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Best intimate French or other yummyspot in SF for a nice birthday dinner.

BigWoodenSpoon Jul 23, 2013 03:06 AM

Howdy all,
My husband just finagled a pricey Scotch dinner out of our budget on the condition I get a nice dinner out in return. Who is serving up the best bang for the buck these days? Anyone y'all would recommend that does a great fixe price with wine pairings? I'd rather not go over $75 pp if possible. If deliciousness lies outside of the City, but within a 30 minute drive from Alameda, I'd consider it. Thanks!

  1. Robert Lauriston Jul 23, 2013 11:05 AM

    $75 before or including the wine pairings?

    6 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston
      BigWoodenSpoon Jul 23, 2013 03:15 PM

      Hey Robert,
      Inclusive would be great, but if we can share a pairing, then it doesn't have to be. Just need great food, nice atmosphere and a wine list to match.
      Prix fixe isn't required, I just thought it might help the budget. Hmm, it looks like I need to update my profile. Beer has its place, but wine is the the drink for me. Especially when its obscure as well as delicious and reasonably priced. : )

      1. re: BigWoodenSpoon
        Robert Lauriston Jul 23, 2013 04:13 PM

        Look at the menus and wine lists for Haven, Commis, AQ, and St. Vincent.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston
          Dustin_E Jul 24, 2013 10:13 AM

          aren't these all rather innovative / experimental?

          1. re: Dustin_E
            Robert Lauriston Jul 24, 2013 10:44 AM

            They're not experimenting, just using some techniques and ingredients that an old-school French restaurant wouldn't. That's no longer innovative, it's just the contemporary style. They're still deeply rooted in French techniques and traditions.

          2. re: Robert Lauriston
            BigWoodenSpoon Jul 24, 2013 11:19 AM

            Alright, I'll take a look. Thanks!

            1. re: Robert Lauriston
              jaiko Jul 28, 2013 02:00 PM

              If you can manage an intimate conversation at Commis you're doing better than four of us did. We were getting together for a pre-wedding dinner and were interrupted all evening by waitstaff. We couldn't go three minutes without somebody explaining something, asking something, or just generally fussing over us.

              After about an hour we all exchanged exasperated glances and just gave up trying to talk with one another about something other than the supposed wonderfulness of Commis' food.

        2. d
          Dustin_E Jul 23, 2013 12:57 PM

          i personally think one market is one of the better values for a "nice, kinda french" meal in sf. they sometimes offer prix fixe special menus (i had a lamb menu a few months ago for ~$50 iirc) at lower prices than their listed $79 + $39 wine pairing menu. very good (if not the most innovative -- this is not a bad thing in my book) food, great space, great service.

          but regardless, most top prix fixe menus + wine pairing in sf are going to be at a higher price point than this.

          chapeau! has prix fixe in the $38-$50 range. i don't know if they offer wine pairings with this or not. i also haven't been back in several years.

          i believe i had a prix fixe at perbacco one time at about that price point, but that was also a couple years ago. (and it is italian not french.)

          keiko's a nob hill
          chez panisse downstairs

          are also all good and good value, but probably out of your price range.

          there's also tons of other places where you can eat and drink very well that aren't prix fixe/wine pairing. you might decide you don't actually care about prix fixe with wine pairing.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Dustin_E
            goldangl95 Jul 23, 2013 02:01 PM

            chapeau! is solid - haven't had wine pairings there. It's comforting within the box French food - a little old fashioned but in a good way.

            Chez Panisse is a good suggestion assuming it's within budget.

          2. Scott M Jul 23, 2013 01:23 PM

            I noticed in your profile that microbrew beer is your current drink of choice. With that in mind you may want to look at Abbot's Cellar. They do a tasting menu paired with beer that is $75 a person. I haven't been so maybe others can give their opinion of the experience.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Scott M
              goldangl95 Jul 23, 2013 02:02 PM

              I haven't done the tasting menu - but liked the food generally at Abbot's Cellar and their beer list is amazing (their wine list is pretty good too). One thing to note is that it's a loud space with tables very close together.

            2. e
              ernie in berkeley Jul 23, 2013 03:25 PM

              How is Le Charme these days? Their prix fixe menu doesn't have a pairings option, but I recall that their wine list is pretty good. Prix fixe is $35, a la carte mains are about that price.

              1. a
                amydeastbay Jul 23, 2013 05:24 PM

                L'Ardoise just north of Market Street on Noe in SF (near the CPMC Davies campus) would be an option if you definitely want French. I haven't been there for awhile but have enjoyed my meals there in the past. The atmosphere is cozy/intimate, the staff is French, and the food is fairly traditional bistro style. Not sure that they do wine pairings.

                12 Replies
                1. re: amydeastbay
                  BigWoodenSpoon Jul 24, 2013 09:44 AM

                  Cool! The menu there looked interesting and as long as they have a knowledgeable staff, we can the wine thing figured out.
                  Hey, has anyone been to Isa?
                  Their menu looked promising.

                  1. re: BigWoodenSpoon
                    Dustin_E Jul 24, 2013 11:47 AM

                    i've been to Isa, once, a year or two ago.

                    certainly wasn't bad -- food was very decent.

                    room was quiet, and it definitely wasn't stuffy. room isn't huge, so depending on what you mean by "intimate" it could fit the bill. perhaps a bit too casual-feeling for what you're looking for, though?

                    feels to me like a decent neighborhood french bistro-type place, rather than a destination from outside the city... but that may be because i live in the neighborhood...

                    1. re: BigWoodenSpoon
                      Prabhakar Ragde Jul 24, 2013 02:05 PM

                      I used to visit Isa regularly but haven't been in several years. The food was quite good, and the same executive chef is still there. They did small plates before small plates were fashionable. There is not much inside seating but there is an outside patio with heat lamps.

                    2. re: amydeastbay
                      Robert Lauriston Jul 24, 2013 09:53 AM

                      The wine list doesn't seem like much of a draw:


                      Hmmm, how about Aquitaine?


                      1. re: Robert Lauriston
                        BigWoodenSpoon Jul 24, 2013 10:51 AM

                        Hey Robert, I looked a few times on the link but didn't see a wine list. Did I miss it?
                        Aquitaine's list is amazingly geeky, but the food looks more snacky than I wanted.
                        Sorry to not have a clear vision. It's been a few years since we've gone out to a nice place and I'm a little out of touch with the current scene. (Everyone's help is always appreciated)
                        So as this discussion has evolved, here are my priorities: Great food: French or Cal/French
                        Intimate vibe on the quieter side that's not too stuffy
                        Good wine list and knowledgeable staff: nice wine by the glass or half bottle options would be optimal
                        And the kicker, reasonably priced: No more than $100 pp all inclusive for 3 courses, preferably less if it doesn't interfere with the quality of the food or service.
                        Thanks again!

                        1. re: BigWoodenSpoon
                          Robert Lauriston Jul 24, 2013 12:27 PM

                          L'Ardoise's wine list is past halfway down the page. Click the Wine List link at the top of the page if the link doesn't take you there.

                          There were some interesting posts about the lack of / state of French restaurants around here in the Chronicle's blog recently. Click the links at the bottom to read the two earlier posts:


                          1. re: Robert Lauriston
                            BigWoodenSpoon Jul 24, 2013 12:55 PM

                            Great, got it. Just wished they had prices listed.
                            OK, so now I'm torn.Nice French bistro in SF or Market Menu (if she'll adapt to our no fish/mushroom/olive/ raw tomato requests) at Haven?
                            Potatoes in duck fat are awfully tempting, but eating a local female chef's creations at Haven is intriguing as well. Decisions, decisions. Haven having the option of local beer for my hubby if he doesn't want to share wine as well as parker house rolls does give it a leg up. I read the latest thread, but how would rate their wine service/knowledge?
                            Not having to drive very far would be nice as well.

                            1. re: BigWoodenSpoon
                              Robert Lauriston Jul 24, 2013 01:11 PM

                              Haven's prix-fixe is to me an unbeatable value. Since Omar White took over the wine list it's on the same level as the food, though they still haven't updated the list on their web site. You might call and ask if they could email you a copy.


                              1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                BigWoodenSpoon Jul 24, 2013 02:32 PM

                                Awesome! Looks like Haven wins. I'll report back in a few weeks and let everyone know. Thanks again!

                                1. re: BigWoodenSpoon
                                  BigWoodenSpoon Jul 24, 2013 03:56 PM

                                  Made my reservation and the gal on the phone was super helpful. She said she can email me the current wine list a day or two before. A huge bonus, they have an extensive Scotch list. My hubby will be sooooo happy : )

                          2. re: BigWoodenSpoon
                            Robert Lauriston Jul 28, 2013 12:52 PM

                            The food at Aquitaine is not so snacky, there's an entree section with pretty substantial stuff like duck confit, magret, and onglet. Let's see if this the attached is readable.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston
                              BigWoodenSpoon Jul 29, 2013 11:22 PM

                              Thanks Robert,
                              I'll definitely check out Aquitaine another time, perhaps with my girlfriends.
                              Wine bars are my geeky escape from family responsibilities : )

                      2. v
                        vulber Jul 24, 2013 11:30 AM


                        1. m
                          ML8000 Jul 24, 2013 12:43 PM

                          Cafe Claude, Chapeau.

                          1. smatbrat Jul 30, 2013 05:26 PM

                            My current favorite French place in the city is

                            I have eaten there at least 6 times since January and I can not get enough.

                            And if you make a reservation for two and want it to be really intimate, I would recommend asking for the table under the stairs.

                            Otherwise I would vote Chapeau

                            1. d
                              dunstable Jul 30, 2013 05:59 PM

                              Bistro Central Parc is a good choice for this (though you've already reserved). I like that place, and also it will turn down the lights and sing you "Happy Birthday," a la TGIFriday's or Applebee's. If you're into that. Somehow it comes off sort of homey and charming, and does not come off like a French Applebee's.

                              1. s
                                sugartoof Jul 31, 2013 03:17 AM

                                L'Ardoise and Le Charm were the first places that came to my mind when reading this request.

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