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Any transplants from LA to SF (or vice versa I suppose) that would enjoy a discussion of food/restaurant theory?

WARNING: Please, if you are the type of person that thinks you cannot compare, or should not compare restaurants, food quality, etc... then just stop reading this, it will only cause you pain and misery to read. Just do us both a favor and realize that some people like to have theoretical discussions, and others do not. I'm fine with that, but I would like to get some information in a theoretical fashion with this thread if it's ok. Thank you for understanding, and tolerating me!

On to the post!

So, first maybe I should ask whether this list is a pretty accurate listing of the best restaurants in SF (approximately as accurate as, say, Jonathan Gold's 101 list in LA):



Specific things I would like to ask those who have the big bucks. What is the difference in a meal that costs $68-$78 for a full pre-fixe (places like Commonwealth, Sons and Daughters, or AQ, versus places that are a full $100 more, like Coi, Saison, Benu, Atelier Crenn, Manresa, etc... (even Quince is almost $100 more at $158, so lets count that too)?

It seems like we almost totally lack that level in LA. Our best places are about $100 for pre-fixes it seems. (I am excluding beverage pairings in all of these prices).

What is the jump in cuisine like? Are the flavors just far superior? Or is it setting, privilege of dining (exclusivity), better plating, etc... mainly?

(Ok maybe any frequent high-end diner in SF can answer that portion).

Now, I am really curious, what you transplants (or frequent inter-city diners) compared places like State Bird Provisions, Cotagna, Incanto, Mission Chinese, Nopalitos, SPQR, AQ, Aziza, Commonwealth, Flour + Water, Ad Hoc, or Son and Daughters in terms of quality of cuisine, flavor, atmosphere (or any other kind of theoretical modality, besides actual precise type of cuisine they serve, which is obviously not going to be exactly the same as anything in LA). Or maybe you guys can tell me what the tiers of the various restaurants are in SF in your own opinions?

Thank you for indulging me!

I hope this starts off a great discussion, and I look forward to hearing all of the information for planning a trip up there soon.

For reference, I used to eat in SF semi-commonly as a kid with my family but they weren't really into high-end stuff. At at Tommy's Joynt, and Bi-Rite Creamery a lot haha.

However, I did fall in love with Mandalay, and the ballads and curry noodles there. I haven't been back since becoming more of a "foodie" in LA though. How do you guys like that place?

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  1. I think the highest prices in SF are more about location, national / international reputation, and Michelin stars than the quality of the food. For that kind of Frenchy endurance menu, I think you'll eat as well at Commis as at places that cost two to five times the price, though the experience won't be as extreme as you'd have at Saison. I'm skeptical that the food at Coi or Quince is better than at Cotogna or Plum, though I can't be bothered to spend the money to find out.

    Jonathan Gold's list includes inexpensive places that specialize in hot dogs, Chinese dumplings, Korean soup, and so on. Michael Bauer's list is almost exclusively high-end places. The Chron has a "Bargain Bites" list, but its recommendations are not as authoritative as Gold's.

    15 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Aren't places like Mission Chinese, or Nopalitos pretty low-end?

      I guess obviously places like Tommy's aren't on there, hah. I really like how J Gold places hole-in-the-walls with places that have pre-fixe menus.

      Not sure if that works as well everywhere outside of LA though?

      No offense, but I am kind of curious to hear from some people who have eaten at Saison/Coi etc... about what you get for the extra $100 over Commonwealth, etc...

      Out of curiosity, would you say the Commonwealth and places in that category are similar to LA's Trois Mec, Alma, Orsa and Winston, etc...? Pluses or minuses?

      1. re: BacoMan

        A top 100 list from critics with broader beats, such as Patricia Unterman or Jonathan Kauffman, would be as varied as Jonathan Gold's.

        Mission Chinese is as low-end as that list gets. I doubt it would have made the list if it hadn't been for the raves in the NY Times and other national press, Bauer normally farms places like that out to other critics. The other two Chinese places on the list were the most expensive in the area when the list was published.

        The Mexican places on the list are upscale for Mexican. There's nothing on that list comparable to Mariscos Jalisco or El Parian.

        Lers Ros is the one other place I see that's not upscale (at least the original Tenderloin location isn't).

        I know almost nothing about LA restaurants.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Cool, thanks for the tip.

          Too bad about not knowing anything about LA restaurants. It seems like you must know more than your average person to know about Mariscos Jalisco, or El Parian though? haha

          Do Patricia Unterman or Jonathan Kauffman have top lists of recommended restaurants or anything? All I get from googling of their names is random eater.sf pages.

          What are your favorite low-end places in SF out of curiosity? What kinds of low-end food does SF excel in in your opinion?

          1. re: BacoMan

            I just skimmed Gold's list, figuring that he'd have some great cheap Mexican places on there.

            This list of cheap places is pretty up to date:


            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Oh, haha, good going!

              Glad to see Mandalay make that list, but, is Mandalay really cheap eats for SF?

                1. re: Josh

                  Damn, haha. I guess SF really is several magnitudes more expensive than LA.

          2. re: Robert Lauriston

            And Lers Ros is really good - even though not upscale. Maybe they felt they had to list it???

            1. re: SFGourmande

              Bauer didn't put Lers Ros on the list until they opened the Hayes Valley branch, which is more upscale. The first few years when there was only the original branch on Larkin it got only a blog post and a blurb in "Bargain Bites."

        2. re: Robert Lauriston

          Your opinion would be worth more if it were based on actual experience, and not on assumptions and prejudices ("Frenchy endurance menu"). At least this time you were forthcoming that your opinion isn't based on first-hand knowledge. I think you also fail to differentiate between food that is "better" and food that is "more to my taste"! I would never, for example, say that X Korean restaurant is not as good as Y Sichuan restaurant without at least mentioning that I don't generally care for Korean food.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            I have my own views, but I'd love to hear to elaborate more on "better food" versus "food more to my taste" if you could.

            Also, do you happen to have the requisite experiences by chance? I am beginning to think no one has them after all =(

            1. re: BacoMan

              There are posts here from people who have eaten every Frenchy endurance menu, sometimes five or more in one week.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Too bad they don't seem to be responding =/

            2. re: Ruth Lafler

              If a chef has a casual restaurant I like where a meal ordered a la carte costs, say, $50, and another more formal restaurant with a tasting menu that costs over $100, I'm probably never going to the latter unless someone whose taste I share or a friend who knows my taste tells me I'm missing something—which has yet to happen with Coi or Quince (the expensive places whose chefs opened Plum and Cotogna, two of my favorite restaurants).

          2. Perhaps this report from your LA compadre "Porthos" will be helpful,

            1. Unlike Hong Kong or San Sebastian, it is very possible to get a bad meal at any priced restaurant in San Francisco. San Francisco fancies itself as a food mecca, but the reality belies the bucks to be harvested.

              7 Replies
              1. re: BoneAppetite

                Weird... what is it about Hong Kong or San Sebastian that makes it impossible to have a bad meal there?

                Why does SF suck so badly in your opinion?

                I'm sorry, I don't really understand what "the reality belies the bucks to be harvested" means exactly. Probably my shortcoming. Are you saying it's all pomp?

                1. re: BoneAppetite

                  I don't know BoneAppetite's background or experience (given that the name appeared on CH just in the last 24 hours), but I've certainly had bad meals at various prices in both Hong Kong and SF, as have many other people I know. And memorable meals at various prices in both.

                  After periodic experience with SF restaurants since the 1960s and some obsessive saving of things like newspaper reviews, books, and menus, a few observations:

                  - I'd characterize SF's restaurant scene, as many experts have for decades, less as "fancying itself a food mecca" (though boosters can always be found, in most cities with restaurants) than having heavy tourism and business-visitor traffic, often more spendy than discriminating. Some people here recall (at least hearing about) when SF's restaurant industry organized (under Vic Bergeron) to oppose a proposed ordinance requiring disclosure of frozen ingredients on restaurant menus in the 1970s, revealing more about the local industry than many a foodie discussion. Yet in the same era, a few bright lights like Hank Rubin and Alice Waters went their own way, earning respect beyond boosters and beyond locals. This continues. As do the tireless efforts of SF's city gov't toward ever new ways to milk SF's hospitality industry for the revenue so vital to pet projects, corruptions, and social-engineering schemes.

                  - A little history, for perspective? Both LA and HK surpassed SF in population around 1920, at which time SF had been the principal city and port on the North-American Pacific coast for 70 years. All three cities have evolved since, but SF the least by far. Some of that relative antiquity informs both tourist appeal and local boosterism.

                  - I doubt anyone could get much sense of the role of, say, Patricia Unterman simply by Googling her name (that digs up just whatever fairly recently happens to've appeared online, from whatever source for whatever reason), though you might get some sense by patiently studying past Chowhound threads. She was for many years the well-respected leading print Bay-Area restaurant critic, writing with breadth and humility. Her body of work exists strongly in print sources under copyright, though she has continued to write, including online.

                  - Concept of theoretical discussion of restaurant experiences in unclear to me. Is it something like theoretical discussion of hearing music, or of having sex, or of visiting an exotic culture?

                  1. re: eatzalot

                    "- Concept of theoretical discussion of restaurant experiences in unclear to me. Is it something like theoretical discussion of hearing music, or of having sex, or of visiting an exotic culture?"

                    Yes. All of which I spend my life doing. And I cannot for the life of me figure out why no one on chow hound seems interested in it. It's as if no one on this website considers food to be an experience, or art form that can be discussed outside of nourishment.

                    Very weird to me, because great meals are like great symphonies to me, and have at least as much effect on me.

                    1. re: BacoMan

                      I was getting at the "theoretical" bit. Vs. discussing actual restaurant experiences.

                      I think there's been quite a lot of experience exchange on this board over the years. (It is usually necessary, of course, to invest some time searching on topics of interest. Just as people who raise the Constantly Asked Questions like where to eat in Napa Valley often find much more information already on the site than they can get by inquiring into the same ground.)

                    2. re: BoneAppetite

                      SF's best restaurants are consistent at what they do. If somebody reports a bad meal at, for example, Saigon Sandwich or Saison, I'm going to read that as they don't like that style, weren't in the mood for it that day, or went in with a chip on their shoulder.

                      1. re: BoneAppetite

                        can you explain that more BoneAppetite?
                        Having been to Hong Kong and San Sebastian I can't agree with you. There are to be sure more choices in Hong Kong but there are many many bad there and San Sebastian is good for a narrow selection of excellent food but that is fairly recent and can't be compared at all to SF in really any way in terms of size of the city, cost of the food, diversity of the food.

                      2. First off, I'm not an l.a. transplant but have enjoyed eating out there at various "echelons" of restaurants.

                        In SF, I feel like the price point moves from under $100 to over $150 based on service, higher-end front of the house decor and table settings, more-involved-than-typical dishes, high and strict ingredient sourcing standards, and parking availability/other comfort issues. And yes, mr. Lauriston is right, reputation makes a difference.

                        Also: isn't space more expensive in SF so overhead should be higher?

                        I think SF excels at innovative and delicious food between $50-$75 (per person with a drink). But those aren't formal places.

                        Hope this helps!

                        13 Replies
                        1. re: LSC77

                          "I think SF excels at innovative and delicious food between $50-$75 (per person with a drink). But those aren't formal places."

                          That's very interesting, because I feel like I would say the exact some thing about LA...

                          Could you elaborate more on what you mean specifically, how SF excels there, and perhaps which restaurants you have in mind?

                          1. re: BacoMan

                            On my one trip to LA in recent years, I thought the restaurants were generally less expensive than comparable places here.


                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              That's a pretty great read.

                              I hope you can make it down to LA again sometime. I think there have been many, many restaurant openings in the last 6 years that would be very interesting for you to go to!

                              I would personally love to see your thoughts on many of them: Bäco Mercat, Orsa & Winston, Alma, Bestia, Bucato, Salt's Cure, Hart & The Hunter, Tar & Roses, Rustic Canyon, Huckleberry, Starry Kitchen, Chi Spacca, Lukshon, Corazon y Miel, Sqirl, Plan Check, Cook's County, Superba Snack Bar, Tsujita, Picca, MB Post, Fishing with Dynamite, Animal, Son of a Gun, Red Medicine, Trois Mec, Little Sister, and Night + Market just to name some of them off the top of my head haha

                              As I typed that out, It seems like the whole scene of LA dining has happened somehow in the last 6 years...

                              1. re: BacoMan

                                I'm going to be in LA for a few days soon but outside of one dinner at Lucques I may not eat outside of Koreatown.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  Sure you want to do Lucques? It's cal-med with a touch of Frenchy and probably 30% more than an SF place serving the same level food. Wine list is 2.5-3x retail.

                                  Here is LA's k-town neighborhood of the month thread with a link to a previous stellar thread.


                                  Give EMC a try. They're known for their $1 oysters. Skip that. Go with the uni spaghetti, abalone congee, grilled lobster, crispy fried lobster, and steamed Dungeness crab. All Asian preps that you can find individually but nicely done and under 1 roof. Steak is also good if you want some red meat in there. Uni congee was less impressive.

                                  Then of course load up on the traditional Korean stuff.

                                  1. re: Porthos

                                    I loved Suzanne Goin's food at Campanile and A.O.C., so I've been wanting to try Lucques for a long time and a friend made a reservation. The prices seem similar to SF.


                                    If my friend hadn't made the reservation I'd probably go to Animal. Which I might anyway.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      If you liked AOC you'll probably like Lucques. I keep comparing it to Chez Panisse and Oliveto (probably unfair comparisons) and keep finding it lacking in comparison.

                                      I'm not the biggest fan of Animal (a bit heavy handed for my tastes) but it is probably something SF doesn't have.

                                      I would also highly recommend Night + Market. Thai street food done very well. The pigtail is far superior to the version at Animal. Don't miss the whole braised pork hock.


                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    If you're going to LA Koreatown I would try YongSuSan. There's nothing like it in San Francisco.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      Wow, where in Koreatown?

                                      If I can figure out how to send a private message, I would cherish the opportunity to have you try some of the new stuff in LA, if you were open to it. Your opinion on various places here would be seemingly invaluable!

                                  1. re: LSC77

                                    What does Delfina do great?

                                    Seems to me, as a bit of an outsider, that I would kind of rather go to Flour + Water. Am I being sucked in by a hipster name and too much gushing about a pasta tasting menu?

                                    1. re: BacoMan

                                      Flour + Water feels to me more like a hipster bar than a restaurant. The food is great but or that style of menu I'd rather go to Cotogna. Incanto is another great Cal-Italian place.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        Delfina the restaurant has been consistently doing excellent cal ital at a relatively low price for years! Cotonga is also exquisite but at a higher price point, I think. Also, don't you think commis would be $50 more (at least) if it was in SF?

                              2. Folks, we've removed a number of personal jabs from this thread. We know you know better than to go there. Lets return the focus to food. Thanks.

                                1 Reply
                                1. I lived in Los Angeles for 12+ years and in the Bay Area for 12+ years and have eaten extensively (high-end and low-end) in both cities.

                                  For me, each area offers different things, but the high-end, extensive tasting menu is far superior in San Francisco. However, Los Angeles is far more interesting in low-end/ethnic cuisine and there are many, many restaurants I miss and look forward to when I go to L.A.

                                  I'm not sure comparing prices is that germane as most everything costs more in the Bay Area - plus there is the supply-and-demand factor; higher prices can be commanded in San Francisco as it is more of a tourist destination.

                                  71 Replies
                                  1. re: CarrieWas218

                                    "For me, each area offers different things, but the high-end, extensive tasting menu is far superior in San Francisco."

                                    It seems like there are many more available, that's true. Have you been back to LA to try places like Alma, Trois Mec, and/or Orsa and Winston? Did you find those pretty sub-par, too if so? If so, could you say how exactly?'

                                    Just really curious.

                                    " However, Los Angeles is far more interesting in low-end/ethnic cuisine and there are many, many restaurants I miss and look forward to when I go to L.A."

                                    Any particular examples you'd like to share? =)

                                    It's funny that SF wouldn't have anything good on the low end. Tommy's Joynt was always a childhood favorite of mine up there. I still feel like their $6 pastrami beats a lot of $18 pastrami out there.

                                    "I'm not sure comparing prices is that germane as most everything costs more in the Bay Area"

                                    I'm ok to ignore prices, and just talk about food quality in a Platonic sense. I am just curious what particular qualities make for the better food in whichever location. Price factors in more, in my opinion, when comparing SF restaurants to SF restaurants...such as, what makes the tasting menu at Commonwealth $68 and the one at Atelier Crenn $185?

                                    "Higher prices can be commanded in San Francisco as it is more of a tourist destination."

                                    Is LA not a tourist destination? We have Hollywood, Disneyland, Beverly Hills, Malibu (surfing, oceans, etc...)? Maybe I'm wrong but it seems like people like to come to LA. I guess the point is that SF is a destination for foodies? Almost seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy though in a certain sense haha

                                    1. re: BacoMan

                                      "Is LA not a tourist destination?"

                                      Certainly, however SF proper is crammed into the 49 square miles of the upper SF peninsula (all that remains of the former San Francisco County after the southern part seceded in 1856). To compare similar land areas or populations to LA, you'd need to group several surrounding counties in with SF and generally they don't share SF's unique character, history, architecture, hills, or even prices. (In one "Simpsons" episode, the family escapes from confinement in Alcatraz. "Do we swim for San Francisco?" asks one. "D'you think I'm made of money?" answers dad; "we swim for Oakland!" Clearly local knowledge, and that was a few years back when the price differences were bigger.)

                                      Incidentally we have surfing here too, it's just limited to the serious. (I measured 48 °F in the water off Ocean Beach once about this time of year.)

                                      Paradoxically my really expert Bay Area restaurant-fan friends (the sort who knew places like French Laundry intimately from many visits already by 2000) have spent a lot of time talking about how much richer and more diverse LA's restaurant scene is than the Bay Area's. Yet when I quote that to people from LA they've responded, more than once, "where in LA? tell us where to find some great restaurants there!" Grass always greener in the other place, I guess. :-)

                                      1. re: BacoMan

                                        I have not tried the high-end places you mentioned. The last time I ate tasting menus in Los Angeles was several years ago and that was at Alex. Everywhere else I ate that was expensive was Matsihusa, The Bazaar, and Urasawa.

                                        Now, when I come to Los Angeles, I seek out those better ethnic cuisines that we don't get in San Francisco. I never miss a chance to eat at Shin-Sen-Gumi in Gardena, some of the Islamic Chinese restaurants in Monterey, or Got Kosher on Pico (in fact, most of the kosher on Fairfax beats any Jewish cuisine in the Bay Area). Gabrinus (Czech) in Redondo is great fun. I've had more consistently interesting Turkish and Middle Eastern around Hawthorne and Torrance (around Artesia Boulevard).

                                        And what the others said about LA vs. SF in tourism - it is more concentrated up here while Los Angeles involves LOTS of driving; what many people are simply not up for...

                                        1. re: CarrieWas218

                                          Now, when I come to Los Angeles, I seek out those better ethnic cuisines that we don't get in San Francisco
                                          And that's the point. I think most people who dine extensively between cities be it SF, LA, or NYC are going to seek out the strengths of each city and what isn't done as well back home. Not places one can get back home for the sake of parallel comparison.

                                          I used to frustrate myself trying to find high end French in SF as good as what I had in NYC (this was 6-8 years ago before the high end scene really blew up in SF). Then I realized the high yield delicious meals were in the mid tier Italian/cal-italian.

                                          LA has really caught on in the pizza and pasta movement so now the only thing we lack, that I crave, is porchetta. Which makes Cotogna on a Friday night a *must* for me.

                                          1. re: Porthos

                                            I can't compare this with LA on details and quality, but FYI some of those ethnic cuisines that Carrie reported not finding in SF are indeed available, and popular, in other parts of the Bay Area. (I'm thinking specifically of Muslim-Chinese and Turkish.)

                                            1. re: eatzalot

                                              We have a few Muslim Chinese restaurants in the Milpitas-San Jose area but I don't think they're as good as some that closed. New Ma's in SF was my favorite. Old Mandarin Islamic is good for Peking-style hot pot but their noodles and breads aren't great.

                                              The Turkish guys I work with say there's nothing good here. I think A La Turca and Turkish Kitchen (Berkeley) are good but the place in Walnut Creek that closed was better.

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                I don't know if you or the Turkish guys you work with have experienced the following, but a famous characteristic of the restaurant industry around silicon valley and adjacent towns is the very high population of Turkish-born restaurateurs. This isn't the thread to go into all the details and examples, but a good number (most?) of the notable "Mediterranean," "Italian," and even "Greek" restaurants have Turkish owners and/or chefs. That phenomenon, which is only the background to my main point to follow, is conspicuous from as far north as Burlingame (Café Figaro) to as far around the bay as Fremont (Il Porcino -- same family has a restaurant in Los Altos) if you check into the chefs and ownership of restaurants advertising the above-named cuisines.

                                                Increasingly since 2000, Turkish expats (including Mehmet Degerli and Iliano Yuksel, who, separately, did this in four early examples I know, in Palo Alto and Mountain View) have opened restaurants explicitly labeled Turkish. The old practice of offering better-known cuisines (though Turkish specialties still had a way of surfacing on those menus) was for pragmatic business reasons, as "Turkish" is not a well-established cuisine-cliché among North Americans, to whom Turkey mainly is a bird.

                                                In the dense downtown restaurant cluster in silicon valley's hometown, Mountain View (Shockley Semiconductor, 1956: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shockley... ) three of the more popular restaurants today are explicitly Turkish (Olympus Café and Bakery, Ephesus, and Café Baklava, the oldest). Others at various price levels incl. La Fontaine, Ristorante Don Giovanni, and Gyros House have Turkish chefs and personnel. That's all just within three blocks.

                                                1. re: eatzalot

                                                  I will add the caveat that I have eaten at many Bay Area Turkish restaurants and understand that they exist - as do the Islamic Chinese...

                                                  But - like Mexican food - it is simply *different* in SoCal than in NoCal. Having also lived a dozen+ years in San Diego, THAT city is my go-to preference for Mexican food, although many will laud the qualities of the Mission burrito, ad nauseum. I find Mexican food dramatically different between San Diego/Los Angeles/San Francisco - just like I find Turkish/Middle Eastern food to be different between L.A. and S.F. and I prefer the Los Angeles offerings more...

                                                  1. re: CarrieWas218

                                                    Understood, Carrie; but what I am unclear on is not about preference but rather to what extent you are familiar with the modern Turkish restaurants in the southern part of the Bay Area, where so many exist -- where such a huge population of Turkish restaurateurs is located that many of them, in past decades, offered other cuisines, for reasons of market recognition. For example have you tried the three current ones that I mentioned within three blocks in just one town. One of those is a year old, one about three years old, the other ten years. There are many other Turkish restaurants in S. Bay and surely an entire thread could be devoted to them.

                                                    My recollection of your CH postings is that you live in the North Bay and report mainly on its restaurants. So when someone makes broad comments regarding a subject like opinion of the Bay Area's Turkish restaurants (or any other genre), I am always curious about which ones in particular they have experienced, and are therefore comparing.

                                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                                      I wish I could remember the name of the really great Turkish restaurant I found in the South Bay (I didn't drive - San Carlos? San Rafael?). The chef was a student of chef Musa Dagdeviren when the both of them came for the CIA's World of Flavors Conference a decade ago, the student stayed and opened this restaurant - which may no longer be around... Maybe that has been my benchmark; those foods of Musa and his student that I recall so much with fondness.

                                                      Your recollections are partly correct on my location; I lived in Napa up until a year ago and am now on the coast side (Montara) so the South Bay is more accessible and I will start working through your list!

                                                      1. re: CarrieWas218

                                                        Correction noted, Carrie! Good luck in Montara and please report about restaurants in your new region, I know there are some but until one gets well inland there seem to be few reports online.

                                                        And we should do a separate, proper thread on Turkish restaurants today. Even for the S. Bay I believe I only cited a few illustrations from a larger genre, and others on CH likely have things to say about it.

                                                  2. re: eatzalot

                                                    You might find this conversation from 2003 interesting,
                                                    That's about the time we noted the opening of Turkish restaurants in the Bay Area.

                                                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                      Good link -- thanks, Melanie.

                                                      Ahmet Toprak was noting the same issue of cuisine marketability in this region. And, touching the tip of the iceberg of huge Turkish-born talent in Bay Area restaurants offering "other cuisines," a situation very well established as of 2003. Turkey actually has long produced highly skilled, long-apprenticed restaurant cooks, in demand internationally in restaurants, and I started running into them constantly when I came to silicon valley 20-some years ago. When Stett Holbrook wrote up a new Turkish restaurant in 2008, and implied that Turkish restaurateurs per se were somehow rare here, I was obliged to tip him off about five others located just a few steps from the one he'd reviewed. (One restaurant "Greek," two "Italian," one "Mediterranean," and one, well-known, already "Turkish.")

                                          2. re: BacoMan

                                            Regarding the discussion of whether LA is a tourist destination and SF's 49 square miles: High price points in SF (in general, not just tasting menus) tend to be associated with downtown more than the entire 49 square miles. That has resulted in several high-end restaurants relocating there from other parts of the city, e.g., Saison and Quince. (Aziza is supposed to be on its way.) There are several reasons for downtown SF supporting relatively high price points in general:

                                            -- Business dinners associated with the Financial District.

                                            -- Many of the more upscale hotels and shops are in the proximity of Union Square, downtown.

                                            -- It's a natural dining destination area for people from all over the Bay Area wanting to celebrate a special occasion or impress on a first date. Many of those people will not be familiar with other parts of town or interested in going to a neighborhood place.

                                            -- Convention goers coming to Moscone Center.

                                            The point about convention goers is important since it usually involves a lot of expense-account dining. That is not just from the convention goers themselves, and they may have limited per diems, but from account managers who wine and dine important people at fancy restaurants. Whenever there is a big convention in town, you will see lots of downtown restaurant having lucrative buy-outs. A friend of mine works for a high-tech company and he will treat maybe half a dozen people from a customer company at a time to dinner at some fancy place. And we are not talking executives from the customer company, just tech guys that might have some influence and are in town for the convention. He has been spending so much expense account money on it that American Express sent him a Black Card.

                                            All of the above activity tends to be concentrated downtown and it's rare to see out-of-town convention goers venture out to Bernal Heights.

                                            1. re: BacoMan

                                              I've been to Alma and Trois Mec but I think in terms of dishes and service they aren't at the same level as Coi, Atelier Crenn or Saison. Not to say the food isn't great cause it really is. The dishes weren't as creative in some ways or fussy if you want to view it in the negative. The atmosphere was less white linen.

                                              The tasting menu at Commonwealth is smaller, less creative and has never been as tasty or interesting to me at the ones at Creen.

                                              1. re: tjinsf

                                                I think few upscale restaurants are less "white linen" than Saison.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  I was comparing it to Trois Mec and Alma in LA. How would you compare them then in your experience of eating at Alma and Trois Mec to the experience eating in the new Saison? What do you think of the service of Trois Mec and what's your view of the new Saison space since you feel it isn't white linen in service. At Trois Mec the kitchen is tiny and the chefs bring out the dishes. The wine is on a high shelve and they have to step on the bench seating to get you a bottle.

                                                  1. re: tjinsf

                                                    I haven't been to the new Saison but there are no tablecloths, few of the other trappings typical of restaurants in that price range, and the customer is not always right.

                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      If you read further down on the thread you'll see what I clumsy called white linen, I was speaking of a service and quality of chef and ingredient not actual tablecloths. In my personal experience I find all of things to be quite similar at the new Saison as I do at other places in the range that have already mentioned. In my experience again while the average customer may not always be right at Saison, if someone famous or that the owner likes comes in they certainly have changed that tune which I personally find disappointing.

                                                      oh and could you please let me know how Saison compare to Alma and Trois Mec in your experience?

                                                      1. re: tjinsf

                                                        I'm afraid everything I have collectively heard about Saison has left it at the very end of the list for me to go to.

                                                        I'm still collecting opinions.

                                                        Right now, it seems like people really have the best culinary experiences at Crenn.

                                                        I haven't been that into the tasting menu format of eating, I am mainly trying to do a lot of research before getting there. Saison turns me off for many reasons from all the reports:

                                                        1) it's by far the most expensive, and the reasoning for that doesn't sit too well with me.

                                                        2) Sounds like a larger dining room, compared to more intimate ones at the other contenders like Crenn and Benu.

                                                        3) The music is terrifyingly bad for my tastes. Why can't they just play Beethoven? or Noise Rock? It sounds like it's Hall and Oates all the time, which would actually ruin just about any meal for me. Music affects me a great deal when dining (it's not accident that my favorite places to eat in LA are also places that play some of the only music I genuinely enjoy).

                                                        I should probably go to Orsa and Winston in LA before going up North to try out Crenn huh so I have an even broader base of comparison?

                                                        Weirdly enough though, there are about 10 restaurants that almost sound much more interesting to go to in SF than these somewhat scary "super long menu" restaurants, for example: State Bird Provisions, Cotogna, SPQR, Flour + Water, Aziza, Commonwealth, AQ, Sons and Daughters, Mission Chinese, & Incanto (I guess also Ad Hoc, and Slanted Door).

                                                        Is that weird?

                                                        1. re: BacoMan

                                                          The food at Saison is as good or better than you will find anywhere. The quality of service has been upgraded since the old location. And I like the space. However, it's definitely a restaurant with an attitude that will rub some people the wrong way, including the music.

                                                          Crenn is a great chef but the concept of AC always runs the risk of becoming style over substance.

                                                          1. re: nocharge

                                                            "Crenn is a great chef but the concept of AC always runs the risk of becoming style over substance."

                                                            Isn't that a worry for any of these kinds of places?

                                                            1. re: BacoMan

                                                              Yes for sure but some people expect that the more you pay, the more you will like the food, kind of how you pay more for a better steak.

                                                              1. re: tjinsf

                                                                I certainly would expect that. Do you think that is incorrect to expect?

                                                                1. re: BacoMan

                                                                  Generally I'm not interested in menus with more than ten courses or in the kind of cooking that's more about the chef coming up with original ideas than about finding the best ingredients and maximizing their flavors.

                                                                  Around here, over a certain price point, that's usually what you get.

                                                              2. re: BacoMan

                                                                "Isn't that a worry for any of these kinds of places?"

                                                                Sure, most high-end restaurants pay a lot attention to presentation, but AC goes further than most trying to be artistic both when it comes to food and presentation.

                                                                1. re: nocharge

                                                                  I actually might be into that.

                                                                  I am leaning more and more towards Crenn.

                                                                  What do you think about that?

                                                                  1. re: BacoMan

                                                                    If I had to choose between Saison and Crenn, I'd take Saison if the choice was based solely on the food, not price, attitude, and music. I wouldn't mind eating at Crenn, though.

                                                                    Another thing is that you can have a smaller, less expensive meal in the lounge/bar area of Saison. (Unlike Crenn, they have a full bar.) I have eaten both in their "salon" as well as in the dining room where they serve the full menu. Unfortunately, their website is not very forthcoming about the details of how their lounge dining currently works and they have been experimenting with different concepts. If you are interested in that idea, you might want to give them a call to ask them how it works: Pricing? Is it a la carte? Do you need a reservation? etc.

                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                        Yes, they said they were going to do a la carte. When they first started serving food in the salon, it was a fixed-price menu. At the time I had it, it was $88, and would exactly fill you up. (I had an entree at Prospect afterwards so I didn't have to go to bed hungry.) I like the a la carte concept much better, but I suspect that the servings might not exactly be overly generous.

                                                                2. re: BacoMan

                                                                  Saison focuses on getting the best ingredients and highlighting their individual flavors. Any modern or complicated techniques they use are in service of that goal.

                                                                  On Top Chef, Crenn persuaded one of the contestants to serve chicken with chocolate sauce in a corn silk "nest," which the judges found as inedible as it sounds.

                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                    Robert what is your experience eating at Crenn. I believe you have never eaten there correct? If I am wrong please correct me.

                                                                    But hey why not judge chefs by Food Network that bastion of Paula Deen and her whelps. Maybe if Crenn just put a tub of butter in it, it would mighty tasty eatin'

                                                                    1. re: tjinsf

                                                                      Top Chef is on Bravo. It's a serious competition among talented, experienced chefs, at least later in the season, which is when Crenn was on.

                                                                      Crenn's food sounds interesting but it's so much not the kind of thing I like that as I said earlier there's no way I'm spending $120 plus wine, tax, and tip to verify my sense that I'd rather laugh at it on TV.

                                                                3. re: nocharge

                                                                  I think suggesting that AC is style over substance is near slander. Crenn is full of soul and substance.

                                                                  What her menu doesn't include is lots of fat and filling. That's not soul.

                                                                  1. re: bbulkow

                                                                    "I think suggesting that AC is style over substance is near slander."

                                                                    What I said was that the concept runs the risk of becoming style over substance. Consider the menu, which has items like

                                                                    "Winter has come with its cool breeze"
                                                                    "A gentle smell, oceanic, of yummy feeling"
                                                                    "The half moon, silky and smokey"
                                                                    "Nature rejoice, chasing childhood memories"
                                                                    "Where the wild beauty is sleeping under frozen winter leaves"

                                                                    Supposedly, the last dish is the game hen. Wouldn't it have added a little more substance to the menu to mention the words "game hen" rather that just "Where the wild beauty is sleeping under frozen winter leaves"?

                                                                    The risk of having wildly poetic dish names and matching presentations is that the tastiness of the food might get lost amidst all the poetry. If it does, it's not because Crenn lacks soul but because of the concept of food presented as over-the-top poetry.

                                                                    1. re: nocharge

                                                                      I think you do suggest that Crenn is putting style above substance with her choice of menu. You claim this "risk" and that the tastiness of the food "might" get lost amid the poetry.

                                                                      I can't disagree more.

                                                                      These dishes are fiendishly complex multilayered experiences. And there are a huge number of dishes.

                                                                      If you can decypher and understand what she's doing, appreciate (or disagree with) the dish itself, the addition of a bit of paper with some poetry alongside the dish will not cause you to "get lost".

                                                                      In general, one tries to tune out whatever distracts from the flavor - whether it be trucks rolling by on the interstate, flies that have landed on my food, high prices, dim or bright light, or a flowery menu. Chowhound code: whatever tastes good, no matter where --- that includes having to pay $350/pp and suffer peculiar poetry.

                                                                      One does also try to appreciate the whole experience, which is part of RL's comment on difficulty building critical responses.

                                                                      To answer your question, "Wouldn't it have added more substance to mention the words "game hen"" --- no. I generally find in these long form things that too much literal description takes away from the experience. I actually like having no menu, but if you're going to have a menu, the literal ingredient list doesn't add much.

                                                                      What if "Giant Steps" was listed on the album as "A rapid progression of chord changes through three keys shifted by major thirds" (description taken from Wikipedia). Would the song have more or less substance? Does it add substance to read "Giant Steps" before listening, or know that there are three keys and major chords? Is calling the song "Giant Steps" pretentious?

                                                                      I say no, "Game Hen" doesn't add substance. Substance - as you are using it - implies Soul, Authenticity, Reality, the Actual Matter of a Thing. Adding "Game Hen" adds "Literality". The Substance of those moments and that menu is the artistic vision and story she's telling, not the literal ingredients.

                                                                      If you prefer a simpler experience, fine. We can agree to disagree.

                                                                      I've had a reaction on CH before, complaining about complexity, like some of my writing re: Plum. I love(d) the complexity of the dishes, the interplay of texture and taste, the fact that the dishes might be hard to interpret, how the menu there was not split into standard categories (in the first week, the waiter called at an attempt at post-structural eating (literally, that's what he said), how the chef did not want any diner to be bound by convention of app/entree), even the chairs (benches) led to an aura of An Uncomfortable Place. Several people wrote here that they just wanted something "yummy", my answer is still "there's a lot of yummy places, get mac and cheese up at homeroom, give me one complex place, let's live and let live".

                                                                      It's just deeper than that. Saison gets somewhere deep with more simplicity. "Flight of Fishes" is a deeply effective dish. Sometimes I want simplicity.

                                                                      To imply - and never quite state - that there's a lack of "substance" or "yuminess" --- nope, lots of amazing taste there.

                                                                      1. re: bbulkow

                                                                        "but if you're going to have a menu, the literal ingredient list doesn't add much"

                                                                        Nonsense. Having a more intelligible description of the dishes would make it easier for people visiting the restaurant's website to get better of idea of the food so that they can make an informed decision whether it might be to their liking.

                                                                        Another aspect of all this is that Crenn is an extremely talented chef. She won a Michelin Star at Luce, a hotel restaurant in the InterContinental on Howard and 5th, that is decidedly less poetic than AC. She can cook amazing stuff without going overboard on the idea of food as poetry. In so far she can pull it off at AC with the poetic stuff, great! My impression is that she was struggling at first but has gotten better at it. But like I said, she is doing something that has an inherent risk of becoming style over substance. And let me add to that, the risk of coming across as pretentious. As in "game hen" vs. "Where the wild beauty is sleeping under frozen winter leaves".

                                                                        1. re: nocharge

                                                                          Perhaps where we disagree is that when you are on a voyage with a chef's tasting menu, one must be prepared for any ingredient. Others' reviewed and descriptions will do better than a literal ingredient list - you have no assurance that a web menu has much to do with the day's offerings.

                                                                          I saw a good article the other day about people who dislike certain foods, and how that comes about.

                                                                          I am lucky that, in my extended family, literally no food is off limits (one celiac more distantly, one vegetarian more immediately, and that's it). My two year old niece loves raw oysters. So perhaps I am biased about this whole ingredient thing - I would choose a restaurant based on reviews, discussion, etc.

                                                                          uhockey's review of AC, a few years old, points how how Crenn nearly chased him down and tried to make a few extra dishes, because he didn't like - and carefully critiqued - one of the dishes. In our evening there, there was probably a single different dish disliked by everyone. My GF disliked the shrunken and preserved carrot, which I loved, and that's when Crenn happened by the table. On GF's statement that she reacted strongly to the dish, Crenn said that's what she was going for, and the dish is one of the most divisive of the current menu.

                                                                          Another vignette - my favorite restaurant in Tokyo, of which I don't know the name, has no menu. It always follows the same pattern, but when I was in last, a particular dish was taking longer to prepare, so the chef pulled out a few skewers of black sesame encrusted chicken to tide us over. This was a WOW of a dish, and just a little extra snack. At restaurants in the high end, these things just happen.

                                                                          Finally, I suspect that one person's art is another person's pretension to artistry.

                                                                          1. re: bbulkow

                                                                            Regarding menus: Restaurants as well as OpenTable have them on-line for good reasons. There are even specialized websites like menupages.com dedicated to giving people an idea of the food, hopefully leading to a better informed decision about what restaurant to go to. And it's not that hard publishing them daily once you've got the infrastructure in place. Good restaurants like Perbacco with daily changing menus will have the current one on their websites. It's not rocket science once you have the infrastructure in place and a good menu-editing PC application is about $400-500 to purchase. (You can probably do menus in MS Word using templates for free provided that you have MS Office installed, but it wouldn't likely have the same bells and whistles.)

                                                                            Now granted, there is the concept of omakase, but even then, a potential restaurant goer might want to look at the menu to get an idea of what to expect and it's kind of a fringe concept. Restaurants tend to publish their menus for a good reason. AC publishes its menus, too. The problem with AC is that you can't tell very much about the food from it. Lots of poetry but not very informative, so what's the point? (Well, I guess some people that are smarter than I am might take a glance at the menu and see "Where the wild beauty is sleeping under frozen winter leaves" and go "That must be the game hen".)

                                                                            Anyway, Crenn is an incredibly talented chef and a great person and in so far she wants to go "poetry", it's obviously her prerogative. I'm just saying that it's a concept that has its pitfalls.

                                                                            1. re: nocharge

                                                                              From a business perspective Crenn's approach makes sense. She is honing in on her market, and ensuring that those who would not enjoy a meal there don't ever show up.

                                                                              That's actually a major challenge in branding most businesses. Assuming your market actually exists, that's a tremendous accomplishment.

                                                                              Of course there pragmatics of it are that some people with food allergies, or dietary restrictions might not be able to go, but how much is it hurting the business? Clearly not at all. And that means the art is able to flourish.

                                                                              1. re: BacoMan

                                                                                Based mainly on anecdotal tales, of the big ones, Coi is the most accommodating one when it comes to dietary restrictions. AC seems very accommodating, too. Saison perhaps a little bit less so.

                                                                                1. re: nocharge

                                                                                  Saison now warns diners, "If you have dietary restrictions, please make note of them when making your reservation. We will do our best to accommodate your needs, but please understand that there will be times when we will not be able to make substitutions.

                                                                                  That's softened from their previous statement, "Please understand that there are no substitutions."

                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                    That's good they changed that, I wonder if it was because they were making accommodations for some guests but not others.

                                                                                  2. re: nocharge

                                                                                    Quince and Benu as well as Coi have all been very accomodating in my experience with vegetarians and allergies. Saison has been the only one that said no for some guests and not for others and that seemed be based on factors outside of the kitchen. AC has been delightful when it's come to accommodating dietary needs.

                                                                                2. re: nocharge

                                                                                  I think you just have to file the AC experience under omakase.

                                                                                  The fact that there's a scrap of paper called a menu is just playing with your head. If you don't want omakase, it's not a good night for AC. I don't think you like omakase, but I don't know you very well.

                                                                                  Predictability is a fine thing, for most people, most nights. Me too. I had a burger at 5 guys two nights ago - it was a rough day and I was looking at a stressful tomorrow and just wanted a freaking burger, the menu is online and the experience is well known. Huzzah.

                                                                                  Just, please, how about not putting that predictability load on one of the few restaurants capable of providing an unusual, surprising, thoughtful meal?

                                                                                  You've just gone on and on about Crenn's menu, implicated the chef and restaurant in lack of substance, under the language of saying the chef "risks" a lack of substance.

                                                                                  She might be reading this right now. Would you really want this one-of-a-kind place to cave and be just like all the rest, with your talk of "risks", and your clear statement that the restaurant would have more substance (ie, authenticity) if the menu was posted ahead of time and included specific ingredients?

                                                                                  There's thousands of regular restaurants with posted menus. There's a handful of what you call "omakase'. How about some live-and-let-live here?

                                                                                  Our discussions do matter. I was somewhat trepidacious after reading the CH threads that "yummy" had been sacrificed. uhockey said as much in his write-up - would this be a fiasco?

                                                                                  It was not for me, it was not for him, and several of my friends. Great cooking going on right there.

                                                                                  Let me just give another vignette. Last time I was at manresa, I was served a soup of some sort - let's call it pea greens with cream or similar. The chef had placed four distinct other tastes in the soup, in pockets, by freezing cubes, then pouring the opaque soup around them. There was no discussion on the menu or in the tableside description of the extra tastes, yet there they were. I will remember that soup forever.

                                                                                  1. re: bbulkow

                                                                                    I have been saying all along that I have the deepest respect for Crenn as a chef. I have had her food since she was cooking at Luce (did you?). What I don't understand is why you, as an obvious frequent diner, would not understand that going "poetry" has its pros and cons as well as risks. Any dispassionate observer of the restaurant industry would understand that.

                                                                                    1. re: bbulkow

                                                                                      When Berkeley's Panisse went nationally famous in the late 70s and became for 15 or 20 years "hard to get into" (just as TFL did later, albeit the restaurants differed in other ways), a complaint arose because normally people had NO way to know what would be served on the day of their reservation -- the single prix-fixe multi-course dinner, served to everyone on a given night, changed daily and only was decided a few days in advance according to ingredients, while booking opened a month ahead and usually filled at once. However, a few people grumbling about this constraint didn't reduce the demand.

                                                                                      "Omakase" type dining is in the nature of some restaurants, and has long been so. Maybe it doesn't suit everyone, but there are plenty of other restaurants, yes?

                                                                                      1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                        True, for many years to get a reservation at Chez Panisse you had to call at 10:00 am 30 days in advance, and keep redialing until you got through. I think that's still the case for special dinners such as Persian New Year and Bastille Day.

                                                                                        If I remember right the following week's menu was always available on Saturday, though the menus are always subject to change if they can't get something or something special comes in.

                                                                                        1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                          I think a difference between AC and CP might be that CP's menu is intelligible. Even if you don't know exactly what will be served a month down the road, you can get a feel for the type of food the restaurant is serving. You have menu items like
                                                                                          "Grilled Salmon Creek Ranch duck breast and duck leg braised with sherry and green olives; with fennel purée and wild greens"

                                                                                          On the other hand, at AC you have menu items like
                                                                                          "Nature rejoice, chasing childhood memories"

                                                                                          I'll freely admit that I'm not smart enough to figure out exactly what that is.

                                                                                      2. re: nocharge

                                                                                        Is it really that important to know what a dish when it's a set menu? Unless it's a food allergy or preference which AC and most place with set menus always ask about why bother knowing what is. Usually if you are that interested you can email or call the restaurant and find out what the possible ingredients are. At Eleven Madison Park the menu was just a square with one word on it for each dish but the servers were happy to tell me what they were.

                                                                                        1. re: tjinsf

                                                                                          If there wasn't genuine interest, why would restaurants bother to post menus on their websites, on OpenTable, etc.? Why would there be websites like menupages.com? It doesn't matter whether the menu is set or not; people like to get an idea about the food being served before making a decision about dining at a particular restaurant. You can get a pretty good idea about the food being served at CP by looking at the online menus. At AC, not so much.

                                                                                          1. re: nocharge

                                                                                            "people like to get an idea about the food being served before making a decision about dining at a particular restaurant."

                                                                                            Here is maybe an essential point. SOME people like to get such an idea. You can see from this thread that it's not universal at all. My example of Panisse illustrated exactly that. Of course post-facto you can find examples of specific menus that appeared there, but my point, and my testimony from those days, is that at Panisse (the restaurant -- the place that became nationally known -- not the newer, upstairs, Café that opened after Panisse was famous) you typically _could_ not know anything at all about the menu or ingredients when deciding to dine at that restaurant, booking a month in advance as required. Yet it did not deter people on the average, and many of them ate very well.

                                                                                            1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                              Not disputing that, but it seems like displaying the menu is part of what the vast majority of restaurants are doing and probably for a reason. You can see the exactly what Perbacco's is any day on their website. If you have a reservation a month out, looking at the current menu may not tell you exactly what it will look like a month out, but it will probably get you a feel for it. Same thing with CP. AC, too, has the menu on its website. I just find it hard to decipher. But maybe that's just because I'm stupid.

                                                                                              1. re: nocharge

                                                                                                Atelier Crenn's menu gives only vague hints of what each dish might contain. "I refreshed as I gazed at your smooth green coat": there's a green sauce or glaze on something? "Birth which gives its morning mystery": egg? Seems like a waste of time and paper to me.


                                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                  I remember specifically wondering about that line you commented on first - I like the smooth green coat imagery - but the dish had no sauce or glaze. It was kind of like a mental appetizer, wondering what would be in that course. The poetry thing worked OK for me.

                                                                                                2. re: nocharge

                                                                                                  The fact that so many restaurants do menus, and have predictability, makes a place like AC special to me.

                                                                                                  It's pretty easy to figure out the kind of food AC serves. She's attempting - and succeeding - at mystery on the website, but are plenty of reviews and pictures about to get a general feel of it.


                                                                                                  An argument that "everyone else does it so it must be a good idea" doesn't go over well in my household. We worship at the alter of disruption. We choose our restaurants randomly (like, roll-the-dice random). We even pick our vacation destinations randomly (next up - three days in Houston!). Likely we go a bit overboard.

                                                                                                  As a point that AC isn't alone, look at Manresa's menu , which it points out is only representative, and tell me what people are getting served tonight.


                                                                                                  I went there once and didn't get a menu ahead of time, nor upon departure.

                                                                                                  COI, like CP, gives you a list of ingredients but no real idea how the dish is prepared.

                                                                                                  Saison does not have a menu on their website. The one I did find looks like it was from Saison 2.0, not 3.0. Here's what it currently says on their website:

                                                                                                  CAN YOU TELL ME MORE ABOUT THE MENU?

                                                                                                  We offer one multi-course menu nightly, guided by what’s of the best quality possible. Our team works tirelessly on a daily basis to craft a menu for our guests enjoyment.

                                                                                                  That's _ALL_ it says.

                                                                                                  Benu has a sample menu, in the "list of ingredients" style.

                                                                                                  I would argue that - for this kind of food - and possibly in general - people are getting less interested in the "list of ingredients" menu, and more interested in being surprised.

                                                                                                  Part of this craze came about because of Amuse. The amuse are not on the menu, and it certainly gives an extra thrill when presented with something "off menu", and told to just slurp it. Crenn starts off even more that way than most places - with a chocolate like egg thing where you are admonished to close your entire lips around the object before biting, and not given much of a hint, unless you press the waiter.

                                                                                                  Let's look at State Bird Provisions. Only the "commandables" list can actually be ordered, and everything else might or might not be made, and might or might not be made while you're there, and/or might get to your table even if they make it. This is WILDLY successful.

                                                                                                  At the risk of inflaming an already rather wordy discussion, I'll say that chinese menus are quite poetic and are often hard to figure out what you're ordering. The classic szechuan dish that often (used to) get translated as "boiled beef" is the most hilarious, and - until I ordered it a few times and read up on the history - I expected I was going to get something like childhood sunday irish boiled dinner. OBVIOUSLY NOT.

                                                                                                  1. re: bbulkow

                                                                                                    Not having a menu at all makes a lot more sense to me than having one that is unintelligible in the name of "poetry".

                                                                                                    1. re: bbulkow

                                                                                                      Crenn's menu tells me only slightly more about the food than any poem picked at random. Fine if some people like it but I find it as ridiculous as subtitling her restaurant "poetic culinaria."

                                                                                                      Lots of dish names in Chinese and other cuisines are not at all self-explanatory but you can look them up. No comparison.

                                                                              2. re: BacoMan

                                                                                not weird at all. Lengthy tasting menus and elaborate preparation or just highlighting one ingredient aren't something most people want everyday. You can always just try one and then the rest go to some of the restaurants you mention many of which are really good.

                                                                                Saison does do good food, if someone wants to take you there and you don't have dietary restrictions, go.

                                                                                The more risks chefs take the more chance that some dishes fall flat. I kind of expect to not like every dish when I am eating 10 of them.

                                                                                1. re: tjinsf

                                                                                  Yeah, I'm trying to figure it out. I've only had a few long-form tasting menus as part of Wolvesmouth, and with Gary Meines (of Pallette Food + Wine) here. Limited at Alma (nothing like 10+ course).

                                                                                  I usually enjoy small plates dining, or more focused dining.

                                                                                  My favorite restaurants in LA are Bäco Mercat, and Chip Spacca. Based on most recent visits, I am giving Chi Spacca the edge.

                                                                                  Have you been to either of those by chance?

                                                                                  1. re: BacoMan

                                                                                    No I haven't, I tend to only be LA for a day and meeting with clients who want to take me out to fancy places. Last place was Trois Mec which I found to be nice in between the super elaborate tasting menus and an al a carte place. Relaxed service but lots of skilled chef including the the three gents actually in the kitchen. multi-course but not too many. Very little noise.

                                                                                    Both those restaurants are pretty casual, State Bird Provisions, Cotogna, TBD would the ones more like that.

                                                                                2. re: BacoMan

                                                                                  Saison's dining room has 18 seats. Benu and Crenn seat around four times that number.

                                                                                  I would have preferred other music, or none, but it didn't particularly bother me.

                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                    Oh, ok. I guess I read something incorrectly, thank you for the correction.

                                                                                    Unfortunately, I am very sensitive to music. It would destroy my night to have to listen to truly awful stuff. I guess I could only go if someone took me hah.

                                                                                    1. re: BacoMan

                                                                                      It's mostly not horrible music and it's not loud. I think this is the channel:


                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                        Thank you for this. I am sorry to say it confirms that I will almost certainly never dine at Saison. It says nothing about them, but this is a list of music that makes me physically uncomfortable to have to listen to at all.

                                                                                        I am VERY glad to have uncovered this detail, an it helps me narrow down where I would be much happier in the future.

                                                                                        I know I'm an oddball, haha.

                                                                                  2. re: BacoMan

                                                                                    Weirdly enough though, there are about 10 restaurants that almost sound much more interesting to go to in SF than these somewhat scary "super long menu" restaurants

                                                                                    then go there instead...

                                                                              3. re: tjinsf

                                                                                I ate at Saison because something the chef said in an interview made me sure that it should be an exception to my decision never to subject myself to another 20-course tasting menu: "I've gone out to many excellent places where you feel like shit after the meal. I don't want guests to feel that way."


                                                                                Crenn seems bizarre to me. Maybe I'd enjoy a meal there but I'm not going to spend $120 plus wine, tax, and tip to find out.


                                                                            2. re: tjinsf

                                                                              I do wonder how much is being paid for "white linen". I personally don't care about white linen, and even dislike it, which is one reason I am actually usually very happy eating in LA, where we don't have much of it. Some of my best-ranked and enjoyed meals have been eaten in bright orange plastic chairs in food courts...our on sidewalks off a paper plate.

                                                                              But if the food is significantly better, that's more worth thinking about to me.

                                                                              Out of curiosity, if you could indulge me a bit, we get a lot of words thrown around that are not well-defined to explain how the food differs between say Commonwealth and Crenn, the main two seem to be: "complex" and "creative".

                                                                              Perhaps it's a bit too dull of me, but could say perhaps say what you specifically have in mind when you use those words?

                                                                              Is it more a general sense of the food overall being less delicious? There never being a "wow, I've never had these flavors/textures in my mouth before!" moment? Or never even being a "wow, this taste is amazing!" moment (or just more of them at Crenn versus Commonwealth)?

                                                                              Thanks! =)

                                                                              1. re: BacoMan

                                                                                Yes I should clarify when I mean white linen I don't mean the traditional stuffy rooms with all the servers in tuxes and hushed tones. The great thing about SF is you have really excellent high technique food in non-stuffy places. I mean more places that have certain ratio of guest to servers, have seamless productions in the kitchen and house and have very high levels of skill and ingredients. I've never even had a guest be asked to put a jacket on in any place in SF except for a private club.

                                                                                Clarification of complex and creative. To me that means they use many different techniques to prepare the food, can be traditional like butter or oil poaching a veg or meat, can being using sous vide but they take an ingredient and change the property of it whether it's the texture, the taste, the temp ie, if it's usually served hot, making it cold sorbet. At the same time as they are play mad chef a really excellent chef never losses the fact that the taste has been the most important thing. When I think of the dishes I've liked best at Benu and Creen it's been a simple thing like a vegetable made into a dish that familar in taste but completely different than what I could make or commonly find.

                                                                                I totally understand how some people would not being into and prefer simpler food but just like how I do not understand 15 dollar hamburgers, I like food that entertaining while still be excellent to taste.

                                                                                I've never really had a wow moment at Commonwealth but I've only eaten there 4-5 times. Everything was good, many dishes I've seen in other restaurants done in a more interesting ways and that tasted better to me. At Creen some of the dishes have been flops but all of them have been memorable to me and made me think about the food which I like. At a lower price point I have had a wow moments at AQ, State Bird, Verbena. The dishes may not have been as complex in technique but the taste was there or the ingredients were used in a new way or a really excellent method.

                                                                                But you can't really compare it to street food. My best food last year was in night markets in Taipei and both high end and tiny places in Barcelona both serving amazing octopus.

                                                                                1. re: BacoMan

                                                                                  Look at some photos of Crenn's food and you'll see why the word "creative" comes up so often.


                                                                            3. re: CarrieWas218

                                                                              San Francisco has 800,000 people in 49 square miles, Los Angeles has 4 million people in 469 square miles, but when people talk about LA they're usually including some of the 5000 square mile / 13 million people metro area.

                                                                              If you compared the whole Bay Area with LA, I don't think we'd come up *as* short on cheap ethnic places. On the other hand, we're not nearly as likely to drive an hour to get to them, so that comparison would be somewhat false. LA would still beat us handily due to its larger population, wider variety of distinct ethnic enclaves, and lower cost of living and more relaxed permit situation in some areas.

                                                                            4. I'm an east-coaster, but have enjoyed dining in both cities, especially at the high-end level.

                                                                              In terms of restaurants that can compare to SF's 2/3-star Michelins, I would say definitely Providence's chef's tasting is in the same league as those restaurants.

                                                                              Other LA restaurant almost similar price range would be Saam at the Bazaar, Melisse, and the new "super omakase" at Orsa & Winston. O&W isn't quite up there yet (it's still new), but I think it could get to 2-star equivalent level. And SF doesn't have a sushi restaurant that's like Urasawa, which if one thinks is on the level of Masa in NYC, is 3-star equivalent.

                                                                              Dishes at restaurants in the lower price range can be just as good or if not better than the $180-300 tasting menus. But what you're also paying for at the most expensive places is related to decor, service, more expensive/esoteric ingredients (truffles, seafood from Japan, high-end beef), effort, more # of courses, and kitchen costs/labor to covers ratio. How is Saison going to pay for it's multi-million dollar kitchen if it serves only 50 people/day (just a guess)? Doesn't necessarily mean these restaurants all produce better tasting food. They are often relatively unique/interesting, in an artistic sense, though.

                                                                              I feel like one could make some sort of discussion about NYC vs Chicago. A lot of Chicago's most well-known restaurants are modernist, and NYC only really has wd-50 (to somewhat mixed reviews). Luckily for us, each city has its own personality of types of restaurant. And that's what makes it fun (to travel).

                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                              1. re: deepfry7

                                                                                Luckily for us, each city has its own personality of types of restaurant. And that's what makes it fun (to travel).
                                                                                This. Enjoy the strengths of each city. One eats so much better that way.

                                                                                In fact, made the exact same point to Stravinsky (aka BacoMan) in the below thread:


                                                                                1. re: Porthos

                                                                                  It's a pointless point to make unless your only goal is to cease all discussion.

                                                                                2. re: deepfry7

                                                                                  "Other LA restaurant almost similar price range would be Saam at the Bazaar, Melisse, and the new "super omakase" at Orsa & Winston. O&W isn't quite up there yet (it's still new), but I think it could get to 2-star equivalent level. "

                                                                                  I've seen people saying this. Could you comment in more detail on why you think this is? What is it that O&W isn't doing that say Crenn/Benu/Saison/Manresa are doing up there?

                                                                                  I don't mean in an antagonistic sense, I'm just genuinely curious about what you mean.

                                                                                  1. re: BacoMan

                                                                                    Manresa has its own farm nearby and that's central to its style of cooking. I'm not sure where you could do that in the LA area.

                                                                                    Saison sources globally but could probably not survive outside of a city with the critical mass of Michelin ** and *** places required to make it a must-visit city for wealthy types who travel just to eat.

                                                                                3. A few thoughts:

                                                                                  I am a reasonable responder to this thread, but I had overlooked it because of the title. You've bundled up the question of LA vs SF with Expensive vs MidRange and Experiential vs Theoretical. Thus I had not clicked on it.

                                                                                  I am not really interested in entering an LA vs SF discussion. I've started poking my nose into LA, and generally believe that LA food is vastly superior to SF (even when one includes all of the bay area as one should). I generally agree with eatzalot that population is a large predictor, given other similar factors (immigrant waves, access to produce, etc). I can't tell you whether there are parallel tasting menu places in LA, or how they compare. If they're behind, it's only a matter of time. IF.

                                                                                  What do you get for the extra money?

                                                                                  I usually and often eat in the $50/$100 PP range. Occasionally in the $100/200 range, and very occasionally in the $200+ range. I think there's no doubt that there's a lot of great food in the < $50 range, for example the dumplings I had at iDumpling in RWC on Thursday at $10/pp _with tax and tip_. Yum.

                                                                                  I happen to have eaten at Atellier Crenn Friday, first long tasting menu in at least 12 months, which was certainly > $200/pp out the door.

                                                                                  What I got in the long form tasting menu is a different experience than any other kind of place. At 16 ~ 20 courses, at 4-ish hours, the chef takes you on a journey. A long, long journey. One that can have themes, comparisons, regressions, plays. Multiple ingrediants should show up in multiple dishes different ways.

                                                                                  Experiencing such a meal taxes one, intellectually, and it doesn't help that too much wine is involved (I would have preferred half-pours, I would have preferred our common system of splitting with my GF 1/3 2/3 - our body mass ratio - but the $50 surcharge admonishment left her thirsty and my overplied). I felt as if I was asked to analyize a symphony that would never be performed again, without preparation of having listened to the score, read other analysis.

                                                                                  These restaurants have to charge this much because they can only get one seating. I suspect they have large costs in food procurement, primarily a chef having to unearth and choose - there's not so many calories on the plate. With fame comes stagiers, I suspect, and I don't know whether they require payment (CA law likely says they must).

                                                                                  What I've missed from tasting menus in the last few years is the sense of journey, the sense of unifying artistic theme. I don't see any restaurant critic willing to do the hard work of critically pulling apart the kind of menu these people are pulling together. Or, maybe the mind is willing, but the form and format of delivery is not there. As someone who dabbled a bit in restaurant journalism, let me say that 650 words is a harsh mistress. The program notes for a given symphony I would guestimate at 3000 to 4000 words, and a meal like I had at AC deserves far more.

                                                                                  If the critics aren't out there, restaurants that originally attempted this kind of art form can become lost. Turn from generating a grand work of art to a series of disconnected vignettes, each with technique and style but without linkage.

                                                                                  Once that happens, you might as well go somewhere less grand - less expensive. A place that's making interesting individual dishes that can be critically understood in a few bites, and doesn't require 4 hours in a chair to experience, and doesn't require thousands of words to react to. In musical terms, this might be a jazz tune in 4:30, instead of album length. I've loved that about restaurants like Plum Version 1, where the same 10-15 ingredient dishes you would find at a large tasting menu can be ordered solo.

                                                                                  Moving on for a second about "what do you get for your extra money", hopefully I've expressed what I like about these long form tasting menus. It usually comes with a higher end of service, but that varies, and is not clearly better than a 4 apps and out place.

                                                                                  I think it's reasonable to apply about a 4x factor for location, "name brand", and random history. I can have a dumpling meal at Zen Pen for $40, at Fu Lam Mum for $20, at iDumpling for $10. They're all aiming for similar food quality, with different amounts of bowing & scraping, and different rents to pay. Thus we might expect - in the tasting menu relm - a difference between $100 and $400 places based on a variety of factors not related to approach. Speaking more broadly than the bay area, I ate a great tasting menu at Marigold Kitchen in Philly about 6 weeks ago. It was about $100/pp, it was in a "bad" (really, not that bad, more like 35th and mission) part of town, and it was BYO which magically kept the bill size down. MK is doing cooking that is _comparable_ (not equal, but in the same ballpark) as AC, is also a 4 hours single seating one menu on weekends place.

                                                                                  Hopefully this rambling bit moves forward your thinking. It's hard to write critically and carefully in a 10 line box, and today I don't have time to go back and carefully re-edit and re-compose as I often try. I lost a lot of my weekend recovering from that AC meal, and have to get on with my day.

                                                                                  21 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: bbulkow

                                                                                    Eloquently expressed, as usual.

                                                                                    " I happen to have eaten at Atellier Crenn Friday ... certainly > $200/pp out the door. What I got in the long form tasting menu is a different experience than any other kind of place. At 16 ~ 20 courses, at 4-ish hours, the chef takes you on a journey. A long, long journey. One that can have themes, comparisons, regressions, plays"

                                                                                    Be it noted, not only do some Bay Area restaurants mentioned in this thread specialize in tasting menus of such length and scope (I've had up to 30 courses taking six hours in Manresa's "Chef's" or long tasting menus -- unadvertised, but often available by advance request at quieter times, not Friday or Saturday nights, and the preferred way to dine there among some adventurous or repeat customers) but moreover, tasting menus, sometimes exotic yet coherent, have long (longer?) been a trend at creative international destination restaurants at the similar level (prices, critical acclaim) in places like France and Spain. To some extent I think innovations there helped inspire the current generation of Bay Area high-end tasting menus (certainly in the days of Narsai's, Ernie's, the Blue Fox, and La Bourguignonne -- 30-40 years ago -- those were NOT the types of menus the Bay Area high end was doing).

                                                                                    And the European symphonic restaurateurs do seem to have their well-regarded, insightful, professional crtitics, who help to spread the word and interpret the music.

                                                                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                      Agreed, I think.

                                                                                      I was not meaning to talk about places I haven't been in that particular discourse, simply attempting to describe the benefits of the long form tasting menu. I don't know if Benu's doing it, or TFL's advanced tasting menu, or if Commis is doing it in slightly shorter form, or COI, or how Saison 3.0 evolved. Or what might or might not be happening in LA. I have to believe that there's some bright spots out there.

                                                                                      From limited experience, I think Chez TJ is taking a real shot at a nice longer arc experience, but simply can't pull it off.

                                                                                      What I've long liked about Manresa is they clearly can pull it off when they're "on", and probably the longer menu. Kinch somehow keeps something in reserve, some freshness and artistic reservoir he can tap into. They love visiting chefs, bringing up "new blood", and - I agree - that place shines on Wednesday.

                                                                                      Finally, what's still grabbing me about AC are two things. One is the "pause" in the middle, where after a crescendo of complexity in savory veg, everything simplified to a granita, then we were off into the meats for another 4 courses. There's something I call "three arc storytelling", by which I typify long form where there's a multi-year arc (5 series of TV, 7 books, 3 movies over 5 years), the multi-hour arc (the single book, the year of television), the single-hour arc (the TV episode, about 3 chapters in a book), and I could see her working in at least two arcs quite clearly, and I'm trying to see if there's a third arc. Really showed a sense of journey, and a recognition of the human limits of the diner. Second is Chef Crenn's visit to our table. The fact that she still does this every night, a visit to every table, and we shared some meaningful discussion on some of the courses - the first being the "kir breton", served by her mother, thinking of the dish that way turned it around for me, and I started evaluating the entire meal a bit differently, from the perspective of someone enraptured by the sparse northern shores of france, a bit less by the southern fields - or at least playing on that facet, for a winter menu.

                                                                                      1. re: bbulkow

                                                                                        I think Dominique Crenn is one of the most pleasantly social chefs I've ever met, but it has nothing to do with AC or tasting menus. I remember one night at Luce, where she was cooking prior to AC, when she came out to our table to chat. She told us that she had just competed on Iron Chef America. She was forbidden from revealing the outcome until the episode had aired, but from the smile on her face and the fact that she invited us to a viewing event of the airing of the show, it was pretty obvious that she had won.

                                                                                        1. re: nocharge

                                                                                          I might say the inverse - the pleasant social aspect she clearly carries comes across in AC, and her choice of the long menu in her current en devour.

                                                                                          1. re: bbulkow

                                                                                            I think her pleasant social aspect has always come across, whether at Luce or AC, and regardless of the size of the menu. Last time I experienced it was at this event where she only cooked a single dish.

                                                                                        2. re: bbulkow

                                                                                          "simply attempting to describe the benefits of the long form tasting menu." Yes, that's how I took it -- I was concurring that some Bay Area restaurants do that (TFL included by the way) but also wondering a bit where the custom arose. I should have remembered some older writing, like when Joseph Wechsberg in "Blue Trout and Black Truffles" reported visiting Fernand Point's restaurant in France and Point, per custom, "composing" a meal -- I think he even had some musical metaphor too, like symphony, and an overture period (something like six little courses) laying out themes to be developed and explored later. Circa 1950.

                                                                                          The waves of food and granita palate cleanser that you described at A C are familiar at other well-composed long tasting menus I've experienced, in Europe and US including Manresa (which IIRC recently went over or is going over to entirely tasting menus, as they became so popular; and where, just to emphasize this because many online discussions seem unaware of it, the long-format tasting menu has long been popular among serious diners who visit that place, and in my experiences the surcharge was not even proportional with the extension of the meal, like $140 for a grand tasting menu when the regular tasting menu was 105).

                                                                                          Chez TJ! You recently reported a meal there, didn't you? Is TJ doing long tasting menus? I formerly used that restaurant a lot, but lost touch 4-5 chefs back, at Bruno Chemel, after experiencing all the previous seven. Since each new chef has created a new style in that kitchen, you have to re-set your assumptions at each chef turnover.

                                                                                          1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                            I look forward to any historical thread you can pull together on the long tasting menu. That might put more of these meals in perspective.

                                                                                            The mid-meal pause at AC seemed more pronounced than anything I've had elsewhere, but I have only had the "normal long" menu at M, not the longer one you've mentioned. There is certainly a shift into the meat-heavy savories, but AC made a point of a longer gap between the segments. No wine paired for that little granita creme fresh thing, nor the bite after, then off again. I appreciated the composition.

                                                                                            I would say what we had at Chez TJ's tasting menu is on the medium length. More like 10 including amuse. It had some high points, and some interesting MG touches (some kind of white powder foam, suspect it was nitrogen precipitated olive oil was a theme in several dishes). Other elements of the service (strange/poor wine service, unusual pauses) were marginal, so they're not quite on the try again list (given that there was AC on the list, and I'm itching for Coi and never managed Commis yet, a travesty, and the new delfina outpost, and Plum 3.0, ... so many places).

                                                                                            Let me also say AC's wine pairings were at the level of Manresa at least (M can be iffy, seems like the recycle pairings overmuch). Very solid.

                                                                                            1. re: bbulkow

                                                                                              "[Chez TJ is ] not quite on the try again list. ... ... so many places."

                                                                                              At the recent turnover rate, then, you might be looking 1-2 chefs in the future; TJ's whole meal format may be different.

                                                                                              FWIW for reference, Chez TJ is about 32 years old and for much of that time, offered prix-fixe but conventional-format menus, changing often, a few courses each, three length options, billed Menu Petit, Menu Moderne, Menu Gastronomique. (French sense of "menu," as in today's fare.) I have in a file about 35 printed TJ menu cards of which 25 were experienced, another 10 picked up to peruse -- the restaurant leaves them in a rack outside the door.

                                                                                              So I just checked that file, and it looks like the format started evolving under chef Joshua Skenes [now at Saison], 2004-05. First midsized, then smallest, conventional menus vanished; "spontaneous multi-course" tasting menu appeared. Then under _memorable_ chef Christoper Kostow [now at Meadowood] in 2006, newly lavish options in each conventional "Menu Gastronomique" entailed many choices for each course, and a tasting menu continued. By 2010 Chef Scott Nishiyama had narrowed back the options in the "Gastronomique" ($85) and also, unlike Skenes or Kostow, wrote down the tasting-menu contents in advance (8 courses, $120). That was two chefs ago, so Your Meal May Vary... I lost track of TJ around 2009 when the owner feuded publicly with chef Bruno Chemel, who of course went on to form his own restaurant, Baumé.

                                                                                              For reference, at my first meal there in '91 the Menu Petit, 4 courses, was $40; "Moderne" (5 courses) $45; "Gastronomique" (8 courses) $52. Chef was the eponymous TJ McCombie himself, trained by Simone Beck and Chef Jean-Pierre Billoux in Dijon.

                                                                                      2. re: bbulkow

                                                                                        I think it's impossible to write a first-rate detailed review of a 20-course tasting menu with wine pairing. If you give yourself over to the experience fully you're not going to interrupt your pleasure to write a bunch of notes and photograph everything. If you make documenting the meal your priority, you're degrading the experience. Critics and bloggers who write up meals like that always seem to me to lack sufficient hedonism.

                                                                                        That conflict occurs to some extent when reviewing every kind of live performance, but it's particularly acute for culinary marathons.

                                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                          "If you give yourself over to the experience fully you're not going to interrupt your pleasure to write a bunch of notes and photograph everything. If you make documenting the meal your priority, you're degrading the experience. Critics and bloggers who write up meals like that always seem to me to lack sufficient hedonism."

                                                                                          I strongly agree, after joining a number of them at such meals.

                                                                                          European venues that I touched on also have a richer population of professional critic media, and I tend to assume that those critics are not constantly busy making notes or fiddling with the dish on the table for a camera shot, as I've seen obsessive amateurs do here.

                                                                                          As just one reference point (not specifically referring to long tasting menus), Michelin's inspectors are trained to work from memory, as part of the protocol of trying to preserve anonymity. Almost the exact opposite of the camera-wielding blogger's sensibilities (which shift the whole focus from the meal to the blogger).

                                                                                          This is the gastronomic counterpart of physics's Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, where the process of trying to document a unique meal too much alters and disrupts the very meal documented.

                                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                            I will agree partially. By "impossible" I think I would agree that only a dedicated, trained reviewer, extraordinarily well versed in the forms applied, techniques, and references, and having a freak-of-nature taste memory, and more than a glob of hubris, would either consider attempting or succeed. Few are capable, even fewer succeed, and there might not be any critics working in america today capable of such a writeup - I haven't seen J Gold attempt such a thing, maybe I missed it, and I don't know who might be covering that beat in NYC. Our homegrown fearless leader, I think we here would agree, is either incapable or has not the opportunity.

                                                                                            A great critic has to have an exceptional ability to both be carried along by the artistry experienced, then be able to both remember and intellectualize it later. Not just "it's great". And see the linkages and parallels. That is a very rare capability.

                                                                                            _and_, one would have to eat enough of these menus to form a base of comparison, and multiple nights at the same restaurant. And spending their days either hung over or at the gym or both. Anyone capable of spending $20K per month in restaurant bills is probably not scraping by as a reviewer.

                                                                                            Thus, I have always liked uhockey's writeups, because the man can eat, and can write, and takes pains to do both. It's possible, just unlikely and rare.

                                                                                            1. re: bbulkow

                                                                                              Yet another great post on this thread, bbulkow.
                                                                                              I was once told that great critics work hard to educate themselves in public. As a columnist and sometime reviewer (mostly craft beer, these days) I take that to heart when I sit down to write.

                                                                                              1. re: bbulkow

                                                                                                uhockey's one of the writers I was thinking of. He got a thousand words out of two salads and two pizzas at Chez Panisse, which is a crappy restaurant by Kansas standards.

                                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                  huh? I thought you liked the place. (Chez Panisse).

                                                                                                  1. re: susancinsf

                                                                                                    I've found Chez Panisse reliably excellent since the 70s. That's my summary of uhockey's thousand words.

                                                                                              2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                But it isn't really necessary to take pictures along the way or write things down. Usually if you are doing a review you can come at a later date and get pictures and you are often given the menu of what you had or can easily obtain it and it's merely a matter of reflecting on the name of dishes to remember the highlights of it. But I really don't understand the compulsive photo taking during a meal unless it's a dish that is new and truly unique. I can't imagine actually taking notes while eating a meal.

                                                                                                1. re: tjinsf

                                                                                                  I have had good luck asking the chef/staff for an email containing the menu I ate --- these are places where it's a tasting experience without a written menu. I didn't even try with AC.

                                                                                                  1. re: bbulkow

                                                                                                    That's funny, so many places I go they give us personal menus of the meals they've made for us when we leave and I never know what to do with them after I'm finished writing.

                                                                                                    1. re: tjinsf

                                                                                                      Yes, it's a pain. I want to throw them out and girlfriend keeps them. The Saison 2.0 one is difficult because it's rolled up in a little tube thus can't be easily filed.

                                                                                                  2. re: tjinsf

                                                                                                    I got a menu of my meal at Manresa a few years ago but it did not include anywhere near enough information to reconstruct the whole meal in detail.


                                                                                                    When I ate at Saison by chance some blogger posted photos of every course of an almost identical meal the same week, and I could have reconstructed the whole thing in prose if someone had offered me enough money. But taking those pictures would have degraded the experience. Maybe a two-person team could do it justice: one to eat, one to take photos and notes.


                                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                      Two tables away, at AC, I saw a solitary japanese gentleman with an extraordinary camera and lens photographing every dish. If I could find him, or his blog, or his flickr account, I could reconstruct far more of the dish.

                                                                                              3. OP asked:What is the difference in a meal that costs $68-$78 for a full pre-fixe (places like Commonwealth, Sons and Daughters, or AQ, versus places that are a full $100 more, like Coi, Saison, Benu, Atelier Crenn, Manresa, etc... (even Quince is almost $100 more at $158, so lets count that too)?

                                                                                                First off as one of those people that eats at what Robert for reason known only to him call Frenchy endurance menu since doesn't actually bother eat at the place the difference in price has little to do with location, has a bit to do with rep and has a lot to do with the not just the quality of food but the style and the manner of presentation.

                                                                                                Some of the dishes you find at AQ or Commonwealth you might find at Coi or Creen but overall the dishes at Saison, Creen, Benu are dishes that both more complex but work better and are when best part a total thought out meal. Then there is the reality that it takes more work and skill to make many little dishes that all work and that have to all be fired at the right time for every diner. The service is also more refined although service in SF is some of the most relaxed I've experienced in white linen service. I think the price increase is as much about the jump from a smaller simpler menu to a tasting menu that is more elaborate as well as a matter of creativity. I've seen dishes at Creen and Meadowood that I've then seen other chefs doing plays on a year later. Likewise I've seen them do plays on dishes I've eaten in Spain the year before. Do you need to have amazing plating and not be able to figure out exactly how your dish was made to have it be a wonderful meal, of course not but when you want a meal that is also entertaining and stimulating then that is what you at the top tier places in SF.

                                                                                                You do have places like Providence in LA that's in that price range although it does seem like in LA the price are based as much on who is eating there as what the food is. If you haven't tried Trois Mec, it's pretty darn good and really focused on the dishes and not style.

                                                                                                BTW I love Tommy's Joynt. I go at least once a month.

                                                                                                2 Replies
                                                                                                1. re: tjinsf

                                                                                                  Most of Saison's dishes are not complex but rather extremely simple. The experience reminded me of the best Japanese kaiseki and omakase meals I've had.


                                                                                                  The majority of reports I've heard and read about Coi, Benu, and Crenn included complaints that some of the dishes didn't work.

                                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                    that's from 2 years ago. what's your experience been in the last six months? What's your personal experience of Coi, Benu and Creen?

                                                                                                2. The first super-long tasting menu of small portions around here was by Thomas Keller at the French Laundry. In 1995 he was serving five courses with extras but still had a main dish:


                                                                                                  By 1997 he had developed the new style and chefs in New York were starting to copy it:


                                                                                                  I'm not sure if he was the first chef in the world to do that, but I haven't found an earlier description of such a meal. The typical menu dégustation in France did not have such small portions or so many courses.

                                                                                                  11 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                    Maybe the "super long" was an innovation. Auguste Escoffier invented the prix fixe (tasting menu) about a century ago in France though! Isn't that fascinating??


                                                                                                    You can look up tons more articles. He even has a section on his invention of tasting menus in the book Proust was a Neuroscient by Jonah Lehrer.

                                                                                                    I think they recently recreated some of his menus, true they are not "super long" though:


                                                                                                    Funny that it took almost a hundred years to add even more courses haha

                                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                      I guess I lived in a different part of France then you cause there was certainly those types of menus in the 80's and certainly before that.

                                                                                                      1. re: tjinsf

                                                                                                        In God we trust, all others bring data. I have yet to find a description of a restaurant in Europe serving a sequence of 20 amuse-sized courses before Keller did. He might have gotten the idea from an omakase meal at a sushi place.

                                                                                                        1. re: tjinsf

                                                                                                          Out of curiosity, why do some people call it Creen, and some call it Crenn?

                                                                                                          1. re: BacoMan

                                                                                                            For me because English isn't my first language and I misspell all the time.

                                                                                                            It's Atelier Crenn.

                                                                                                              1. re: BacoMan

                                                                                                                The chef is Dominique Crenn. Creen is a weirdly common typo, or maybe it only seems weird if you know enough French to see Creen as incongruous.

                                                                                                          2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                            "I have yet to find a description of a restaurant in Europe serving a sequence of 20 amuse-sized courses before Keller did."

                                                                                                            The written popular record of things like elaborate, omakase-class "tasting" menus in Europe -- even the part of that record easily accessible in English -- isn't exactly written in sources conjurable by casual Google search. Read some of the famous, seminal writing on European food accessible in English, cited for decades, and you'll find French examples dwarfing in length, some even predating, the Fernand Point episode I mentioned here. (I have concrete sources in mind, but far be it from me to spoil the deep rewards of independent, pro-active background reading and discovery!)

                                                                                                            1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                              I've read lots of books. I also read reviews of the French Laundry by people who had eaten all over the place who seemed to think it was something new.

                                                                                                              1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                ... And other Europeans, in fact, take this small-plates stuff really seriously. Nicolaieff and Phelan (Art of Russian Cooking, 1969) on the _zakuski_ tradition (like most of my quotations, this is from having read the original -- not some online search): "Sir Harry Luke nostalgically recalling dinners in Tiflis . . . fresh caviar from Baku, bears' hams, mushrooms steeped in wine, smoked river trout, salmon and tongue . . . into the next room for hot _zakuski_ . . . soup with large game pasties, salmon trout known as _Ishkan_ -- the Armenian word for prince -- kidneys stewed in sour cream and madeira."

                                                                                                                N & P and others trace French 19th-c. development of small plates (today's "amuses") to the older tradition of _zakuski._ These, or several other traditions, could well have inspired today's prominent US chefs who (in my experience talking to several about it, including chefs often named on this board) are avid collectors of just such cooking literature.

                                                                                                                Tatiana Tolstaya's review of a classic pre-revolution Russian cookbook (counterpart and predecessor to France's Escoffier) cited an example of a "tea" meal with dozens of small plates and the appalling suggestion that it could render a following dinner unnecessary. (Appalling, because implying the dinner still remained an option!)

                                                                                                                1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                  There are innumerable examples in the literature of lavish spreads including many dishes, but they were presented buffet-style.

                                                                                                                  I've been looking for a long time but with the exception of omakase sushi have found nothing prior to Keller where a restaurant served a chef-defined sequence of ~20 very small portions.

                                                                                                                  Keller started out in 1994 with a five-course menu to which he added ever more amuses, entremets, and so on. He kept going in that direction until by 1997 he had arrived at the now ubiquitous modern style.

                                                                                                        2. "I'm not sure if [T. Keller] was the first chef in the world to do that, but I haven't found an earlier description of such a meal."

                                                                                                          Robert, I cited a high-profile example, 50 years older, earlier in this thread. In mid-century the renowned restaurant of Europe was Fernand Point's La Pyramide, in the Rhône town of Vienne. (Point is the grandfather of today's French high end, via the generation that learned from him -- Bocuse, the Troisgros bros., Chapel, etc.)

                                                                                                          I hope you're familiar already with Joseph Wechsberg's "Blue Trout and Black Truffles: The Peregrinations of an Epicure." It's part of the standard canon of serious popular food literature; "everybody" in the Bay Area read it in the late 80s after a paperback reprint appeared. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who has not yet read it. In the final chapter "The formidable Monsieur Point," Wechsberg (émigré Czech lawyer and parliamentarian turned US correspondent for New Yorker and others after WW2) reported on Point's restaurant about 1950.

                                                                                                          For lunch, Wechsberg received six of what we'd now call "tasting" courses of enough variety to make an exceptional meal. Then Point stopped by and explained that the customer had just completed an "overture," which "merely indicates" later themes. "A good meal must be as well constructed as a good play." Several more courses followed.

                                                                                                          Point was known for greeting and chatting with customers, then composing the particular meal he though would best suit each. For off-the-rack daily fare, his wife "Mado" (this continued long past Point's death in 1955) wrote out each day's offerings based on the best ingredients available. Point is also known for his own book of advice and reflections, "Ma Gastronomie."

                                                                                                          "So often our clients ask for difficult things, with long and fancy names. People don't know that the most difficult and also the best dishes are the simple ones..." -- F. Point (who then went into some examples) in Wechsberg. Skilled chefs rediscover that principle regularly, I notice.

                                                                                                          12 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                            I've heard of Fernand Point of course but not of Joseph Wechsberg's book unless it's goes by another name in other languages. Have to add it to my list.

                                                                                                            1. re: tjinsf

                                                                                                              The book I cited was published originally by Knopf in 1954, the reprint paperback appeared 1985 (Academy Chicago).

                                                                                                              It's a collection of what were mostly, originally, US magazine articles from 1948 to 1953, with additional essays. I believe it's among the landmark serious looks at food in US popular print, and certainly helped make Americans aware of Fernand Point. (And Michelin stars, Bresse chickens, real Hungarian paprika cuisine, etc.)

                                                                                                              Since you mentioned other languages, interestingly enough Wechsberg's witty, evocative essay in the book (originally in _Gourmet_ magazine) about the Viennese specialty of Tafelspitz (Wiener Küche's answer to northern Italy's bollito misto, France's pot-au-feu, or Vietnam's Phở) so impressed Vienna restaurateurs in the late 20th century that they had it translated and reprinted, to help promote the specialty. I've seen restaurateurs there who were quite taken with Wechsberg's Tafelspitz essay, and unaware that it came from an English-language article!

                                                                                                            2. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                              After those six hors d'ouvres, Fernand Point served Wechsberg the meal proper: entrée of trout, plat principal of guinea hen, cheese, ice cream, and pastry.


                                                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                Yes of course -- already mentioned, from the book. But what may interest people actually curious about the development of these customs is the appearance then of what's today called amuse-bouche service ("different from appetizers in that they are not ordered from a menu by patrons, but, when served, are done so free and according to the chef's selection alone") and the variety and substance of Point's amuses: a pâté en croûte, truffled foie-gras with a FG cream, hot sausage in pastry shell with sauce piquante, pheasant pâté, hot cheese croissants, asparagus with Hollandaise. Already a meal, and resembling (though richer and narrower, cuisine-wise, than) some modern "tasting menu" dinners I've experienced.

                                                                                                                On a return visit, Point "composed and orchestrated" another lunch for Wechsberg, "a chef-defined sequence" as you put it, of 14 courses (and six wines). (1 or 2 courses might be larger than others, but Wechsberg doesn't say in the book, and who cares?)

                                                                                                                1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                  Citation for those "14" courses?

                                                                                                                  Point's series of hors d'oeuvres is superficially similar to the modern tasting menu style, but he used them to set up a classic four-course meal.

                                                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                    "Citation for those "14" courses?"

                                                                                                                    Um, same Wechsberg book chapter as the rest of the Fernand Point story I've cited here. Wechsberg himself just lists 14 courses that Point "composed and orchestrated" in a follow-up lunch visit, a chef-defined sequence as you put it. And imposes no interpretation or characterization of his own onto the nature of the 14 courses.

                                                                                                                    This, again, in a well-known Wechsberg anthology that predated online sources. (Wechsberg also wrote the intro. to the 1974 English translation of Point's "Ma Gastronomie," which I also have.) Moreover, none of the other French examples I had in mind earlier in http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9663... were "buffet-style."

                                                                                                                    In summary, I believe plenty of similar, or variously related, antecedents and plausible inspirations for today's amuse-bouche-portion tasting menus are in the printed literature, if one approaches it to learn about the history, rather than assuming that Thomas Keller created the idea.

                                                                                                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                      It's indisputable that most of what Keller did came straight out of the French tradition. He still invented the modern tasting menu.

                                                                                                                      "The Finest Butter and Lots of Time" was originally published in the Sept. 3, 1949, issue of the New Yorker. The phrase "hors d'oeuvres" characterizes the relationship of the six little dishes to the main menu. I don't know which anthology you're talking about, it has been reprinted numerous times.

                                                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                        "I don't know which anthology you're talking about"

                                                                                                                        Explained in earlier post that you responded to: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9663... "Blue Trout and Black Truffles" (1954, reprinted 1985) expanded earlier Wechsberg magazine writings and added new essays. Most people whom I talk to in person about food and food literature (including chefs) know this book. I've already given one concrete 14-course meal example from there (and alluded to others in other well-known, way-pre-Keller books touching on French food) whose resemblance to a modern tasting menu would strike most people, so I don't understand the insistence that Keller "invented" it.

                                                                                                                        Some time we should have a discussion in Food Media or some other appropriate board about major books related to food history.

                                                                                                                        1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                          If you could bring Escoffier, Point, and other old-school French luminaries back from the dead, I'm sure they'd be startled by restaurants serving a series of ~20 hors d'oeuvres without an oeuvres for them to be hors of. That was the innovation that won Keller the top James Beard award in 1997 and put the French Laundry at the top of various "best restaurants in the world" lists for a few years.

                                                                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                            I also personally experienced adventurous menus of this long, sequential, strictly-small-plates, chef-selected tasting format at various high-end restaurants in Europe, both before FL opened, and later in Keller's early days. That (and sundry earlier food-literature references, not cited in this thread) underlies my surprise that anyone could construe the idea to be American, or "invented" in the French Laundry's time, though I agree Keller has popularized it, and it became sort of mainstream at US high-end restaurants in his era.

                                                                                                                            My fellow Americans (and not just they) are forever parochially claiming to've "invented" things previously well-known elsewhere.

                                                                                                                            1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                              Unnamed restaurants and uncited sources don't make a very strong case that Keller became world-famous for copying something French chefs had done.

                                                                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                A misunderstanding maybe. I didn't mean to address all of Thos. Keller's cooking and fame, let alone undertake to make a "case" to anyone. I did mention earlier, comparable, menus in France, encountered in the standard US canon of food literature (not Google), and cited an undifferentiated 14-course lunch example in one named 1954 book. I testified to experiencing such long tasting menus myself in Europe before Keller was famous. Readers can judge for themselves whether I'd make such things up. Nothing in this thread has argued to _me_ that the long tasting menu itself was especially original with Keller. Next time I see him, I'll inquire.

                                                                                                            3. I LOVE Mandalay. You should definitely go back. The only thing that Burma Superstar does better is the Samosa Soup (Burma's version could end wars as far am I'm concerned), but otherwise, Mandalay is a great experience without all the fuss.

                                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                                              1. re: SFGourmande

                                                                                                                I like Burmese Kitchen and Little Yangon. They don't clutter up the menus with Chinese and Indian dishes. Mandalay is good and nicer as far as atmosphere.

                                                                                                                1. re: SFGourmande

                                                                                                                  Is Mandalay well-regarded in SF?

                                                                                                                  It was probably the restaurant that first introduced me to more nuanced food in my teen years, and started me on a path to being a "foodie" (if I am one...I am not entirely sure, but people have called me that).

                                                                                                                  I will always go back when in SF for the tea leaf salad, balada, catfish chowder, and curry noodles.

                                                                                                                2. This is another oddly antagonistic thread. Putting that aside, the main question is the difference between super-high end and high-end places, right? What are you getting for the money?

                                                                                                                  As someone who has eaten at Coi and AQ in recent months, I think you do get “more” for the extra money of the meal at Coi – more courses, for sure, but also more “specialness.” I very much liked my dinner at AQ and the cooking styles of the two kitchens are obviously related. AQ was more rustic and heartier, less ingredient-focused in some ways. Coi is highly localized, ingredient-driven. Indeed, I would say it is the most locavore of the super-high-end places (although I have yet to go to Crenn or Saison, but Quince, Commis and Benu feel more technique-focused to me . . . Daniel Patterson may be more like Alice Waters after all.) I think a tasting menu format works well for his food because I like having the opportunity of having several single bites showcasing different flavors, textures and ingredients. I don’t find it an endurance test there, as I have at other restaurants.

                                                                                                                  Can't really comment on SF v LA -- I have had good food and bad food in both metropolitan areas. I have always thought the idea of a city as a food tourist draw was somewhat odd as if you are interested in food, you seek out the good places wherever you travel.

                                                                                                                  7 Replies
                                                                                                                  1. re: The Dive

                                                                                                                    I would enjoy hearing you elaborate more on the differences between "ingredient-driven" and "technique-driven" dishes. Some concrete examples from your experiences would be most valuable, and exciting to read about!

                                                                                                                    As for this: "the main question is the difference between super-high end and high-end places, right? "

                                                                                                                    That's semi-correct, or at least getting at the gist of a complex topic I am trying to delve into. You get at it in your post, and I ask further below, but essentially I feel like part of this question is: "Does the food taste better, or just different at the higher-end?" How does a meal differ between the two? Does Saison actually make dishes with flavors that are unimaginable, or better than State Bird Provisions? What about Commonwealth (more similar in format)?

                                                                                                                    It's tricky, but it's based off of something a more experienced dining partner once said to me, "I think at a certain point food stops tasting better, and just looks differently on the plates." I am curious how true that is in other's experiences.

                                                                                                                    " I have always thought the idea of a city as a food tourist draw was somewhat odd as if you are interested in food, you seek out the good places wherever you travel."

                                                                                                                    Surely you see that 1) not everywhere has great places to eat, and 2) there are specialties to be eaten in certain places. ?

                                                                                                                    Or do you genuinely feel that both of those are false statements?

                                                                                                                    1. re: BacoMan

                                                                                                                      Saison's flavors aren't unimaginable, just superior. Often there's just one ingredient with simple seasoning. Look at the photos linked to in my report on my meal there:


                                                                                                                      Compare photos of Atelier Crenn's dishes. They're probably as far toward the other end of the ingredient vs. technique spectrum as you'll find locally.

                                                                                                                      Crenn nevertheless sources great ingredients, and Saison sometimes uses sophisticated techniques. It's just a question of focus and style.

                                                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                        "Saison's flavors aren't unimaginable, just superior."

                                                                                                                        What does "superior" refer to here? Clarity? Or 'yum factor'?

                                                                                                                        "Often there's just one ingredient with simple seasoning."

                                                                                                                        So, what am I, the customer, paying for? I can go to a local Organic store with a hundred locally sourced ingredients before me, and combine them in very simple, direct ways for immediate flavors. I often do this.

                                                                                                                        The much more difficult thing to me seems to be to prepare foods in difficult ways, novel ways, etc... and bring together many different ingredients (or just the right combination of them) to create new taste experiences.

                                                                                                                        Can you explain more about why a single ingredient is preferable, when it seems like I would be paying a chef to do the opposite?

                                                                                                                        1. re: BacoMan

                                                                                                                          For example, my meal at Saison included the best caviar I've ever had, and fish sauce and canelé that were as good as I've had.

                                                                                                                          To me, on the one hand we have thousands of traditional recipes developed over generations by millions of grandmothers. On the other we have one person looking to impress diners with something radically new. Good luck with that, chef.

                                                                                                                        2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                          Or you could compare the taste of the food at Saison with AC's dishes when making a judgment. I've seen and eaten dishes with the same techniques and ingredients at both places.

                                                                                                                          1. re: tjinsf

                                                                                                                            Of course there's overlap in ingredients and technique, but Crenn often transforms ingredients far beyond recognition, at Saison that was the case only for some of the desserts.

                                                                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                              When I think about my meals at AC, I actually don't remember anything about the poem/menu, or the weird technical stuff. I remember the most pristine seafood I've eaten outside of Sushi Yasuda (her menus are heavily sea-based - the only "meat" course was quail, which worked for me).

                                                                                                                              The dishes that I remember best are a giant, beautiful, barely cooked prawn, and a perfect raw oyster with a bit of citrusy foam.

                                                                                                                              I remember that you hated WD-50. I did too. But AC's philosophy and approach are completely different. The main ingredients are usually very simply and classically cooked and allowed to shine. Accompaniments may be foams or gels or powders, and the whimsical presentation may be too twee for many, but I think it is completely inaccurate to say that her dishes are "probably as far toward the other end of the ingredient vs. technique spectrum as you'll find locally." If you actually look at those pictures you're referencing (I just did a random Google Image search, to make sure my meals there were representative), the core of almost every dish is a simple, minimally cooked piece of seafood, or some beautifully cooked vegetables.

                                                                                                                    2. Lived in both places, no big bucks but my 2 cents :

                                                                                                                      - quality of ingredients is stronger in SF. I.e never had bad oysters
                                                                                                                      - SF higher end Chinese restaurants i.e. Koi better than sea harbor elite etc
                                                                                                                      - LA trumps SF for Japanese and Korean, low and high end
                                                                                                                      - LA has a more exciting low end scene - Mexican, South American, Asian, Armenian. Iranian, Thai, Chinese etc etc.
                                                                                                                      - SF has terrific foodie countryside to explore Napa, Sonoma, Pt. Reyes (check out the oyster farms)
                                                                                                                      - High end fine dining - no contest SF wins hands down
                                                                                                                      - Mid/upper range - think the small plate joints etc. I give the edge to SF. Just found overall execution to be more consistent and stronger than LA.
                                                                                                                      - Practically every restaurant has a wine list in SF! They sure love wines up north
                                                                                                                      - Better service in SF

                                                                                                                      My conclusion: LA has a more practical dining and diverse dining scene for everyday living. Much larger city to explore - difficult to exhaust all that greater LA has to offer.
                                                                                                                      If only we can improve on quality of mid range places and have a proper high end scene.... LA will be a much stronger and well rounded dining destination. Alas I think the geographical size and dispersion will always be a barrier for sufficient and consistent critical mass necessary to support high end restaurants.

                                                                                                                      35 Replies
                                                                                                                      1. re: Sgee

                                                                                                                        Awesome post!

                                                                                                                        So, let's go with the mid-range discussion.

                                                                                                                        What kinds of places are you thinking of?

                                                                                                                        I have basically no SF experience, but it sounds like you have plenty in both. It feels to me like LA has some great mid-range places. So let's compare a dozen LA versus SF:

                                                                                                                        Bäco Mercat
                                                                                                                        Chi Spacca
                                                                                                                        Rustic Canyon
                                                                                                                        Tar & Roses
                                                                                                                        Red Medicine
                                                                                                                        Salt's Cure
                                                                                                                        Corazon y Miel
                                                                                                                        Son of a Gun
                                                                                                                        Hart & The Hunter
                                                                                                                        MB Post


                                                                                                                        State Bird Provisions
                                                                                                                        Sons & Daughters
                                                                                                                        Ad Hoc
                                                                                                                        Flour + Water
                                                                                                                        Slanted Door

                                                                                                                        I am not even sure if these do compare, but am very curious about any comparisons you might be able to make =)

                                                                                                                        As for the higher end. Could you elaborate on the ways in which you feel that places like Alma, Orsa & Winston, Melisse, Providence, Trois Mec, Maude, etc... get beaten so heavily by the SF guys (assuming Quince, Benu, Crenn, Saison, Coi, etc... ? Or are those even correct comparisons?)

                                                                                                                        Thank you very much for your post, really looking forward to your response to learn more about the SF dining scene! =)

                                                                                                                        1. re: BacoMan

                                                                                                                          I've become disenchanted with mid-range places so unfortunately will not comment on that. Too pricy for what you get and too similar - token charred octopus, crudos here and there, fried pigs ear, brussel sprouts etc. etc. becomes a blur after a while.

                                                                                                                          On the high end, in LA (non Japanese) you really only have Providence, Patina and Melisse as proper white linen places at 2-3* michelin equivalents (I have not been to Trois Mec). I think when I am paying $200+/person. I really want cuisine that is contemporary, creative, and very important - difficult or impossible for me to recreate at home.
                                                                                                                          There is a greater offering in SF of this caliber - Benu, Crenn, Saison, Meadowood FL, Manresa, etc. I dined at Providence a couple of months ago and found it good (not great) but felt really dated circa mid-2000s. So really very limited offering (or none) in LA.

                                                                                                                          I think there are some interesting things going on in the pop-up space (Wolvensmouth, Roberto Cortez...) and private events but it frankly is a pain in the a** having to keep up with social media to find and then you have to click at the right time to reserve etc etc. Too high maintenance, unpredictable and not convenient to plan around when you have a busy schedule... something to be said about convenience of brick and mortar location.

                                                                                                                          1. re: Sgee

                                                                                                                            " Sgee 27 minutes ago
                                                                                                                            I've become disenchanted with mid-range places so unfortunately will not comment on that."

                                                                                                                            Maybe I should private message you, but this is terrifying news for me, as I am most likely going to go up to SF somewhat soon to try some of those places out (or I was hoping to).

                                                                                                                            Are things really that horrific in SF?

                                                                                                                            I feel as if Los Angeles has been rather glorious in its mid-range. Admittedly there was a time when pork belly saturated menus, and it is true that octopus and crude seem to be everyone's favorite food, except mine...but there has been a strong enough wave of great mid-range (as opposed to mediocre mid-range, just trying to get in on the trends) that I have not eaten any of the token dishes you mentioned in a long time.

                                                                                                                            If you were to dine your way through the restaurants I listed before, you could totally avoid all of those dishes! in fact, I think out of all of them, only Animal has pig ears on the menu, and many totally lack crudos, and brussel sprouts. There really isn't that much similarity between them.

                                                                                                                            If things are different in SF...that is a mighty shame. The menus, and reports seem very promising, so maybe I should start a new thread to investigate?

                                                                                                                            If you've made it to Wolvesmouth, how do you feel that meal compares to other high-end places (ignoring the convenience factor)?

                                                                                                                            It's true LA is still lacking in that higher end space. Orsa & Winston just opened though. We also keep getting places in a range that SF doesn't seem to have, such as Alma, Trois Mec, etc... (even Orsa falls here with it's smaller tasting menus) where it's just over $100, but not anywhere near $200/person. In SF it appears that you are either paying around $50-$75, or ~$200-$400. Maybe I am wrong though.

                                                                                                                            Maybe mid-range actually refers to something that doesn't exist the way I am imagining it, and the $50-$75 is more of a low-mid?

                                                                                                                            1. re: BacoMan

                                                                                                                              You misunderstood my comment on mid range. Its been a few years since I left SF, my recollection coming to LA was food and execution were stronger in SF vs. LA in general. Nothing to be alarmed/horrified about. I do agree there have been a number of stronger offerings in LA the past 12mths. I will have to get out and do a better job exploring them.

                                                                                                                              As for the private/pop-up dining. I live vicariously through the bloggers. After trying to chase down Kogi trucks when they were all the rage, decided it was too much trouble keeping up with tweets and last minute notices of pop up events.

                                                                                                                              Both are excellent food cities, just need to take advantage of their respective sweet spots.

                                                                                                                              1. re: Sgee

                                                                                                                                It is true that in LA things are really taking off. Listing out all of my favorite restaurants, I am not sure any are more than 3-4 years old at the MOST. Many less than a year ago. Crazy to think about huh?

                                                                                                                                Do you enjoy eating anywhere in LA? Or do you mainly just cook for yourself now since it's not as good having been in SF?

                                                                                                                              2. re: BacoMan

                                                                                                                                In SF, mid-range to me is roughly appetizers $10-15, main courses $25-30, such as Incanto, St. Vincent, Cotogna. Or small plates of various sizes in the same range, such as Contigo, Bar Tartine, TBD.

                                                                                                                                I eat out all the time and usually spend under $50 a person on food.

                                                                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                  And here I thought you were dining at Saison every night!

                                                                                                                                  If you don't mind the divergence, could you say what your favorite restaurants in that "lesser" range are, that you usually eat at?

                                                                                                                                  I eat out every day, and the majority of my meals are under $50/person as well. I should be in SF in a month, and want to go to several places to start comparisons for myself. The two places that look like must-try places to me, without being a local, are Cotogna, and State Bird Provisions.

                                                                                                                                  But I would love to hear more about your experience in that mid-range of dining in SF =)

                                                                                                                                  1. re: BacoMan

                                                                                                                                    and it took only 153 replies for him to get to his point...

                                                                                                                                    1. re: BacoMan

                                                                                                                                      Click my user name on this post, there's a list of my favorite places. I believe I've posted about all of them. Google can be more efficient than Chow search for finding a particular user's posts about a particular restaurant, e.g.:

                                                                                                                                      site:chow.com intitle:francisco intitle:cotogna "robert lauriston"

                                                                                                                                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                      Me too. 3 apps, two glasses of wine. Or 2 apps 1 entree if we're hungry.

                                                                                                                                    3. re: BacoMan

                                                                                                                                      Bacoman, since you mentioned a place we go for semi-special occasions, and are interested in meal costs -- we had a very good dinner recently at SPQR when two small production wine makers were visiting with their wines. spent $120. per person, which included two half glasses of white wine plus another glass of the older vintage, which was as fine as any dry white we've had from anywhere (the winemaker brought only 5 bottles or so with him), and 500 ml. of a very good, young ('08) Piemontese nebbiolo. service was excellent, as usual, a fairly significant factor in our affection for the place.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: moto

                                                                                                                                        SPQR's wine list is great. Co-owner Shelley Lindgren also does the lists at A16 and A16 Rockridge, which are more roomy and have little or no French influence, which might be a plus or a minus depending on your prejudices.


                                                                                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                          have met Ms.Lindgren before, and ate at the first A16 back when it was new and Napoletana pizzas were fewer and farther between in these parts. we prefer the menu and cooking at SPQR, generally find it lower in noise volume and more leisurely compared to A16, and don't consider national stereotypes or characterizations in our preferences. we usually bring our own wine -- even after corkage, comparable stuff is often $40-50+ over the original retail price.

                                                                                                                                  2. re: BacoMan

                                                                                                                                    BacoMan: I ate at Sons & Daughters last Sunday night. With tax and tip, it was just about $375, and only one of us had alcohol (the wine pairing for one, the other had only sparkling water and coffee). Not my idea of mid-range, and I wouldn't compare it to any of the other SF mid range places on your above list that I've tried (Aziza, Delfina, Incanto, Slanted Door), where my meals have typically been less than half that price, sometimes considerably less than half. Then again, I haven't eaten at any of the LA places you list as mid-range (I am in the camp that the LA region shines at lower range spots, particularly Mexican if one chooses carefully, Korean, Chinese, other Asian...), I have eaten at Providence, but only for brunch, which wasn't in the same sphere as S & D at all. The only 'high end' on your list in SF I've tried is Coi, which didn't impress, but that was years ago. Here's my brief mention way back when:


                                                                                                                                    As for S & D, I had a wonderful time, loved the space (I thought we had the best table in the house but then my idea of what makes a table great may be a bit idiosyncratic), really enjoyed the wine pairing, and thought the food was delicious although not necessarily revelatory (the beet dish, which is usually on the menu, was particularly memorable, as was a Norwegian salmon.) The food, service and experience were well worth the tab. Most importantly, I had fun: while the food is mostly formal in presentation and composition, the service and vibe are definitely not formal, which hubby-the-restaurant-hater appreciated.

                                                                                                                                    I'd definitely return to Sons and Daughters, though at that price point I may have to wait for the next very special occasion (I was there for a milestone birthday with a zero and many, many decades involved.).

                                                                                                                                    1. re: susancinsf

                                                                                                                                      When S&D opened in 2010 it was about $50 for four courses. What is it now, $100?

                                                                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                        $98, seven small courses and an amuse, plus at least three different breads paired with some of the courses (all bread baked in house, all lovely). The wine pairing, with generous pours, was $68. There is a mandatory 15% tip included on all bills, we added another 5%. Some of the best service I've had in a long time: friendly, welcoming, very well timed.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: susancinsf

                                                                                                                                          Our two most recent high end meals were at Sons & Daughters and Baumé. Sons & Daughters is $98 plus and tip, Baumé is $198 with service inclusive. Wine pairings of the same size are similarly more expensive, though Baumé also offers a smaller 4-wine option.

                                                                                                                                          What do you get for that much more money? Two things stand out: a lot more luxury ingredients (e.g a fantastic caviar dish matched with an incredible Champagne) and more complex preparations (e.g. one of the best beef dishes I've had in my life).

                                                                                                                                          Sons & Daughters is more Californian, Baumé is modern French. I loved both meals and I look forward to returning to both restaurants, but I felt distinctly more pampered at Baumé.

                                                                                                                                          By the way, when Baumé says service is included, they mean it. There's no disclosure of what percent the service is and the credit card receipt comes back closed with no additional tip option. That's a European influence I rather enjoyed!


                                                                                                                                          1. re: mdg

                                                                                                                                            "By the way, when Baumé says service is included, they mean it. There's no disclosure of what percent the service is and the credit card receipt comes back closed with no additional tip option. That's a European influence I rather enjoyed!"

                                                                                                                                            Why is it that not all restaurants of such a level are like that?

                                                                                                                                            I guess it's kind of shitty for the waitstaff, but still. Somehow it seems almost tacky to me to charge tax, and tip when you're at that level of dining.

                                                                                                                                            Also, why $198? This surely isn't bargain pricing. Why not an even $200? I find it very strange. Can you, or anyone else, explain the psychology of it?

                                                                                                                                            1. re: BacoMan

                                                                                                                                              "Also, why $198? This surely isn't bargain pricing. Why not an even $200?"

                                                                                                                                              You might get a kick out of reading William Poundstone's book "Priceless". It has a chapter about restaurant menus as well as other pricing issues. Readily available from Amazon.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: nocharge

                                                                                                                                                Yeah, looks like a fun read. I find pricing to be a very strange thing. I have to deal with it all the time in my line of work...it's like voodoo.

                                                                                                                                                I've read a lot of things about restaurant menu pricing in various other sources. Most of it doesn't really apply to that super high level of dining though. Does he write specifically about those ultra-high-end places?

                                                                                                                                                1. re: BacoMan

                                                                                                                                                  There is a little bit in "Priceless" about how ultra-high-end places use anchoring techniques. There is also some discussion about menu pricing in a somewhat same vein as these articles:

                                                                                                                                              2. re: BacoMan

                                                                                                                                                "Can you, or anyone else, explain the psychology of it?"

                                                                                                                                                Likely either just habit, or the usual reason for euphemistic pricing: the market responds to it. Same reason --

                                                                                                                                                - processed food is routinely heavily salted

                                                                                                                                                - US packaged condiments and breads often have added sugar where historically it was unheard-of

                                                                                                                                                - food packaging panders to the very latest consumer fad, whether it was "low carb" (10 years ago), "no HFCS" (5 yrs ago), or "gluten-free" today (even with foods that have never had any relation whatever to gluten).

                                                                                                                                                Customers reward producers for doing these things, so they do them.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                                  I guess it's just incredible to me that the customers in the market for dinners like those at Saison, or The French Laundry are enticed by the $198, versus the $200, in the same way that people at McDonald's are enticed by $.99 fries instead of $1 fries (not).

                                                                                                                                              3. re: mdg

                                                                                                                                                In response to mdg: I also would love the idea of a truly 'no tip' restaurant: I actually was a bit surprised that Sons & Daughters would add a tip, but then make it only 15%, which I consider too low.

                                                                                                                                                As for pampered, I'd be curious what you mean by pampered. If you mean more high end ingredients (caviar, etc.) that could well be worth the additional tab to me (Depending upon the ingredient). If however, you mean that the service was more formal or more engaged, I am not sure I'd need or even want that, personally. It is hard enough to drag hubby to a high-end place as it is; if he thought it was going to be very formal I might have had to celebrate my xxx birthday without him! (though of course, it was only one of a series of celebration meals, including a decidedly low-end dim sum meal, and a mid-range meal with my twin, BIL and hubby at La Ciccia, where we were pampered in the way La Ciccia does best, that is, shown a whole lot of love, in cooking and in service, by owners Max and Lorella....)

                                                                                                                                                1. re: susancinsf

                                                                                                                                                  Baumé's space is a bit more formal, primarily because the tables are more widely separated - something else that you're paying for, of course. The service was quite similar to Sons & Daughters - knowledgeable but not formal. The pampering was a combination of the food and the space, mostly the food.


                                                                                                                                                  1. re: mdg

                                                                                                                                                    well-spaced tables are important to me. Sons & Daughters called to ask about my preferences before my reservation; I told them I'd eat almost anything but would truly appreciate a well spaced table. They noted they were small, but would do their best, especially since it was a milestone birthday. Sure enough, they gave us a four top in the window in the little room to the left as you enter. Perfect for us, and definitely better spaced than some of two tops. It probably helped that we dined early on a school (Sunday) night.

                                                                                                                                          2. re: susancinsf

                                                                                                                                            When were you last in LA? Or how often do you dine in LA?

                                                                                                                                            It's only within the last few years a that the mid-range has taken off it seems like. Most of the places I list are less than 4 years old. Many are less than a year old.

                                                                                                                                            I'm honestly not sure what to call a place like S & D with it's pricing. I usually think of $50-$100/person as mid-range, but then there are places like that which are more like $150-75/person that I don't know how to categorize because they aren't as wild as the Saison kind of level where it's $200++.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: BacoMan

                                                                                                                                              I get to LA fairly often, both for work and because family (my daughter, SIL and grandkids) live there. Last trip a month ago, next trip this next week, two trips altogether in the month of March. It is true that when I am there I am inclined to seek out what I can't get at home, and that often includes the low end options, especially when I am on the relatively limited expense reimbursement parameters of my (public, tax payer supported) employer, or have a five year old granddaughter in tow (although one thing I do think is a relative strength in LA is mid range Mexican. 'Ethnic food' and fine dining are not mutually exclusive. )

                                                                                                                                              My point about the cost of S&D vs say, Aziza or Incanto is that it is enough more expensive that I wouldn't want to mislead other hounds who are slogging through this thread, that it is comparable in cost. It isn't: it is a whole LOT more expensive. The other difference is that with a set menu only, there aren't options to keep cost down once one is there, other than not indulging in the wine pairing of course. It is also a style difference. Obviously, however, it isn't in the same league as French Laundry, so I get why categorization can be difficult. As to how much different the experience is than say, the French Laundry, I couldn't say, since I have never been to the latter. I can say that it is very different than Aziza, Incanto, Slanted Door, etc.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: susancinsf

                                                                                                                                                S & D's tating menu is $98, Aziza's tasting menu is $95. Incanto seems like if you each had a main, a pasta, and an appetizer it would be about $65/person. So, yeah, I guess it is a bit more. Not sure it's so much more that it needs a warning. It is in that weird class of restaurants that seem almost too high-priced to be mid-range, but too low-priced to be high-end (Saison, French Laundry, etc..).

                                                                                                                                                "one thing I do think is a relative strength in LA is mid range Mexican"

                                                                                                                                                What is your idea of mid-range Mexican? Or, where do you eat in LA that you think of as being the strength of LA in the category?

                                                                                                                                                SF (on paper at least) appears to have some incredible mid-range Mexican options (Nopalito, Mamacita, Comal, etc...).

                                                                                                                                                1. re: BacoMan

                                                                                                                                                  S&D is prix-fixe tasting menu only. You can order a la carte at Aziza and eat well for under $50.

                                                                                                                                                  If I had to order an appetizer, pasta, and main dish off Incanto's current sample menu I'd spend $46, though usually I order a lot of appetizers and a pasta or two.

                                                                                                                                              2. re: BacoMan

                                                                                                                                                I call $98 prix-fixe high end. It might be the low end of the high end but it's twice what I consider the limit of mid-range.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                                  Well, if it's 2x the limit of the mid-range, then what is the $50-$100 range?

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: BacoMan

                                                                                                                                                    I don't think there are many places in the $50-100 range. I believe $30 for an entree is the limit for many consumers. Restaurants that want to charge more almost always drop a la carte and jump to $100 or more.

                                                                                                                                                    Sons & Daughters, for example, started out in 2010 with entrees under $25 and a $48 four-course prix-fixe. In 2011 they dropped a la carte in favor of five courses for $76. In 2012 they raised the price to $98, then to $135 service compris. Customers balked so in 2013 they dropped it to $110 ($96 plus 15% service charge).

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston


                                                                                                                                                      Are we counting tax & tip in the pricing here?

                                                                                                                                                      It seems to me like a majority of the best restaurants in LA are in that $50-$100 range (usually about $60/person in my experience, but that's including tax + tip).

                                                                                                                                                      So, for example, when I dine at Cotogna, the bill should be around $100 for two?

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: BacoMan

                                                                                                                                                        I'm not counting beverages, tax, tip, service charge, or health care / city mandates surcharges. I only mentioned the S&D service charge because they folded it in and then broke it out again.

                                                                                                                                                        The way I order at Cotogna, the food part of the bill definitely totals less than $100 for two.