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Jan 16, 2014 06:58 PM

Suggestions for visiting mom + Best Cal-Italian [San Francisco]

I need to make dining reservations for 5 nights.

One of which should be Italian - it's my mom's favorite cuisine and she's never had SF/Cal style Italian. I'm trying to decide between the usual choices: Perbacco, Cotogna, La Ciccia, Locanda, and Delfina.

My mom doesn't eat meat but she does fish. I've ruled Incanto out based on this. I should also note that we're taking her to BaoNecci in North Beach for pizza later in the week.

Anyway, it's been ages since we've eaten out; over a year since I've been to Delfina, and I would really appreciate suggestions based on what you would personally recommend to a visitor who loves Italian/Mediterranean cuisine (especially with strong local focus), and has not eaten it in San Francisco before. I only mention this because I don't think I've ever been to Locanda (although my wife insists that I've been, and she's been numerous times) but ambiance is an important factor as well; which is why I'm not so keen on La Ciccia. I'm leaning toward Cotogna or Perbacco but would really appreciate some feedback to help me decide!

Next, given the following choices, which TWO would you pick for the remaining 2-3 nights (we'll be doing pizza in North Beach + Asian somewhere in the Richmond at least one of the nights)..?

- AQ
- Gitane
- Boulevard
- Baker & Banker

Also, would it seem repetetive to select three restaurants from above; too similar?


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  1. Update: I'm almost certain we'll be chosing Cotogna for better atmosphere and a more neighborhood-y feel. I'm trying to decide between AQ & Boulevard for another night. And I'm leaning towards Gitane as well for our final choice. Would still appreciate feedback.

    Edit: We have one more night - should we do AQ + Boulevard or arey the too similar? I've only been to Boulevard years ago and my wife's been to AQ recently. Any other suggestions? What about Frances? It's been a full year since our last visit. How does it stack again the other choices these days?


    6 Replies
    1. re: OliverB

      How does your mother feel about noise? I ask because it is a big issue for my mother. I love Cotogna, but it is not quiet.

      For comparison: on her last visit my mom loved Statebird, where she felt the service and food trumped any noise issues, liked but did not love La Ciccia and thought Nopa was far too loud.

      In the past she has really liked both Baker & Banker and Boulevard, though it has been a few years.

      1. re: absc

        Cotogna's been quiet on Sundays. Usually nuts at peak hours.

        1. re: absc

          Just responded above but noise is no big deal for her. She's in her late fifties. She was fine with Nopa, which despite the crowds, I personally don't find to be very noisy.

          I've never been to Baker & Banker, though it's been on my list of places to try for ages; would you consider it destination worthy for an out-of-town visitor? Would it be on the same level of Boulevard?

          I love State Bird, but the room is kind of dull and the menus tend to be carnivore heavy, I find. My favorite dishes there have always featured meat.

        2. re: OliverB

          I find it hard to think of Cotogna as a neighborhood place because it isn't in any real residential neighborhood. It's close to North Beach and Chinatown and there have been some condos developed nearby in recent years, but as a place where people who live in that block would go, there wouldn't be very many; it's in a block that is dominated by antique stores and a major strip club. Coi and Quince are in the same block as well, but I doubt that anyone would consider them "neighborhood restaurants". And as far as Cotogna goes, it's a pretty small place and cramped. The seating is not particularly comfortable and it tends to get quite loud in there. As far as the food, I've made numerous attempts to figure out what the people in this forum who are raving about this place are raving about. Never succeeded, not that I've ever had a particularly bad meal there.

          As for Boulevard, it has now been around long enough to have become an institution. You will see a lot of people in there with grey hair enjoying a perfect meal, devoid of any edginess, having just valet parked their S-series Mercedes. It's safely predictably good in terms of food, and with great service and ambience in a great location. But it's not the place I would go for cutting-edge food or any I-found-this-hole-in-the-wall kind of bragging rights that some people in this forum seem to crave.

          1. re: nocharge

            Pacific between Montgomery and Sansome is pretty quiet, besides Cotogna there's Quince, Barrique and a bunch of antique stores, architects offices, and so on that are closed at night.

            Coi's on Broadway, the other side of that city block. I've been to Cotogna a bunch and it never occurred to me that it was that close.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Cotogna is on the corner of Pacific and Montgomery. Right up the hill on Montgomery and Broadway is the big Centerfolds strip club. And right next to it is Coi. The space that houses Coi used to be a place that prided itself of a large selection of beers. I think the food was Thai, but I'm not sure since I never went there. However, a friend of mine used to hang out there and would tell me stories about how strippers from the club next door, barely covered up to be seen in public, would come over to get a glass of ice tea or something. Don't think that happens now that it's Coi.

        3. For me, Cotogna and Incanto are tied for best Cal-Italian. Perbacco and La Ciccia are two of my other favorite Italian places in the City but to me they're more Italian-Italian.

          I took a vegetarian to Incanto and she said it was the best meal she ever had. Often my favorite dishes of a meal there are vegetarian or seafood. Not going because they're best known for meat seems crazy to me.

          Locanda, on the other hand, the stuff I liked the most had meat.

          I don't think AQ and Boulevard are similar at all.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            I had a fabulous halibut collar at Locanda. It did seem meaty.

          2. Thanks to all for the feedback... my mom doesn't have an issue with noise. Lively ambiance would be preferable to her than a quiet empty room. She's been to NOPA before and it was one of her favorites in the city. I've scratched off La Ciccia because the ambiance is a bit formal and boring, frankly. It's more of a couples datenight dining room, imo. Perhaps I should reconsider Incanto based on Robert's post. My mom is very easy going and will almost always find something to eat. She even enjoyed Original Joe's on her last visit; albeit mostly for the setting.

            I do agree about Cotogna's location, though admittedly, it does have more of a "neighborhood feel" despite it's location, then say, a large teeming space in the Financial District like Perbacco. I suppose the more accurate term would be "character".

            Statebird is a good suggestion as well and another one that I've considered...

            Here's where I'm at now - almost certainly settled on Cotogna for Italian (though still filtering through all of your posts) and I've already made reservations at AQ - though it's still subject to change.

            We have two additional nights to fill. My wife suggested Gitane and I'm thinking Frances as well. Boulevard, Statebird and Baker&Banker are still on the table as well.

            My mom appreciates fresh, local, inspired cooking but the setting and presentation is equally important in rating her favorite places.

            On past trips she's been to NOPA, Bar Tartine, Flour + Water, Commonwealth, Ino, Tadich, Original Joe's, and PPQ Dungeness; along with brunch/lunches at Foreign Cinema, Tony's, Swan, Lers Ros, and Burma Superstar. Needless to say, she enjoyed NOPA best. Loved the ambiance and starters at Bar Tartine, but none of us enjoyed the mains (that's twice for us). Commonwealth was a last minute decision and all around bust. We used to live nearby and have enjoyed it very much in the past but the meal and service fell short on this particular ocassion. While I'm not particularly fond of Foreign Cinema, she loved brunch there. She thought F+W was great although we all agreed their pizza is terrible. Ino was a mistake as it's not her kind of place. She had a nice time but I didn't realize that she's not that into raw fish and she ended up ordering California rolls at the bar, ha. Tadich was surprisingly her favorite night out. We had cioppino and martinis and she loved the space. Swan and Lers Ros were also hits, and Burma was nothing special to her - I'd tend to agree.

            I would like to take her out to some better upscale restaurants this time because the last trip was a bit of a mixed bag. I'm going for a week-long winning streak this time around, though avoiding the Coi, Benu, Saison type places as she doesn't have the patience to sit through those meals. Not that there's really any fussy fine dining in the Bay Area, but she'll almost always chose upscale neighborhood restaurants to the former. Places with good people watching and lots of character to spare!

            Anyhow, I'm leaning towards Frances and Gitane (wife's pick) though I'm still not sold on either. Boulevard, B&B and Statebird are also weighing in... and I've even thought about Bar Crudo as well, though the last few times I've been the restaurant was empty which made for an uncomfortable setting.

            12 Replies
            1. re: OliverB

              It sounds as if you want to stay in SF proper, but if you are open to the East Bay, you might consider Pizzaiolo. Your description of your mom's likes just make me think she'd really enjoy it there. Bar Jules is another option for a neighborhood feel, although perhaps not as upscale as you're seeking (?).

              1. re: BAnders

                Pizzaiolo's great when they're not blasting the music at nightclub levels.

              2. re: OliverB

                Your wife is right, :) Gitane is a lovely space. The upstairs dining room is small, so you need reservations.

                The menu is short. I just looked at the current online menu and they have a few seafood options. If that looks like it would appeal to your mother and you can get a reservation, then that might be perfect. If not at least try to stop by for a cocktail.

                Cafe Claude is on the same street (same owners as Gitane), not adventurous food but solid with a nice sophisticated ambiance. They sometimes have live music on the weekends which makes it more lively.

                1. re: pamf

                  Thanks Pam!

                  I've just made our reservations at Gitane! Did I have to specify that we want to sit upstairs, or is that the only seating available? I take it the downstairs is the bar?

                  Now it's a toss-up between Frances and Boulevard... I'm thinking Frances would be the more interesting choice. State Bird and B&B are still in the game too, though I think my mom would appreciate the food and atmosphere at Frances, and it might be nice to move around the city a bit.

                  1. re: OliverB

                    Please do report back on Gitane. No one has posted about new chef Alicia Jenish yet. The owner said the focus would shift back to Gitane's original North African/southern Spain cooking.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      Will do, Melanie!

                      Do you know anything about the new chef, or where the previous chef went?

                      I'd love to read a recent review myself.

                      1. re: OliverB

                        From SF.Eater:

                        First up on the list is Gitane, which has decided to bring on Alicia Jenish as its executive chef. Jenish (Grand Cafe) originally was hired to be the group chef of owner Franck LeClerc's restaurants, overseeing the kitchens at Gitane, Cafe Claude's two locations, and Claudine. But when Gitane co-chefs Bridget Batson and Patrick Kelly both jumped ship within a few weeks of each other in the fall, Jenish was drafted into the kitchen to take over, and now the arrangement is permanent. LeClerc originally said he was seeking a new chef to take Gitane "to the next step," but under Jenish, it'll go back to its roots, focusing on the North African-influenced "gypsy cuisine" of southern Spain. The restaurant is moving away from fine dining, embracing a more rustic aesthetic, and introducing a happy hour from 5 pm onwards that offers free bar snacks with the purchase of a drink. [EaterWire]


                2. re: OliverB

                  I'm having trouble with the idea that La Ciccia is more "couples date night" than Gitane. I've never thought of La Ciccia as being formal at all, and I've always been there with a group of friends.

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    Perhaps it's because I took my wife there while we were still dating! It has that small classically decorated neighborhood trattoria feel to it; intimate space, white tablecloths, etc. It just feels like a "date spot" to me. I love the food and I'm sure my mom would as well, but there's no question that it's the least interesting in terms of local character when compared to the other choices. It's the type of restaurant that's featured in dozens of other American cities. That's just how I feel about it. If she were visiting for longer than a week, it would certainly be a place to consider, and would be a contender for her next trip.

                    1. re: OliverB

                      Sardinian food is rare in the US, as is the warm Italian style of hospitality I've enjoyed at La Ciccia. It is definitely more Italian-Italian than Cal-Italian, though.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Robert, that's precisely what I meant... It's among my favorite Italian restaurants in the Bay Area and the friendly, personalized service coupled with it's robust freshly sourced rustic homecooking is exactly what lends it that small neighborhood feel in my opinion. Given that my mom travels to Italy for several weeks every summer though, I think it would be more interesting to take her somewhere that is better reflective of the Bay Area. I don't think she's ever had excellent SF style Cal-Italian. I suppose I can call her up and let her chose though!

                        1. re: OliverB

                          I vote for Cal-Italian if she hasn't had a great version before. I was just taking issue with La Ciccia being something you'd easily find elsewhere in the US.

                3. Thanks BAnders, East Bay is definitely out though I'm sure there are a handful of restaurants my mom would appreciate (like Wood Tavern, Commis, etc) but it's not convenient to our schedule. Bar Jules is a great lunch option (I'll keep that on reserve- thanks!) but I'd like to go a bit more upscale for dinner. I'm sure she would enjoy it nonetheless, but we have a few casual meals like BaoNecci in North Beach and possible Chinese/Vietnamese out in the Richmond, so I'm trying to balance it out. My wife and I have been saving for a month-long trip to Japan in the coming fall and haven't been eating out much at all for the past many months, so we're looking forward to going out to some higher end places while my mom is visiting!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: OliverB

                    I like Bar Jules for lunch better than for dinner, in fact! I hope you have a wonderful visit with her (and good food, it goes without saying).

                  2. Despite attempting to book over five weeks in advance, I was unable to get reservations at Frances for three people on Feb. 22. I didn't realize it was such a popular place. We're on the waitlist but I'm not counting on that. I'm really disappointed and wonder if anyone could offer suggestions for similar restaurants? We have Cotogna, Gitane, AQ for the higher end meals... I'm looking for something more like Frances both in terms of cuisine and smaller neighborhood atmosphere; anywhere in the city proper.

                    3 Replies
                      1. re: Frosty Melon

                        Thanks, would a vegetarian likely enjoy Range, Firefly, or Baker & Banker more and which has the best atmosphere and feels like a more polished or refined preparation of the three?

                        1. re: OliverB

                          Nevermind, I got a reservation at Rich Table!