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San Francisco Can't Miss Dining

So, I am travelling from NYC to San Francisco later this year and I basically have two nights of dining in the city.

For one of the meals, I am looking for a unique tasting menu experience. The restaurants I am looking at include Benu, Coi, Manresa, Saison, La Folie and Gary Danko. I don't need the meal to be a traditional white table cloth experience, I just want to experience something new, unique, and most importantly delicious. What would you advise?

For the other meal, I want something less high-end. A more fun place to eat. I have dined at Nopa and was slightly disappointed. I am looking at places like Flour + Water, Kokkari Estiatorio, and Sons & Daughters. I want something different from what I would experience in New York. I am purposefully leaving it vague as I don't want to limit the suggestions.

Thank you for the help!

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  1. I think Saison is the most unique place at the high end. Definitely a long way from the traditional white-tablecloth Michelin style.

    I'd suggest La Ciccia, Incanto, or Cotogna rather than Flour + Water.

    1. Of the high-end places, Benu, Coi, Manresa, and Saison are all unique in their own ways. Much as I love La Folie, I don't think that it's particularly unique or that it makes a huge effort to be so. More of a focus on well-executed food than experimental stuff. Gary Danko is pretty generic high-end dining and, while competent, doesn't feel unique at all. You can probably get Russian caviar and Maine lobster in NYC.

      1. Put Atelier Crenn on your list.

        I don't see any reason for a NYer to bother with Greek food in San Francisco.

        1. for a unique tasting menu experience, Saison without a doubt. Manresa is about an hour from the city, and it's incredible as well, but my money goes towards Saison. both Manresa and Saison are far and away leagues above La Folie or Gary Danko, Acquerello, Fleur de Lys, etc.. Saison is my personal favorite for several reasons. i appreciate the cooking approach of every dish involving the hearth. it delivers perhaps the most delicious food in California, and the ingredient pairings are smart and not overwrought. perhaps the best way i can describe the food is that it seems like you're tasting the maximal expression of an ingredient, either distilled or amplified. flavors are incredibly complex and nuanced, without feeling heavy. anyway, i don't mean to be dismissive of the others you listed, they all have something to offer and you can have a great meal there, but personally i think Saison is the place to go to.

          for a more casual experience, Flour + Water has a cool vibe but there's mixed reviews on the food. it's next to impossible to get in, but while i enjoyed it generally, friends didn't quite love it, and we agreed that it's not quite worth the hassle to get a seat. Kokkari is solid Greek food and a good option (some delicious grilled octopus and lamb chops), but perhaps not quite "fun" or unique as you may be looking for? i think you can find something like that in NYC. Sons & Daughters clocks in at about $150pp after all said and done, w/o alcohol, so it's not exactly that cheap.

          Consider La Ciccia for a cozy neighborhood Sardinian joint. I adore Cotogna but not quite sure it's as unique as you'd like, though it's a very solid option with delicious food in a casual setting. Rich Table may be a good option, yes it's hard to get in as well, but it feels very "SF" if that's what you're looking for. All of these are casual but have solid food. Because you mentioned Sons & Daughters, you might want to look into Commonwealth as well. Very casual spot but good and inventive food, very cool space and i like their operation overall, feels very laid back but you can have a good meal there with friends (or solo).

          5 Replies
          1. re: kyee87

            The food at Flour + Water is great, but similar to and no better than at Cotogna, which is easier to get into. F+W feels more like a bar with food than a restaurant, kind of like Spotted Pig.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              good point, Cotogna's a great option. and the $10/glass, $40/bottle wine menu is a nice touch!

              1. re: kyee87

                Thank you everyone for the responses! Looks like already the consensus is for Saison. At Saison, is there still a chef's counter and if yes... is it worth it?

                On the more casual side, Son's & Daughter probably not my best bet. La Ciccia and Contogna both sound excellent. Also wanted to add State Bird Provisions as a place under consideration.

                  1. re: Rizzobert

                    I would think of Sons & Daughters as an alternative for your high end meal. While I prefer both Coi and Sons & Daughters to Saison's previous incarnation, it's hard to argue against Saison as the most distinctive choice. Given your limited time I can't see making the drive down to Manresa, but if you were staying in Silicon Valley that would be a different story.

                    La Ciccia would be my first choice for the more casual meal. I would recommend Nopalito for Mexican, but you didn't like Nopa that much and there's common parentage. You might also want to consider Zuni, which is a quintessential San Francisco place both in food and atmosphere. I second Ruth's comment that there's no need for you to try Greek or Cal/Greek food here coming from New York. Enjoy!

                    Michael

            2. I'd recommend aziza unless you already have a new Moroccan place in NYC that's does tasting menus and for your more casual, state bird provisions.