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Sep 21, 2013 05:09 PM

Best "old" school S.F. restaurant

Greetings from L.A. I am wanting to go the best "old" school dinner that I can. I remember Ernie's, Blue Fox,. etc. You get the idea....Where would you send me? No restrictions other than a great over all experience. Thanks.

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      1. re: Thomas Nash

        Thanks, but I was hoping for something more upscale.

        1. re: Sarah

          I would have said Tadich, but can't argue with Alfred's. I like them both, but I think in The City that "old school" and "upscale" aren't the same. Mind you, I generally eschew "upscale".

          1. re: little big al

            I am find dropping the old school for upscale, if that will help.

            1. re: xoxohh

              I'd recommend Bix - classic San Francisco and more upscale than Tadich.

              1. re: xoxohh

                If you're okay dropping upscale, Original Joe's is clearly an old school candidate--even if it's no longer at its original location.

                I'd also endorse the Alfred's and Tadich rec's. Bix--while very good--is still a youngster at 20-something years old.

                1. re: xoxohh

                  Atelier Crenn, or Sons and Daughters. The latter is new, but feels old school, if old-school restaurants did exquisite tasting menus.

                  1. re: pspiegel

                    there is nothing old school about either of those places.

                    1. re: Dustin_E

                      No, there isn't, Justin. Read xoxohh's last, above: "I am find (sic) dropping the old school for upscale." Crenn and S&D both qualify as upscale.

                      1. re: pspiegel

                        Atelier Crenn
                        Gary Danko
                        Keikos a Nob Hill
                        La Folie
                        Fleur De Lys
                        Sons and Daughters
                        Compton Place
                        Michael Mina

                        are all the upscale places in san francisco. the op should just pick one at random.

                        1. re: Dustin_E

                          I read the modified request as upscale with atmosphere reminiscent of Ernie's or the Blue Fox.

                          Gary Danko, Keiko, and La Folie fit that and reports on the food are consistently good. I'm not sure what the atmosphere's like at Quince or Sons & Daughters.

                          Saison, Coi, Benu, Crenn, and Mina are more modern in style.

                          Masa's is closed for downscaling. Recent reports on Fleur de Lys and Acquerello suggest they may be coasting on their reputations.

                          Campton Place, who knows? Here are the three reports I can find since Srijith Gopinathan took over:


                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            for atmosphere, quince feels stiff, formal, and corporate, while sons and daughters feels hipster upscale. i really like the seafood dishes at gary danko (less so the meats), and the whole tasting menu is good at keiko's. the dishes at la folie taste less precise and more "ostentatious" than the other places, to my palate.

                          2. re: Dustin_E

                            All of you SF hounds are the best. We've been to La Folie a couple of times and really enjoy it. Been to Gary Danko, but it's been years. Lastly, we also dined at Atelier Crenn and were disappointed in our experience. Food was not the issue, just the overall experience didn't seem to match the cost. I think this time around, it will be either La Folie (again) or Keikos a Nob Hill.

                          3. re: pspiegel

                            The OP should simply read what Michael Bauer recommends.

                            1. re: ML8000

                              Is that because Bauer prefers upscale places?

                              1. re: grayelf

                                i think the comment was meant with sarcasm.

                                1. re: Dustin_E

                                  Honestly at first that was the idea but after really thinking about it (and changing what I originally wrote), sensibilities do line up. If I were a real smart ass or brilliant, I would have just left it and not explained but it really struck me that the OP wants the Bauer "Full Monty".

                                2. re: grayelf

                                  Because the OP's sensibilities for a good restaurant experience seems to match Bauer's in spirit if not specifics.

                                  The OP wanted; old school/clubby but upscale (now switched to just upscale), big welcome, kissy but exceptional service. That sounds like Bauer to me...minus the big welcome because, you know, no one knows who he is...and he does everything to hide his ID.

                                  Some might think I'm joking but I'm not, what the OP is looking for is Bauer. On that note, OP should look at Bauer's review of Michael Mina's.

                                  1. re: ML8000

                                    Seems like off topic joking that's just going to confuse the OP. You can't simply look at Bauer's faves or top lists and find what the OP is after.

                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                      Since I am the original poster, I don't mind asking this question. I am from L.A. and not familiar with "Bauer". Is the person included here with response's or is this a restaurant reviewer? Sorry for being ignorant.

                                      1. re: xoxohh

                                        We've seriously misconfused you, I appologize.

                                        "Bauer" is the best-known restaurant critic in Our Fair City, he writes/edits/whatever the restaurant column for the SF Chronical.

                                        Here is a list of his most recent Top 100

                                        You should give this entire part of the discussion a grain of salt if not a wide berth. I believe the original comment was made primarily in sarcasm.

                                        1. re: bbulkow

                                          I'll also add that Bauer does not specialize in old school SF, or old school service so he's not very relevant at all.

                                          1. re: sugartoof

                                            The OP has gone back fully on the "old school" and straight to "upscale" where service matters greatly --- at a "high price" they want excellent service (really excellent, not run of the mill excellent) as well as top end food that's not too intricate.

                                            1. re: bbulkow

                                              I'm following along, but I still wouldn't turn to Bauer for that.

                                        2. re: xoxohh

                                          MIchael Bauer's reviews of high-end places spend a lot of time talking about the decor, so they might be helpful to you in picking a place.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            Do you feel Francis would be a nice choice? Seems that I have read some good reviews and comments. Plus Bauer rates it high, for what it's worth.

                                            1. re: xoxohh

                                              If you didn't like Atelier Crenn, I don't think you'll enjoy Frances which is a neighborhood place, over achieving in some cases, while attempting to straddle fine dining with casual contemporary hip. No table clothes, and a small room.

                                              1. re: xoxohh

                                                Frances makes some of the best food in the Chez Panisse / Zuni vein that I've had, but it's not very upscale at all. It looks like a casual neighborhood cafe.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  I'd happily alter the upscale requirement, for a great and tasty meal. I know this will open up a whole can of worms, but I think there are plenty ideas included here to go with.

                                                  1. re: xoxohh

                                                    To be honest, you're sorta all over the place. Perhaps you should prioritize and list what you want instead of going with the can of worms.

                                                    Maybe it's the communications format or the place you want doesn't exist in SF...but might in the wider Bay Area. Any way, hitting a moving target is a hassle.

                                                    How's this for a question: what's the comparable place in LA that you would be happy with or go to in a similar situation? At least that would get you a directed comparison.

                                                    1. re: ML8000

                                                      The suggestions the OP got were equally as all over the place. I read them as trying to accommodate some confusing advice.

                                                      Anyone reading this thread in the future looking for old school, or old style fancy would be just as confused.

                                                    2. re: xoxohh

                                                      If you've dropped both old-school and upscale, this topic has pretty much stopped making sense.

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        Appreciate everyone's input, but the point I am trying to make is I have plenty of wonderful suggestions here. Probably too many, and thanks all for your help.

                        2. I sympathize with you, xoxohh. Not only are Ernie's, the Blue Fox, La Bourguignonne, L'Orangerie, etc. gone, but they may antedate the memories of most Chowhounders for comparison purposes.

                          I'm not in SF itself enough to give precise advice; I believe Trader Vic's on Cosmo Place (an obvious contender in its time) is long gone. (Opened after The War as an expansion of the original across the bay, to address the shame implicit in Herb Caen's 1941 column reporting "the best restaurant in San Francisco is in Oakland.") Likewise Iron Horse on Maiden Lane off Union Sq. (lower-key than Vic's, but another upscale dealmaking venue).

                          How about the Cliff House? Or (much more elegant, hotel setting) Campton Place? The latter is comparatively new (1980s, when I dined there), but both was an old-fashioned-looking elegant venue 25 years ago, and also, has had outstanding chefs more recently, such as Chris Kostow before his three Michelin stars. Current chef brings Asian influences, but that itself is also part of SF tradition. Since the Gold Rush days when it was economical to send laundry to Canton for cleaning, as ship ballast.

                          Or Masa's. Modern international cuisine, traditionalistic venue, stable crew, one of the best sommeliers in the US (low-key Australian-born Alan Murray). Belongs firmly to modern San Francisco (it was The Place To Dine in its early glory days 30 yrs ago, when chef Masa himself was alive and acclaimed as a genius, until tragically murdered in a family feud around 1985), but certainly upscale, which you said was a priority. (Even if Bauer or someone did once gripe about having to walk through the building to get to the bathrooms ...)

                          Or Fleur de Lys? Upscale, old-fashioned, one of SF's favorite chefs, the exuberant Alsace-born Hubert Keller. Hubert is the Bay Area's "original" Keller, justly renowned since he ran the kitchen at Sutter 500, 30 years ago, and a familiar name long before the "new" Keller from New York that people started chattering about in the 90s. Huber Keller grew up with Alsatian folk cooking, and brings that tradition to his restaurant work.

                          15 Replies
                          1. re: eatzalot

                            Great reply, thanks. Yes I have been to Blue Fox. La Bourguignonne, Ernie's, etc and miss them all. Curious if you think Saison would be worth the $$$. Sounds right up my alley. I haven't been to Masa's in years and wondered if it's still as good. I like the Fleur de Lys suggestion as well. Thoughts?

                            1. re: xoxohh

                              I believe Masa is closed at present and is being reconfigured. How about Farallon. Its s pretty old school and still can make a visual impression. The food is well made and tasty but still rooted in late 80s early 90s technique. For San Francisco, that is old school.

                              1. re: xoxohh

                                Saison is an eccentric place, in many respects the opposite of old-school SF luxury. The kitchen and dining room are the same room and the chef plays 80s rock, the food is extraordinary but much more like a Japanese kaiseki meal than the French / continental stuff the old places did.

                                1. re: xoxohh

                                  As I think about it, xoxohh, Fleur de Lys is the only place I personally know of that could approach both the elegance and even (with Keller's sincere enthusiasm for old Europe, in contrast to contemporary fads and fashions) the cuisine of decent high-end SF restaurants 50 years ago. And I haven't even been there in a good 15 years (even if that might support my credibility for archaisms here :-). The last Keller cooking I experienced was away from his site, at a black-tie top-SF-chefs' cook-off held at the Ritz-Carlton over a decade ago. All the fashionable SF chefs of the time participated. Hubert Keller was the clear favorite by diner consensus.

                                  1. re: eatzalot

                                    I'm not sure Keller's around much, he has several other restaurants and a TV career. The inconsistent reports here are consistent with the place losing its Michelin star.

                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                      Fleur de Lys serves pretty modern takes, with all the fads in plating (Asian soup spoons, lollipops, shot glasses, excessive truffle oils). It's nowhere to look for classic prep, or a reflection of SF restaurants from 50 years ago, though a few dishes are throwbacks.

                                      1. re: sugartoof

                                        i feel this describe la folie to an extent as well.

                                        1. re: Dustin_E

                                          I agree. I guess the idea was La Folie fit for the service.

                                    2. re: xoxohh

                                      Whether a given restaurant is "worth the $$$" is terribly personal. For me, if the meal has 1 or 2 WOW moments - moments that redefine my relationship to food and taste, dishes I remember intimately for years afterward, then it's worth any price (especially as I get older and the crowded set of past amazing memories lies deeper and deeper).

                                      Saison provided me with one dish that was a Huge WOW (the "brassica" dish), and two others that were solid WOW. For that, sure, I'll pay $250/pp ---

                                      but that's a very personal response.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        Robert, since you must pick such little nits, I will elaborate that Masa's murder was popularly characterized, or theorized, as some kind of family feud AT the time, by local, PRINT, media (not distant newspapers, fetched up today, three decades later, on the internet). With your own claims of long local history, I truly wonder at the prospect that you too would not have seen that at the time.

                                        1. re: eatzalot

                                          I never heard anything about a family feud. His wife and three kids were in New York at the time of the murder.

                                          As recently as 2009, cold-case detectives were still trying to link the murder to the "Night Stalker" Richard Ramirez.


                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            Robert Lauriston: "I never heard anything about a family feud."

                                            On that, we're in agreement.

                                          2. re: eatzalot

                                            Hey but those nits are organic, artisan, heirloom nits that only bloom during blue moons in leap years.

                                            1. re: eatzalot

                                              You stated "murdered in a family feud" as a fact. I don't know why you think it's picking little nits to object to that. I heard a different rumor at the time but I'm not going to repeat it.

                                              There was also speculation at the time that there was a serial killer going after chefs, since Michael Yu of Yuet Lee was shot the same year, in another never-solved case.

                                        2. Maybe Keiko a Nob Hill? or La Folie? or Fringale?

                                          I'd have said Acquerello, but there have been some recent reports of it being pretty seriously off its game. Same goes for Fleur de Lys.

                                          Masa's is closed and being made over to a more casual place, as happened with the Dining Room at the Ritz. Reports on Campton Place since the last name chef left haven't been great. I think maybe the era of first-rate restaurants in hotels is over.

                                          10 Replies
                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            i'd strongly recommend keiko a nob hill over la folie.

                                            1. re: Dustin_E

                                              I think La Folie will serve you very well.

                                              No on COI.
                                              By all reoprts Fleur de Lys is just not the same as it once was.

                                              I enjoyed Crenn immensely, and it's currently #2 on my list to La Folie.

                                              We tried Saison in the old space, at the table in the kitchen. It was a strange experience. The kitchen was terribly quiet. The food was very good, but not amazing. And the wines, while VERY generously poured, were not good, we did not like them and we felt the pairings were random, as if with a dartboard.

                                              1. re: pauliface

                                                Was Mark Bright at Saison the night you were there? I found his pairings mostly excellent.


                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  Gosh, I have no idea.
                                                  It was in the old space.

                                                  I've had two particularly bad wine pairing experiences in SF in the last few years: Coi and Saison. In both cases I just felt like they were picking things randomly.

                                                  But I am sorry, I don't know whether this was when Mark Bright was there. Oops, I just googled him and found a picture -- I do believe he was the guy who was there during our visit.

                                                  Maybe he had an off night.
                                                  Or maybe I've got lousy taste!

                                                  1. re: pauliface

                                                    Bright's been the co-owner since day one. The pairings were pretty Eurocentric.

                                                2. re: pauliface

                                                  pauliface -- have you tried keiko's? would be curious as to your take on it.

                                                  1. re: Dustin_E

                                                    No, I have not. I've been wanting to try it but having a tough time getting traction with my friends. :-)

                                                    Charles Nob Hill used to be in that space, right? Now that was a favorite. Ate their twice and both times, exceptional.

                                                    1. re: pauliface

                                                      i never went to whatever was in keiko's space before.

                                                      it is unfortunate that keiko's won't serve their full menu in their bar area. i've only been once for that reason. i've eaten in the lounge a couple times, which is nice, but not quite the same.

                                                      keiko's is definitely a place people seem to dress well for.

                                                    2. re: Dustin_E

                                                      BTW Dustin -- are you still a big fan of kappa?

                                                      I recommended it today who was looking for a good place in japantown open on Mondays. [As you know I prefer Kiss but they are closed Monday, and Kappa is certainly good enough to recommend over most else in the immediate area. :) ]

                                                      1. re: pauliface

                                                        i haven't been back to kappa in more than a year -- i have been meaning to go back very soon, though.

                                                        last time i was in there, they seemed to be making some small changes to the menu that would give it a bit more "mass appeal" (ie making a couple of the courses smaller and more detailed with more components.)

                                                        but yeah, i haven't seen/heard/learned anything that would make me less of a fan.

                                                        omakase is generally more accessible / better than their a la carte, but it has to be reserved a day in advance.