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Best restaurant bars with a view of the kitchen? [San Francisco]

otis Dec 28, 2013 04:48 PM

I usually have dinner alone on my return visits to SF, and my idea of a perfect experience is the Friends and Family Meal at Bar Tartine I enjoyed a couple of weeks back. I sat on the barstool right next to the service station and watched the dishes being plated and dispatched as well as a good amount of cold kitchen prep. The bartenders were knowledgeable about the food and several of the cooks discussed them with me as they went out. To me, all this is as good as it gets.

So, what other spots offer a similar experience? (And I'm aware there are several threads here on SF single dining.) I stay in the Fisherman's Wharf/North Beach area so have a bias toward that area because I can walk.

P.S. No bias as to price, high or low. Counters in the TL are just fine.

  1. s
    SFGourmande Jan 27, 2014 04:58 PM

    I don't see Cotonga on this list. Sit at the chef's counter. Fabulous!

    And Wayfare Tavern. The food isn't revolutionary, but you can see everything in the fast moving kitchen.

    1. otis Jan 26, 2014 07:06 PM

      Thanks again for all the suggestions. On the single night when I was able to do this on my just concluded visit, I went for State Bird and got one of the seats right in front of the major prep area, perfect. The only problem was that there was just one of me!

      My stomach was stuffed while my eyes were still lusting after the dishes sailing by. Need to find a dining companion next time. In fact I may post right here and see if anyone feels like standing in line for an hour in the Western Addition...

      2 Replies
      1. re: otis
        bbulkow Jan 27, 2014 12:38 PM

        Consider this trick: just eat half of each dish. You'll pay the same amount as inviting and paying for a dining companion, without the actual annoyance of having a dining companion.

        When I was at SBP, they seemed to reserve the bar facing the street for singles --- the area perpendicular to the street, and parallel with back to the street, was paired off.

        Are they still doing something like that? Is the new layout even like that?

        1. re: bbulkow
          otis Jan 31, 2014 06:17 PM

          Hah. I did request doggie bag service and loaded half my garlic bread with burrata and a pathetic squirt of the duck pate in there. The bread was fine (actually excellent) heated in the microwave and the pate covered a small slice of breakfast bread.

          The layout now is that there are maybe 10 seats on the counter that faces the prep area, 4 on the counter at a right angle facing the street (those sad singles you refer to) and then 4 on a desert island that is beyond the servers station where they punch in the orders, before you enter the larger dining area. I really wouldn't like to be put there.

      2. z
        zinfanatic Jan 5, 2014 08:40 AM

        Linking to your post- Does the "chef's table" at SPQR look over the actual cooking? My hubby loves to watch the actual cooking,but the stools look somewhat uncomfortable. Comments?

        1 Reply
        1. re: zinfanatic
          SFGourmande Jan 27, 2014 04:56 PM

          Yes - it is a fabulous place to see all the action! I love sitting at the chefs counter. You will also love the counter at Cotogna.

        2. j
          JbrendanP Jan 3, 2014 05:01 PM

          Not from SF myself, but some years ago had a great experience at Izakaya Sozai.

          Rather than a traditional bar, there is a seating area directly at the kitchen window. You are served by a waiter who helps with beverages and ordering, but are also able to chat a bit with the kitchen staff, we even ordered several of our courses directly from them.

          1. bbulkow Jan 3, 2014 04:19 PM


            And some of the best mid-upper range food in the city.

            1. Robert Lauriston Jan 2, 2014 11:11 AM

              Corso, Dopo, A16 Rockridge

              1. r
                rotiprata Jan 1, 2014 06:49 PM

                Chef's table at Nopa.

                1 Reply
                1. re: rotiprata
                  SFGourmande Jan 27, 2014 04:57 PM

                  I second that!

                2. bbulkow Jan 1, 2014 04:00 PM

                  Most of my favorites have been listed
                  State Bird
                  ( Commis legendary but haven't been myself, a terrible oversight )

                  Add: Plum, where you're right on top of the final assembly with tweezers and all. At least prior to the last reorg. There's not much space, so they couldn't have changed the bar seats (that's the bar in the restaurant, not the bar in Plum Bar) and kitchen org much.

                  Down the peninsula: Vero is my best secret bar-kitchen place, solid pasta and northern italian and more fun if you're in the kitchen.

                  So many places have a kitchen where you can see the heads bobbing around, and some of the action, but you're not really a PART of it. These are places where you're right on top of it and can interact with with the chefs and owners --- at SBP, I saw the head guy pull out some kind of cast iron crock pot dish, taste it himself, and ask for a taste --- and rapped about what he was aiming for in the dish (some kind of lobster mac n cheese).

                  I know there's got to be more than this, but .... coming up dry.

                  1. g
                    goldangl95 Jan 1, 2014 02:02 PM

                    Coquetta has bar seating in front of the kitchen (note this is separate and different from their bar area).

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: goldangl95
                      SFGourmande Jan 27, 2014 04:58 PM

                      So delicious - great kitchen view!

                    2. Mission Dec 30, 2013 05:27 PM


                      3859 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, CA 94611

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Mission
                        Robert Lauriston Jan 4, 2014 12:23 PM

                        You need to phone Commis to get seated at the chef's counter. You are practically in the kitchen, like at the old Saison only it's a smaller kitchen so you can see everything and much of the activity is practically within arm's reach.

                      2. smatbrat Dec 30, 2013 05:25 PM

                        Boxing room

                        1. a
                          absc Dec 30, 2013 07:29 AM


                          1 Reply
                          1. re: absc
                            little big al Jan 1, 2014 02:14 PM

                            "Work fascinates me, I could watch it for hours." But seriously I second State Bird.(But I haven't been since the re-model.)

                          2. a
                            Alan408 Dec 30, 2013 06:22 AM

                            Original Joe's, sit at the counter.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: Alan408
                              calumin Jan 26, 2014 09:40 PM

                              I was at Westlake Joe's at the counter last night, watching everyone in the kitchen.

                              Sadly their last night was tonight.

                              1. re: calumin
                                Robert Lauriston Jan 27, 2014 10:25 AM

                                Their last night until the Duggans finish upgrading. If they do as good a job as they did with Original Joe's, it's nothing to cry about.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                  calumin Jan 27, 2014 11:22 AM

                                  Well except there are people who have been working at Westlake Joes for 30 and 40 years. It is an institution. Apparently there's been no discussion of any of the current employees having jobs with the new owners. I hope it works out for them.

                                  1. re: calumin
                                    Robert Lauriston Jan 27, 2014 11:41 AM

                                    They don't expect to reopen until next year.

                                    1. re: calumin
                                      sugartoof Jan 27, 2014 09:13 PM

                                      I have to agree, they did a great job emulating an OJ's in North Beach. Everyone should be very excited they're going to breath new life into the Westlake location, while keeping all the signatures.

                                      My understanding is the long time employees will have jobs, but most of them weren't there for 30 years, and don't even know what an Original Joe's was like in it's hey day.

                              2. t
                                tjinsf Dec 29, 2013 11:50 PM

                                TBD, AQ's woodfired sister also has built in bar in front of the open cook area.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: tjinsf
                                  Candice Jan 2, 2014 04:08 PM

                                  I'll second AQ and TBD. I believe the chef's counter at AQ is first come first serve.

                                  I like sitting at the bar at Flour+ Water in the two seats closest to the pass, you can see dishes being expedited and into the kitchen. It's not as good of a view as AQ, but I love the food at F+W.

                                  I also like the chef's counter in then back of St. Vincent. Not the bar, but the seats near the pass.

                                2. s
                                  splonk Dec 29, 2013 11:38 PM

                                  AQ (in Soma, 7th/Mission) has a counter built around the kitchen - http://ww2.hdnux.com/photos/17/51/12/4100765/3/628x471.jpg

                                  The end of the bar at Commonwealth (18th/Mission) has a good view of the kitchen, but it's not built around it like AQ is.
                                  You can sort of get an idea of how it's laid out in this picture: http://www.foodhoe.com/wp-content/upl...

                                  Both are fantastic.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: splonk
                                    otis Dec 30, 2013 06:09 AM

                                    Thanks for these pix.. extremely helpful. Knowing a restaurant has bar seating does not tell you whether the bar is near/in the kitchen.

                                  2. l
                                    latindancer Dec 29, 2013 10:46 PM

                                    Boulevard on lower Mission.


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