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Is it just me or does this list sound very upmarket and possibly not really reflective of what's great to eat in SF ?

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  1. Sadly I think that's a great roundup for exactly what's wrong with the SF dining scene and Chefs trying too hard.

    1. It's not a representative random sample and none of the places are cheap, but so what?

      I've had similar grains and brassicas dishes at AQ, Gather, and several other places. It's trendy for good reason.

      I had the fried pig tail at Tosca and it was fantastic.

      Oxtail and chickpea fritters, fried quail, sausage-stuffed mushrooms in sauerkraut broth, braised lamb shank with barley and pumpkin, grilled crab, orange cardamom kouign amann: who wouldn't want to eat those things?

      7 Replies
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        Strangely paired/manipulated Chickpeas, Sauerkraut, Barley, Cardamom?

        I guess it's a trend, but not one that defines SF.

        1. re: sugartoof

          So what? The article is "Seven great things to eat in San Francisco -- and one in Oakland." It doesn't claim to be definitive, which if it's possible at all would take a lot more than 1100 words.

          Most of those are straight-up traditional dishes or minor twists on them.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            These aren't even the best things on the menus at those respective restaurants, and frankly, these over hyped establishments really don't need anyone carrying water for them.

            1. re: sugartoof

              That's exactly what I thought.

              But then again what do I know ??????

              1. re: sugartoof

                The piece was in the LA Times. Those places may have gotten a lot of press here, but most people there probably haven't heard of most of them.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Only one of those places is lacking in national press.

                  You have some has been flavor of the month, a half baked flavor of the month by one of the most attention starved chefs in the city, and some NY chefs....most have books out on national presses.... LA or local press, it's the same nonsense.

            2. re: sugartoof

              Sausage and Sauerkraut - always good together.

              Cardamon and orange are hardly weird. Both are great in rice puddings, so bread (kouign amann) would likely be great with a cardamom/orange syrup.

              Chickpeas are a staple in many rich indian dishes and a fatty beef would be a good compliment (but that would need to be a Pakastani restaurant...). Really hard to mess up oxtail with anything (lots of fat). And I love barley - always have preferred it to rice - much healthier with great texture. My grandmother used to make me barley pudding. Its just a great grain - and grains are a strong trend everywhere....

          2. Coincidentally, Michael Bauer also highlighted the oxtail and chickpea fritters yesterday his weekly favorite dishes post.


            The kouign amann at b patisserie are really great, although I prefer the plain ones to the flavored ones.

            1. Maybe it's what wows the gilpins in L.A.

              9 Replies
              1. re: soupçon

                What are gilpins? I hope that wasn't an insinuation about the LA food scene - as I would say LA beats SF in almost every single food category I can think of except maybe:

                - The food talked about in this article e.g. $$$ - $$$$$ cal cuisine (which is probably why the article leans in this direction as others noted).
                - Bakery/pastries
                - Coffee
                - Ice Cream
                - Indian

                ..... and that's about it

                1. re: goldangl95

                  You forgot pizza.

                  But I also don't know what a Gilpin is.

                    1. re: sunnyside

                      Fair point on pizza. I usually have pizza at the Cal-Italian $$$ places, so forgot to list it separately.

                    2. re: goldangl95

                      You forgot artisan stuff, produce and wine.

                      1. re: ML8000

                        In terms of being able to find it or where it is grown/produced? Because I'm pretty sure you can find it all in LA.

                      2. re: goldangl95

                        You can remove coffee from that list.

                        1. re: BacoMan

                          Oh. Now you're looking to start a fight! ;^)

                    3. I dunno, if you were to make a similar list for other cities, I don't think it would be terribly different, with respect to type of restaurant. For one thing, food at the bottom end of the spectrum doesn't change very much, and if a person were to construct a list of such places, it would look much the same, year after year. Consider the Chron's Bargain Bites list, for instance. It's pretty much the same selection of sandwich shops and ethnic dives, all the time. The same probably goes for the other cities as well -- people don't need to be told to go to Hot Doug's or John's Roast Pork anymore; they already know.

                      18 Replies
                      1. re: dunstable

                        First of all, I think the divide between high end and low end dining is problematic because it smacks of a kind of food classism, and once that "foodie" bubble bursts, well...

                        ...aside from that, the list does include B. Pattiserie, and a $4 item.

                        I don't see chefs in other cities trying to pretend they're Rene Redzepi.

                        1. re: sugartoof

                          Not sure what you're getting at, but there's no shortage of ambitious chefs in the rest of America. In fact, when I was in Philly last month, I was surprised by how much restaurant staffs scoffed at John's Roast Pork, like they were embarrassed by it. (I thought it was pretty terrific, myself.) High-mindedness in food is not limited to SF.

                          1. re: dunstable

                            Who claimed SF had a lock down on high mindedness in food, whatever that means? The list isn't representative of SF dining, high or low end, it's simply one writers interest in a food trend, which comes from a distortion of California Cuisine, and desperate chefs trying too hard. You can find similar Chefs, and similar dishes in NY, Philly, Chicago, Austin, etc. but it doesn't represent the cliche it's become here. These dishes are boring - and again, they're not even the best dishes on their respective menus.

                            1. re: sugartoof

                              You complained about chefs "trying too hard" and "what's wrong with the SF dining scene" as if these were problems more notable in SF than elsewhere. As far as I can tell, this is less of a problem in SF than in other cities. If anything I wish they'd try harder.

                              In any event, as Robert pointed out, this is just one writer pointing out some dishes he likes. Nowhere did he claim these dishes somehow represented the pinnacle of SF dining. So what if it's one writer's opinion?

                              1. re: dunstable

                                When Sauerkraut and Barley become popular ingredients for Chefs that are winning National awards, it's a sign San Francisco is in trouble. Whether they have to try harder or stop trying so hard is a matter of semantics, because either way, we're talking about a trend that lacks in substance and deliciousness. Do other cities have ridiculous Chefs and lame food trends? Sure. Why deflect from the criticism at hand?

                                1. re: sugartoof

                                  I've been eating sauerkraut and beef-barley soup since I was a kid in Central PA. I guess the Amish are the original trendsetters here.

                                  1. re: tripit

                                    Well now you get to eat it in a high end dining setting, with a chef winning awards for his inventive jetsetting palate. Outerlands did the same thing with their hippie soups, but at least they're priced like hippie soups.

                                  2. re: sugartoof

                                    Not deflecting, disagreeing completely. Compared to Chicago, for instance, SF restaurants are incredibly staid and conservative. I mean, is that not the perpetual complaint about SF? That its restaurants are all doing the same thing? Certainly I have voiced that opinion on this board before.

                                    1. re: dunstable

                                      I am making that same complaint. I do find this a case of places doing the same thing, and pretending staid and conservative approaches fit their hype. See the Amish post up above.

                                    2. re: sugartoof

                                      Again - I love sauerkraut and I'm Irish/Danish and grew up eating bean burritos - thanks to my red headed freckled father who grew up in East LA.

                              2. re: sugartoof

                                Fried pig's tails, breaded and fried quail, braised lamb shank with barley and pumpkin, and grilled Dungeness in no way constitute the chefs "pretending they're Rene Redzepi."

                                Those dishes are at the opposite end of the spectrum, the kind of simple, rustic food that Daniel Patterson (who really does do Redzepi-style stuff) targeted in his manifesto a few years ago.


                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  I guess you're not familair with Redzepi's menus?

                                  The quail is more informed by him than say, Dan Barber.
                                  Crab? King Crab vs. Dungeness. Yippee.
                                  Pigs ears? Though likely not a direct influence, it fits within the lexicon.
                                  Lamb Shank? Well I guess cous cous gets boring, and Barley is a staple of that cuisine, but it didn't appear on the menu until grains became a trend.

                                  In other words, these are all the dishes on their respective menus that could fit within the Redzepi thing.

                                  Patterson is the Charlatan with no Clothes.

                                  I may have found him interesting in the past, but I think his influence is now one of a flowery poser, mixing and matching nonsense because he's overtly self aware, and just brand building. He doesn't even trust his own voice. I could say double for anyone who has gone through his kitchen and opened their own places with concepts that amount to no real direction or cohesiveness, then hide behind being interesting. They continue to borrow and combine ingredients they don't understand.

                                  Rich Table, State Bird... I think they do turn out interesting, and sometimes very good food.... but the commonality to what they all do is actually pretty stupid and motivated by things other than presenting delicious food.

                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                    just curious, on what it is motivated by ?

                                    1. re: kevin

                                      They're trying to be cool and gain press by appearing current, and hope that translates into success. I think we see the same cliches in a lot of aspects of pop culture with this idea of home craft based craftmanship combined with ultra refined technique.

                                    2. re: sugartoof

                                      I had grilled crab at Chez Panisse that was pretty much exactly like Camino's as far back as the early 80s, when Redzepi was in elementary school. Russell Moore had been cooking that kind of food there for 15 years when Redzepi opened his restaurant.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        I'm also really curious about the Yacon and Chile Mayo you would have had at Chez Panisse in the 80's.

                                  2. re: sugartoof

                                    I enjoy chowhound because it's about finding deliciousness wherever it may be. Sometimes that's in pretentious places that are "trying too hard". I don't really care; I just want to know what tastes good.

                                    1. re: bbulkow

                                      Camino aside, if you followed this list, you would miss out on the most delicious options available on their respective menus.

                                      I'm not attacking the *places* as pretentious. It's the Chefs who are trying to hard.

                                2. This article is very reasonable for LA.

                                  You have to remember that LA has better of just about every kind of cheaper foodstuff, and every asian foodstuff. What's LA going to write about, great sushi joints in SF? Great Korean places? Tacos? Chinese? Not so much.

                                  LA's moderately short in the kind of dishes highlighted here. There's a dozen restaurants doing these kinds of mashups, but more in SF. It's an article someone can read, from a chef to a diner, and think, huh, maybe there's somewhere I can go with my cooking or expectations. It might be used by LA people who travel to SF, but more as ideas and "food porn".

                                  If you've tried to fill out articles, it's not so easy. You end up thinking of all kinds of directions - but a lot about what the audience wants, needs, finds exciting. That's not just "downmarket" "reflective".

                                  It's faint praise to say an article could be a lot worse --- but it could be. According to the other posts here, these are actually great dishes.

                                  I think it's a very reasonable article.

                                  1. It is upmarket but having eaten most of the dishes it is both reflective of some of what is great to eat in SF and of what are the current trends. The only dish I really didn't like was Stuffed mushrooms in sauerkraut broth. Just a bitter odd combo. The fritters we had were also dry.

                                    Certainly it is a very trendy list and I don't think the best dishes at these places.

                                    I'm guessing the writer was going for the novelty factors too.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: tjinsf

                                      Really, the quail isn't the best dish at State Bird? What do you think is? Just curious as someone really wanting to try the best dishes there, and have heard a lot about that quail.

                                      1. re: BacoMan

                                        I think the quail is wonderful -- moist, flavorful, perfectly done -- but at the end of the day, it's quail (in other words, with fried chicken, you get more).

                                        Seriously, think of great fried chicken, but made with quail instead.

                                    2. I am a little surprised and confused by the animosity and anger directed at this list. It just looks like a list of dishes in SF restaurants that the author thought were good right now. And I think it is pretty representative of current trends and what is seasonally available -- whole grains, dark greens, etc. -- that we have been seeing. If it would have been another boring list of dishes that everyone -- Zuni chicken, Tadich sand dabs, etc -- no body would even mention it. I am not even sure what people want from this list and what omissions are making people so angry.

                                      And, for what it is worth, the two dishes I have had on the list -- Camino's crab and State Bird Provision's bird -- could almost be iconic now. I look forward to the crab each year from Camino. And SBP's is a must-order dish there. I see nothing wrong with writing an article saying those dishes are must-haves for the SF restaurant circuit right now.

                                      (Unrelated/related note: I am happy to see that Alta has those beef tendon puffs. They were a favorite of mine when served at Plum Bar. Perfect bar snack).

                                      11 Replies
                                      1. re: The Dive

                                        "And I think it is pretty representative of current trends and what is seasonally available -- whole grains, dark greens, etc."

                                        Well there is my problem with it. California isn't limited to these ingredients during this time of year, so following some other regions seasonality is insane. Though we're in total agreement that it's representative of a current trend - and like most lists focusing on trends, they tend to miss the boat. I also think this particular trend exposes these chefs in a bad light.

                                        1. re: sugartoof

                                          The seasonal ingredients actually mentioned in the article you're putatively criticizing are:

                                          Brussels sprouts
                                          Hachiya persimmon
                                          Meyer lemon

                                          Add a few other dark greens, a few other root vegetables, and a few other kinds of citrus, and that's about it for local produce in January.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            I couldn't have been any clearer over the specific ingredients I'm recognizing as a silly trend.

                                            I said the "list shows off the Roots, Grains, Backyard weeds, upscaling of Peasant dishes, and the genre bending of spices trend."

                                            1. re: sugartoof

                                              The article mentions no weeds or root vegetables.

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                radish, onion, artichoke, buckwheat..........

                                                1. re: sugartoof

                                                  No backyard weeds there, all common cultivated crops,

                                                  Radishes and onions are root vegetables, but Camino's radish salad comes straight out of a 30-year tradition at Chez Panisse, and there's nothing trendy about the three ways the article mentions onions being used.

                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    "The article mentions no weeds or root vegetables."

                                                    "Radishes and onions are root vegetables"

                                                    Uh. So anyhoo....

                                                    None of this is classic California Cuisine, or reflective of dishes we could have collected on a similar list during the last 30 years or even 10 years.

                                                    Just because Chez Panisse did something 40 years ago, doesn't mean it was accepted, and popular. Saying Alice Waters foraged in the 70's wouldn't be a proper argument that foraging is old hat, and doesn't represent a new trend. When Outerlands came out with their kale based Hippie soups, there were few brother and sister dishes on other menus around town, and it was notable, irregardless if you have saw it in an Alice Waters cookbook, or remember ordering it in 1983.

                                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                                      Your claim that Virbila's "list shows off the Roots, Grains, Backyard weeds, upscaling of Peasant dishes, and the genre bending of spices trend" doesn't reflect what's actually in the article. No weeds, no roots other than three utterly untrendy uses of onion and one old-school Chez Panisse-style shaved radish salad, only one dish with grains, no spices except the cardamom in the kouign amann.

                                                      Chez Panisse has been doing grilled crab all this time, there's a recipe for it in the very first CP cookbook. Ditto shaved vegetable salads, just the other day I saw Alice Waters make one on a rerun of a 1994 "Julia Child with Master Chefs." Those are two of the numerous things Russell Moore does at Camino that are a direct continuation of what he did for many years at CP.

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        Doesn't address my point...so...Next.

                                                        (Also, it's Cardamom, not Coriandor)

                                                        1. re: sugartoof

                                                          Virbila's article does not address your point, exactly.

                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            Why would it? I'm addressing Virbila's article.

                                      2. Based on my two meals at Camino, I'd try the crab in a heartbeat?

                                        2 Replies
                                          1. I would simply say

                                            a) Most writers write more about "upmarket" restaurants than they do new hot dog stand openings, or dive bars that may in fact serve a good burger. There aren't enough column inches nor weekly opportunities -- even counting all of the blog entries -- for that.

                                            b) The article's premise was not "Here is a compendium of 'what's great to eat in SF'." The premise was "Seven great things to eat in San Francisco -- and one in Oakland." for that matter, we could just as well be griping about the fact that Virbila left out the chocolate shoyu caramel at Craftsman and Wolves, or the Ocean Umami at Iyasare; the fresh Hokaido scallop at Akiko's Restaurant on Bush, or the Fideua of duck, wild nettles and Medjool dates at Duende; or any other dish you could name . . .

                                            As Jon Bonné, wine writer of the San Francisco Chronicle, once said, “What I think is troubling is that there are still folks talking as though taste, which is what wine criticism is really about, is objective,” he says. “The evidence points dramatically to the contrary.”

                                            It is just as true to food as it is to wine.

                                            13 Replies
                                              1. re: zin1953

                                                Agreed, and an extra note. I did an article on "all the Chicken 65 in the south bay", and man, that was 1) expensive and 2) hard ! Attempting to simply do the research is hard - it took two long nights with google maps calling for takeout one restaurant ahead and writing notes in my car in the parking lot. I felt bad that I hadn't done multiple samples at each restaurant. Then you end up with too many column inches, and then it looks like a simple roll call of restaurants.

                                                1. re: bbulkow

                                                  Plenty of freelance food writers can relate to that story, I'm sure, but for goodness sakes, we're talking about an LA Times critic. One who doesn't hide their identity at this point. When a critic from another city does a roundup article on SF, it's based on guided suggestions from within the community, and limited exposure.

                                                  What I think is troubling is that there are still folks talking as though professional food writing, which is what this list is, is objective. The evidence points dramatically to the contrary.

                                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                                      Whoever said this was a "roundup" type of piece? Indeed, it is the exact OPPOSITE of a "roundup."

                                                      1. re: zin1953

                                                        Semantic difference. I do view it as a roundup. It is after all claiming to be a "guide to some gorgeous bites". Without repeating myself - My main issues were never that it's exclusionary, or that it wasn't titled "Best of San Francisco" or "100 essential bites before you die" or some such. Nice try.

                                                        1. re: sugartoof

                                                          It's a travel/food piece...of course it's going to be limited and not get everything. They never do. Look at M Bauer's take on LA.

                                                          1. re: ML8000

                                                            Agreed. Same with NY Times on SF.

                                                            Still not my gripe.

                                                          2. re: sugartoof

                                                            Roundups are presented as comprehensive coverage of their topics and are usually a team effort. The Chron's Top 100 Restaurants and Bargain Bites are roundups that can reasonably be criticized on how well or poorly they deliver on the promise of their titles.

                                                            "Eight good things I ate recently" is not a roundup.

                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                              I see.

                                                              Now I get what you mean by a roundup.

                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                Sure it is. It's a roundup of 8 current things they thing are worth directing readers to.

                                                      2. re: zin1953

                                                        Holy shit...why doesn't this Duende place get more mention?? That Fideua looks insane!

                                                        Why does Coqueta get all the press?? Wtf??

                                                      3. What would the opposite list look like, "7 things that are great to eat in LA" by Michael Bauer or something?

                                                        2 Replies
                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            I don't suppose there is a more current one? That is so weird...seeing him go to Mozza, Animal, and Puck at the Bel Air... hah

                                                        1. I like the list a lot. 2 of my favorite places (State Bird and Bar Tartine) and 1 I'm eager to try (Alta). Guess that makes me a gilpin.