While I have done a ton of research and think these are the best places for us, if anyone truly thinks theres a can't miss place that I've leftt off, please let me know. As always, thanks so much for your helpful input!

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  1. Considering you are going to Commis. I would suggest doing AQ and Rich Table.

    11 Replies
    1. re: Scott M

      I would agree 100% AQ and Rich Table

      1. re: Scott M

        I would remove commonwealth from your list. I like Commis and AQ more.

        I haven't been (it is on my list) but have you looked into sons & daughters?

        1. re: JonDough

          Went to Sons & Daughters June 8. I do not recommend. I think perhaps their new menu is not as good as the previous. It's the only explanation I can think of for all those good reviews in May. To me, it was fussy, not enough food, not successful, and way too much money for what we experiencedl.

          Stick with Atelier Crenn for your high end meal.

          1. re: pauliface

            Thanks for the update on Sons & Daughters.

            1. re: JonDough

              You are welcome. Also, since I see there's a lot of talk here about Coi vs Benu vs Atelier Crenn, I'll weigh in. When you are spending that much money on a meal, it needs to be great....

              Atelier Crenn is the clear winner. This was a delicious, imaginative, interesting dinner created by a chef with a truly unique, very current/forwrad point of view. Also, the wine pairings were fantastic.

              Next up, I'd choose Benu, although I personally won't return. This meal was very nice, although kind of 'expectedly unexpected'. There were some standout courses, though overall I don't really remember much about the meal, which is telling. We were in a side room that really felt like siberia, which truly annoyed me for a restaurant at this level.

              I disliked Coi. Several courses completely did not work and none really blew me away. The wine pairings were laughable; we were joking that they were selecting them with a dartboard in the kitchen.

              I should also add that my other favorite high-end place is La Folie. While more French and less current-modern-tasting-menu, they always deliver a fantastic meal.

              1. re: JonDough

                hmmm.... i usually agree with pauliface... but you're right, i went in May, and LOVED it Sons & Daughters. however, Atelier Crenn is above and beyond. every taste we had was not only beautiful, imaginative, and surprising, but absolutely jaw-droppingly delicious. if you eat nowhere else, do AC. and i love commis too.

                1. re: mariacarmen

                  mariacarmen -- perhaps the menu changed for the worse between may and june. So many people said good things in May, and my dinner was just not that good. Sadly, if that's the case, I don't have the cash to throw away on inconsistency in the hopes of hitting them on a good month.

                  I will also mention that another couple approached us outside after the meal to ask what we thought. Because, they too had been severely disappointed and could not understand why the restaurant was getting such good press.

                  1. re: pauliface

                    Wow, i agree. The quality of their preparations should not change from month to month.

          2. re: Scott M

            thanks Scott. I think that's what I was leaning towards anyway. If we weren't going to Commis as well, would your recommendations change?

            1. re: cubicles

              If you weren't going to Commis then my recommendation would be Rich Table and Atelier Crenn

            2. re: Scott M

              I'd agree with many others and take Commonwealth off the list (whether you go to Commis or not). I'd also take off Slanted Door.

              I haven't been to Rich Table yet so can't comment on that. AQ is fantastic and I have really enjoyed my meals there. But I think Atelier Crenn is in a different class. It is a bit quirky though and if modern isn't your thing then you might want to skip it. But it's near the top of my list of best restaurants in SF.

            3. Commonwealth v. AQ - can often be decided by whether you want cocktails or not. As Commonwealth doesn't serve liquor. Commonwealth is quiet and more reverent than AQ. As to the food, I would say they are on the same level - AQ is more fun -but I wasn't blown away by my meal there.

              Atelier Crenn is a uniquely SF place. It's not for everyone - it's reverent and earnest - not at all humorous or cynical. The staff there is incredibly well-meaning but not very polished. The food presentations are incredibly beautiful. Some of the dishes are amazing - some of the dishes are decidedly less so. There's only one bathroom.

              I would replace Slanted Door with a Cal-Italian place. I know you will find plenty of Italian in New York BUT it really has had an amazing moment in SF. They are better at dinner but many have lunch options too - Locanda, Cotogna or Incanto are the ones I always recommend but there are many many others.

              While not very mid-tier formal, if you do want a more Asian place maybe namu gaji?

              1. I have to disagree on the AQ vs. Commonwealth. I definitely find the food at Commonwealth more consistently interesting and flavorful, plus the service at Commonwealth is far, far better than at AQ. I've been to both several times and like them both, but AQ has yet to reach the level of Commonwealth. When I was there a few weeks ago, the servers bumped into me repeatedly while rushing by, our initial server went AWOL for most of the meal, other servers weren't informed enough to place the right dishes in front of the right person, and at one point one our entrees were delivered to the table behind us before the server realized this was a mistake. The food itself was a mixed bag; my softshell crab was ample and excellent, while my husband's fish (I think it was seabass) was tiny and very simple in both its taste and presentation. In contrast, our last meal at Commonwealth was strong across the board and our visiting friend--an adventurous eater--thought it was fantastic, too.

                1 Reply
                1. re: amydeastbay

                  One thing to keep in mind is OP is going to Commis. So you will get high level of service and refinement of food at Commis, no need to go to Commonwealth. The overall experience of AQ would work better when juxtaposed with the Commis .

                2. I would keep AQ for sure. I would keep Creen if you want to see a more Californian approach to high end fine dining and if you want a high end experience. You can get similar technique at EMP or Le Bernardin but I think she puts her own touch on the dishes too. I've preferred my meals there to Saison.

                  I prefer AQ to Commonwealth although I don't think they are a direct comparison. I find Commonwealth to be issue with consistancy, dishes aren't as interesting and service can be very laidback.

                  Slanted Door is a miss. The quality of food has gone down so much.

                  Rich Table is upscale comfort food with some tweeks. It's pretty good not must have unless you really enjoy upscale comfort food which isn't my thing.

                  Also I still like State Bird quite a bit even if others think it's overrated. It's just such a nice combo of good interesting food in a casual setting.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: tjinsf

                    thanks tjlnsf! I think AQ is now a definite. I had looked at state bird provisions, but unfortunately they are already booked up for when we will be there (August 1-4) and I'm not big on waiting in long lines or eating dinner at weird times when there are other excellent options.

                  2. Go to Rich Table. Worth the hype if you can get in.

                    I don't know what it is about Atelier Crenn that you find more appealing than Benu or Coi, but I thought my dinner there was far more style than substance. I'm impressed by beautiful and artistic presentations as much as the next modern art lover, but the rap on Crenn was definitely justified and kind of reminded me of Sant Pau in Catalonia (just because the fish cakes are shaped like Mondrian Squares doesn't prevent them from tasting bland). Also, I'm not one of those folks who dislikes modernist or molecular cuisine—I love Alinea and The Fat Duck—but Crenn's flavors disappeared or were far too sweet. I would strongly recommend Benu instead for much more unique dishes that are both tasty and creative, all paired by arguably the sommelier, Yoon Ha.

                    Skip Slanted Door—you've probably read all the good reasons why it's overpriced and forgettable. But to spell it out, the food is not "truly" excellent and you can get comparable upscale Vietnamese in many, many cities around the world now.

                    AQ can be hit or miss, but when it hits it is better than Commonwealth (which is more consistent and also good).

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: W42

                      So it looks like you'd say Rich Table and Benu. Coi I just haven't heard many people say its a "wow" meal. Benu I've heard good things, but the atmosphere of the place (or at least what I perceive the atmosphere to be) doesn't particularly appeal, and the overall experience just looks more fun/memorable at crenn. I love amazing food withe great technique at a fancy white-table cloth place, but we have tons of that in NYC (Per Se, EMP, Jean-Georges, etc). What do you feel sets Benu apart or makes it SF-specific? From reading reviews and blogs, right now Crenn seems to be producing food that is totally different from what one can get anywhere else, including at the more cutting-edge/molecular places in NYC, such as Corton, atera, or wd-50. also, from reading recent reviews from people I trust, she currently seems to be hitting her stride with many more stunning hits than mediocre dishes or misses.

                      1. re: cubicles

                        In the end I enjoyed Benu much more and recommended it to others, but admittedly Atelier Crenn has more interesting conversation points.

                        For me, Benu's atmosphere is very stark and minimalist. Runs like clockwork - supper efficient, friendly but not chatty. Wine pairings are really inspired. The food was flavorful and interesting and well presented. We had a very good experience there and would go there again over Atelier Crenn once the tasting menu has cycled through some more changes.

                        Atelier Crenn's atmosphere is warm and a bit cramped. Staff seem to be buzzing around everywhere - friendly and rushed. More chatty (but in a good way). Things don't seem seamless but like I indicated above seem effortful.

                        Dessert is out of this world. The dishes are conversation pieces and there was a dish of venison I had there that still stands out in my mind. However, there were also dishes that were poorly conceived or fell apart. Their wine program was being changed the last time I went so not sure how it is now.

                        One thing that also didn't work for me (which I hate to carp on because it's not their fault but can be an issue esp. if you get the wine pairings) . Is there is only one unisex bathroom and it's in the main dining room. Lines of 2 to 3 people happen.

                        1. re: cubicles

                          I think I need to explain that Benu's cuisine is actually fairly distinct from "great technique at a fancy white-table cloth place." I assume you've actually looked at the menu or at photos of courses, but I'll spell out that the food at Benu is pretty unique and completely different from what you would find at The French Laundry, Jean-Georges, Per Se, EMP etc.

                          Benu's food—not the environment or kitchen rigor—is more like Momofuku, or any of the famous modernist places in Japan (probably why David Chang thinks Benu might be the best place in the US). There's a pan-Asian inspiration to most dishes that are all done with a kind of east-west molecular/modernist fusion. If it wasn't for the discipline and efficiency in the kitchen, you would have no idea Chef Corey Lee ran The French Laundry for many years based on the just the food.

                          Crenn still seems more interested in creating beautiful visual artwork from poetic ideas. Thus, a lot of courses don't always taste that great or come together in any particularly special way where you wish you could eat more of it or again. Also, I'm not the biggest wine expert, by any means, but Crenn's wine list is relatively small and I really didn't like the pairings I had.

                          From what I've heard just this past week, much of Crenn's menu actually hasn't changed since last summer. As always, chowhound is a pretty limited sample for doing research and while there are fans here, you should know that Crenn hasn't really taken off yet locally—it's usually not more than half full and anyone can get last minute reservations so long as it's not Fri/Sat at 7 pm.

                          Also, my recommendations would not change if you weren't going to Commis, but Commis might be the best of all the places already on your original list.

                          Finally, I didn't find my one meal at Coi years ago to be all that tasty or memorable in terms of flavors.

                          1. re: W42

                            I will disagree that Crenn's menu has not changed from last year.

                            Here is my report from dining their two weeks ago and -- having dined there at this same time last year -- can attest that it is remarkably different.

                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/905838

                            1. re: CarrieWas218

                              I think for restaurants working with seasonal ingredients, the menu may look superficially similar from year to year, because that's what's in season, but that doesn't mean the treatment of the ingredients is at all similar.