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Tasting menu, brunch, bakeries, coffee [San Francisco]

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Hi all,
I will be meeting my husband down in SF for Canadian Thanksgiving weekend October 11-14. We are currently living on opposite sides of the country for work, so I'm VERY excited about the prospect!
My first and only visit to your beautiful city was last October, and we had some amazing eats including Atelier Crenn.
This trip, I have some specific must-try's:
1. I would love to take him for an inventive, delicious tasting menu. I loved the techniques of Crenn, but didn't always find it delicious. Suggestions?
2. We love a good mocha, or other slightly sweet coffee. Loved Blue Bottle last time I visited. Any other similar or better places?
3. We will be meeting friends for a Saturday morning brunch. Again, looking for unique and delicious. Thoughts?
4. Always on the lookout for a can't-miss bakery item!

We will be staying at the Villa Florence in Union Square and relying on walking/public transit.

Some places I have thought about based on previous CH suggestions include:
AQ
Benu
Bi Rite Creamery
Humphrey Slocombe
State Bird Provisions
Craftsman & Wolves
Burma Superstar
Mission Chinese
Bar Tartine
Four Barrel
Swan Oyster Depot

Any recommendations on the above, or new suggestions altogether, are more than welcome! Thanks!

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  1. Those are all top spots on your list.

    I would just add B.Patisserie—personally I think that's the best bakery in the Bay Area. Belinda Leong's kouign amann really might be one of the best baked goods in the country (and I think it's been named as such in Bon Appetit or Food & Wine or some such publication).

    For brunch, Nopa is a really, really popular spot, though I'm not sure it's the most "unique." I can't really think of a unique brunch place that isn't the usual French toast and poached eggs etc. (maybe the Four Seasons in Istanbul or Boston, but both were a few years ago).

    1 Reply
    1. re: W42

      Hello to a fellow Canuck -- we were in Halifax for our honeymoon years ago and loved it

      If you find yourself in the Tenderloin, maybe check out the mocha here: http://www.hookerssweettreats.com/cafe/, It's been on my list for a while, along with the caramels and the bread pudding. Completely spoiled for choice re coffee and bakeries in SF!

      Hoping you tried the New Orleans iced coffee from Blue Bottle last time. If not, I'd definitely suggest it for a sweeter option. We've started making a version of it at home as I pine for it between visits :-).

      The kouign amann from b. patisserie are worthy indeed, especially if you get one warm and fresh from the oven. I prefer the ka from Starter but that is just me.

      Haven't had brunch there yet but we loved the snacks from Foreign Cinema we had next door at Laszlo's. And it has the advantage of taking reservations. Brunch can be a contact sport in SF :-).

      If you want to try Four Barrel and another bakery, consider The Mill. The toast choices don't seem to be quite as out there as during the buildout but Josey Baker's got mad skills. I had a cheesy baked item last trip that I'm still thinking about, and sitting at one of the little tables down the side near the back under the skylight is a good way to spend an hour.

    2. My favorite tasting menu in the city is Benu (with beverage parings) just a really effortless well-done meal from start to finish and a really cohesive experience. Another couple to look at would be Quince (on the solid friendly less expensive end) and Saison for a blowout meal.

      12 Replies
      1. re: goldangl95

        Thanks all,
        I really appreciate your suggestions, and will check them out!
        We've been able to secure reservations at AQ and SPQR for the same night. Any suggestions on which of these to keep? Our main priority is delicius food (although I always love inventive techniques!). What is weekend lunch at SPQR like?
        Unfortaunately I missed out on reservations at Benu. Not sure how that happened, but I'm quite disappointed. Do they ever have openings?
        I will make sure to report back following our trip!
        Cheers!

        1. re: Suzie4399

          I've been to both AQ and SPQR once and didn't love either, though they are pretty different entities to try to compare. AQ is much more "modern" in the preps, and you can watch the chefs work which is fun. Room is much bigger and more interesting -- SPQR is really cramped. Nabes are totally different too, with AQ in a less desirable one and SPQR in the much more gentrified Fillmore. The appetizers and pastas stood out at SPQR (there were four of us so we got to try a reasonable sampling of the menu), whereas the mains did not, and one was a fail IMO. We also waited a significant amount of time for our reservation, a pet peeve of mine. The service was impeccable, however. AQ's food just didn't do it for me, and my two DCs agreed, one of whom is much more familiar with this type of food/prep. I don't remember one dish from that meal, alas. Cocktails were just okay as well. But both are very well regarded and we could have hit them on an off night.

          1. re: grayelf

            SPQR also has a bar where you can watch the chefs. But I agree, I haven't been in a rush to return to either. I did like AQ.

            1. re: Windy

              Ah thanks, I didn't realize that. The place was so crazy we never even went past our table which was right at the door.

          2. re: Suzie4399

            Have you looked at reservations for Saison? It would be my second choice for a tasting menu after Benu.

            1. re: Suzie4399

              I much prefer the food at AQ to SPQR—the latter was much too reliant on fats and butter (which can be ok, if there is some other spark too).

              1. re: Suzie4399

                AQ's strongest dishes are their smaller ones. I personally enjoyed my meal and would return. I took my 80 year old grandma after the theater and she loved it.

                1. re: JonDough

                  Great, thanks everyone!
                  We have a dinner reservations at AQ and SPQR... Any must-have dishes to recommend?
                  Also, my plane will be getting in at 10:30 on the Thursday evening... Is there any good delivery that you can recommend? Mission Chinese or anything else delicious? I want to make the most of my short time in SF :)

                  1. re: Suzie4399

                    Lers Ros (Thai) delivers until midnight but you'd be cutting it close. I'd call the hotel and ask if they could accept delivery if you order from the airport. I guess you could even pre-order and ask for it to be delivered as late as possible.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      My husband will be arriving quite a bit earlier, so will be there to accept it :) Thank goodness!

                  2. re: JonDough

                    Does anyone know if AQ still offers the tasting menu?
                    With the change to Autumn, there isn't a tasting menu listed.
                    I was going to call, but thought instead of making the international phone call I'd check with my CH friends first!

                    1. re: Suzie4399

                      Yes, they always have a tasting menu.