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Mar 5, 2014 09:04 PM

Sunday night dinner: Sons and Daughters vs AQ or Commonwealth [San Francisco]

I have one night for dinner in SF. I am staying at Le Meridien, and Sons and Daughters looks to be walking distance (around 3/4 mile). I would need a cab to either of the other two, which offsets some of the higher cost at Sons and Daughters (how much is a mile and a half cab ride in SF anyway?). I have read MANY discussions about all 3 restaurants, including those which directly compare AQ and Commonwealth. But please humor me and weigh in! Factor in that I am a solo diner, and that I value inventive, new flavor combinations above all else and food far higher than atmosphere or service, and tell me which you would choose!

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  1. If my own experience is anything to go by this past week, almost everyone is going to tell you to go to AQ.

    A few might suggest S & D. But these forums are fairly unanimous in their approval of AQ for what you are looking for. I have a reservation there for a few weeks from now based on these forums.

    Will be very interesting to see how your experience is if you choose AQ.

    1 Reply
    1. re: BacoMan

      I have read several of your threads with great interest, they helped me to narrow my choices down to these three (and caused me to consider countless others not on an original list). I hope you enjoy your jaunt up north! Thanks for taking the time to distill what you have gleaned.

    2. AQ is inventive, and this would be your last chance to try it with the a la carte menu.

      40 Replies
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        I am specifically hoping for a tasting menu, so the a la carte option isn't a deciding factor there. AQ is more inventive than Sons and Daughters, in your opinion?

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Fair enough. Thanks for the input! Any other places you think I should consider instead? I am basically cross referencing chowhound posts/distance/michelin stars/menus/cost. It is slightly exhausting.

            1. re: kstaigs

              AQ's very comfortable for a solo diner and it's relatively inexpensive as tasting menus go. Good idea to make a reservation.

              1. re: kstaigs

                Surprisingly, AQ and Commonwealth both lack Michelin stars, while S & D has one.

                Bauer said both deserve a star.

                Based on what I have heard about them, and seen, it seems insane that neither of them have a star, considering that State Bird Provisions has one.

                Very weird.

                Both AQ and Commonwealth offer insanely reasonable tasting menus at $68 though, compared to the $98 tasting menu at S & D. I think they're all the same number of courses roughly, too.

                If you dine a la carte at AQ though it's $90/person (following their 4 course layout).

                Robert says the a la carte is worth it, but I actually really like the look at the tasting menu at AQ. Also, the wine list at AQ is completely insane, with the majority of bottles at $100+, not many glasses, either. Which makes their wine pairings at $48 seem like a steal.

                Too many people have said Commonwealth is too boring for what it is for me to pick it over AQ, and they almost seem like two versions of the same restaurant (casual, high-end creative food in the Mission). They are literally priced the same though, and are both lacking the Michelin star. Commonwealth does have a dish in Eater SF's 20 most iconic SF Dishes though, but it doesn't seem like a particularly fascinating dish oddly enough (peanut butter bar and frozen popcorn basically).

                S & D strikes me as being a more classically oriented place. Its probably really good, but obviously it'll cost almost 50% more, has more formality to it, etc... and I haven't really seen any specific dishes that lure me in. Though the website is exquisitely designed.

                I feel you about the exhausting part of all this research. I've probably spent a shameful 8 hours a day or more, every day for the past week or so looking at SF restaurant reviews and making posts here.

                I have to stop now because I am burnt out. There's just too much in SF to explore.

                I cancelled some Flour + Water reservations, and am just going to eat at Cotogna, and AQ, and the rest of the time, crawl around The Mission at bakeries/coffee shops/ice cream shops etc... and such I think. Maybe go to Mission Chinese, or just get a plantain burrito at Cu Co's. Maybe venture into Oakland to try the fried chicken at Box and Bell's with oyster mayonnaise which everyone says is so spectacular.

                Maybe just visit some places like the Alembic Bar for those jerk duck hearts...pop into Frances for bacon beignets..and Gitane for bacon bonbons...and State Bird for the quail and a rabbit roti.

                I would make more of an effort to go to Aziza if everyone here didn't say it sucks now.

                1. re: BacoMan

                  AQ lists about 25 wines by the glass and they often have additional choices not on the list. That said, I'd still order the pairing.


                  AQ is on Mission St. but that neighborhood is SOMA / Civic Center.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    You can get the pairing with a la carte?

                  2. re: BacoMan

                    AQ's menu changes format on March 18th. If you get there beforehand, it's about $90-$100 if you go a la carte without drinks. They recommend eating 3 of the 4 courses, plus a dessert.

                    If you get there before the 18th, their current aged duck dish had a meatiness that floored me. The progression of milk dessert, which features winter citrus paired with milk desserts ranging in caramelization (panna cotta->something that tasted like lucky charms-> thin caramel wafers) was better in concept than taste.

                    Not sure how easy it is to just pop into Frances. Alembic is a bar more than a restaurant, and will get crowded, but you'll be fine.

                    Mission Chinese has long waits, but is dead after lunch. There's enough inconsistency there that you should be careful not to waste a vacation meal on them. My take:

                    -Even when they're not on their game, the vegetarian (or not) thrice cooked pork and the tea-smoked eel are inventive and worth getting.
                    - For the Kung Pao pastrami, trust your eyes--- if the kung pao looks good on other people's tables, get it. Otherwise, move right along.
                    - Rice dishes are too inconsistent, and their mapo doufu, while one of the better versions in Bay Area, is more notable for its actual adherence to traditional ingredients than for its innovations.

                    1. re: hyperbowler

                      Wait, how is the AQ menu changing on the 18th? Are they going to Spring you mean?

                      Sadly I won't be there till the 22nd =( That really sucks actually. I was hoping to try the chicken and snails!

                      But hopefully the Spring menu will be just as good.

                      Is there no bar at Frances to just get a quick bite after a little wait?

                      Is the Alembic as good as it looks, or not really?

                      Others have said the Cod rice at Mission Chinese is awesome.

                      I think we'd stop into Mission to try the Kung Pao Pastrami though. Just one dish to sample something from there.

                      Trying to think of how a day of going around sampling various places could play out. Maybe it's not possible to accomplish, but it would be interesting to. So many specific dishes and places I really want to try out!

                      1. re: BacoMan

                        AQ's format change :

                        Frances reserves bar seating for walk-ins, but they've never been open in my experience. Neighborhood folks should chime in ...

                        Except maybe Aziza, I can't think of a place that's competitive for cocktails west of Alembic. If you're in the upper Haight at night, you're not gonna get better food than Alembic. That said, I'm not sure what their menu will be due to their expansion. Best to call:

                        Cod fried rice *can* be awesome, but I only experienced that one time, a few years ago. Clearly others have had better luck as might you.

                        1. re: hyperbowler

                          "Frances reserves bar seating for walk-ins, but they've never been open in my experience. Neighborhood folks should chime in ..."

                          If you get there an hour before opening or something? I don't mind waiting a while. I'll be in SF mainly for food explorations anyway haha

                          Is the Alembic worth it for the food alone, or only in conjunction with cocktails?

                          1. re: BacoMan

                            Regarding Frances, I bike by every day on my way home from work. There are ten seats at the bar reserved for walk-ins. It is usually possible to get a walk-in seat M-W before 6 PM with no trouble. Any other night I might advise lining up a bit early--probably not more than 15-20 minutes; it's not quite State Bird these days.

                            We tried to stop in at 8:45 PM for dessert last night (Wednesday) and were told that no tables would be available before 10 PM. It's possible we just hit it at exactly the turnover time, but it's still very busy.

                            1. re: tripit

                              Cool. It sounds like it should be no problem with my itinerary then.

                              Do you happen to know if it's a similar setup at Gitane?

                              What do you think of State Bird? It had been off my list because people here seem to dislike it so much, but it has a Michelin star (while AQ does not!) and the more I think about it, the more I really want to try that damn quail they do, even if it is possibly overhyped.

                              1. re: BacoMan

                                We walked into Gitane at dinnertime on a Saturday a couple of weeks ago, the inside was fully reserved but the mostly enclosed heated area in the alley was empty.

                                I think there are a lot of places as good as the ones that have one star that don't get them purely due to the Michelin inspectors' French prejudice.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  It seems shocking to see places like Cotogna on the Bib Gourmand list, or AQ starless for some reason...not that I have eaten there yet of course hah

                                  I haven't eaten at many michelin star places in my life, just getting to there. So am pretty curious to see what makes the difference exactly.

                                  It's kind of crazy because from the menu and ambiance I see online, State Bird does not look that Michelin...

                                2. re: BacoMan

                                  I went to State Bird right before the NYT article in 2012, and went again last month. I loved it both times. Just about every dish I had was delicious, and seemed to break free from the typical ingredient-focused SF mold while at the same time not being too showoffy.

                                  Michelin one-stars in SF seem kind of arbitrary to me--I'd say at this point, just take a look at the many places you've been recommended on Chowhound, pick a few menus you find interesting, and go with those, rather than worrying about star ratings. Personally, I much preferred State Bird to AQ, and Frances to both, but there are bound to be some who disagree.

                                  1. re: tripit

                                    Everyone else on these forums seems to think State Bird pretty much sucks, or is just really overhyped. Interesting to see a contrary opinion pop up. I actually really want to try the quail.

                                    What do you mean by it gets away from the ingredient-focused cuisine of SF? They use sub-par ingredients? Isn't that a bad thing?

                                    What was so great about Frances though? Other than the bacon beignets =P

                                    1. re: BacoMan

                                      I am also puzzled by "gets away from ingredient-focused cuisine". If it's not about ingredients it's about ... recipe / fusion ? technique? Presentation? Poetry :-) ?

                                      1. re: bbulkow

                                        It's been a long day--what I was trying to express, likely in too few words, is that many recent openings in SF seem to compose dishes that highlight a single ingredient, with only a few supporting elements, with most of these elements prepared in somewhat traditional ways. This is fine by me; somewhwere like Frances is certainly in this set. High-quality ingredients, correctly cooked, are great.

                                        In comparison, the dishes at State Bird seemed to have more going on and contain more separate elements, often in more complex and whimsical combinations (pecan pancakes with duck ham is one example I can remember). At this price level, I don't think you can do much better for cooking that is both creative and refined in its execution.

                                        To BacoMan, I've been to Frances 6 or 7 times--it's right around the corner from me--and I have never had a dish that I have not found excellent. Black bass, chicken liver mousse, and baked clams stand out in my memory, but really, everything has been great.

                                        1. re: tripit

                                          Fuck it, I'm going to go to State Bird I think.

                                          I actually really like cooking that present novel flavor combinations. To me that's more difficult than simply cooking a single ingredient well.

                                          Although I am assuming that State Bird still prepares its ingredients well...just combining them in novel ways.

                                          I guess my question was poorly worded. I was more curious why you would rank Frances higher than AQ or State Bird?

                                          1. re: BacoMan

                                            I didn't have a great meal at AQ. There were a few execution and service errors. I realize that a lot of people on this board have had a different experience, so maybe I hit them on an off night.

                                            Regarding Frances vs. State Bird, I think I prefer the atmosphere at Frances, but it's also much easier for me to go to Frances. I think that one factor contributing to your feeling that people on this bird find State Bird overhyped is that the only reliable way to actually dine at State Bird is 1) show up on Fillmore St. at a time inconvenient to most 9-to-5ers; or 2) make a reservation between 4 and 5 AM PST exactly 60 days before your preferred date. If you're just visiting SF and can plan your day around it, it's actually a little easier. But it's hard not to let the question change from "Is State Bird good?" to "Is it worth jumping through these hoops to go there?"

                                            1. re: tripit

                                              At what time on a Sunday night would you need to get there to score a spot, do you think? I have been intrigued by State Bird for a while now, and your description makes me want to go even more. And I agree with you about Michelin stars, the awards here in Chicago seem crazy to me in most cases. But it is a place to start in choosing, when you have every restaurant in the city to choose from, essentially. If I gamble and don't get in there, though, I will be left without a reso and it will vastly change my options. Might be worth it.

                                              1. re: kstaigs

                                                on a Sunday, I would get in line no later than 4:30, preferably earlier. If you don't get in, you can always go up the street to SPQR. I would also include Benu on your list for next time (and Crenn of course)

                                                1. re: barleywino

                                                  My personal experience on a Friday was 5:00 would have been fine, we were aggressive in arriving at 4:30, got the 4th spot in line, and thus easily in the 1st seating, and at the counter which only seats 5 couples (and they only seat 2's, there is a slightly different counter where they seat 1's). By 5:00 there were a lot of folks in line (30?), but I suspect a lot of those people got 1st seating. By 5:15 there was a humongous line so long I couldn't see the end of it - and I wasn't ready to risk my spot to find out how long :-) At 6:00, when we were seated, a guy came in, and got a slot on the late side - like 9:15 or something - they would call him on his cell phone and he would take a cab over - they don't keep people waiting on the curb forever.

                                                  There's a couple of interesting bars about two blocks south, one a block north. Nothing _right_ there.

                                                  The wait passed quickly. Other folks in line were in a fun atmosphere, we made friends with the people ahead of and behind us, one of who was a retired physics perfesser (like my GF's dad), one who was a local chef (some restaurants we knew, mostly doing private catering on the peninsula). The time passed quickly.

                                                  Yes, I think it's a fine point - this is "chef driven" not "single ingredient driven". In this way the menu is actually misleading - it just lists ingredients but doesn't list the style of food. It is very focused on combinations, like buckwheat pancakes (which have an interesting and specific flavor) with a variety of toppings, and it's about the opposition and how to build a combined dish that comes together.

                                                  Given that lofty goal, I thought they did OK at it. By OK I mean I'd eat there regularly if it wasn't crowded, and I'd drag my friends there. I didn't get my face blown off by any of the dishes - I did at Crenn, several dishes brought me to tears. It would easily be up there with some of my other favorite no-reservation places like Zare@Flytrap. And, the price was REALLY reasonable - we got STUFFED for less than $50/pp out-the-door-with-1.5-wines each. And, I loved being at the counter and watching the chef work - one dish where he was clearly thinking about this dish during the day, and put it together as we were sitting, then took them out of the oven and tasted it, liked it, and I got to talk to him about the dish, what he was trying to do, get a sample, grab one of the dishes. NICE, and why it's worth sitting at the counter - VERY personal service.

                                                  But as it is, it's a hassle and a half, still, which takes it off both the recommend list and the going list. It's CERTAINLY worth going to once. And it's fun. Whether it hits the "one of 3 meals in SF bar" .... mebby. Depends on you.

                                                  1. re: bbulkow

                                                    Wow, thank you for that description. I think the Dim Sum format alone is worth it for me, we have nothing like that here in Chicago. I mean outside very traditional places in Chinatown. I am leaning heavily toward it.

                                                    1. re: kstaigs

                                                      Somebody in Chicago will probably jump on the cart fad soon. Knockoffs are already open in LA, NY, and PIttsburgh.

                                                      1. re: kstaigs

                                                        Went to State Bird tonight at 4:40pm, barely got in. Sundays could be busier since people are not coming from work. I would try to get there no later than 4:30. The line may look short but people tend to hold spots in line for companions who arrive later.

                                                        1. re: barleywino

                                                          We will get in line at 4 then. We'll bring a Chess board.

                                                          1. re: BacoMan

                                                            If you get there first, I will buy the first round of drinks. And I will bring an obscure German card game because, well, I don't really play chess.

                                                            1. re: kstaigs

                                                              Some people in line were drinking PBR tall boys from across the street to pass the time...

                                        2. re: BacoMan

                                          Just to give you another opinion, I adore Statebird, as did my often highly critical of restaurants mother on her last visit.
                                          Both before and after the remodel, I've had consistently wonderful meals there. I love being able to order a variety of dishes and have had not had the problem some seem to have of feeling like everything is too heavy.

                                          Plus, the service has always been great.

                                          1. re: absc

                                            My experience at SBP has also been great -- the food is very good and interesting, and the service some of the best anywhere.

                                  2. re: BacoMan

                                    not so much a fan of the food at Alembic, or even the drinks. maybe better off at Coqueta (try the brulee'd drink The Sun Never Sets) or Trick Dog (get the boneless wings and the trick dog of course). PS. Mission Chinese is currently closed for vacation, best check ahead

                              2. re: hyperbowler

                                Moot point in two weeks, but I don't order one from each of the four price ranges at AQ, I tend to get more from the less expensive sections.

                                On the 18th AQ is not just redecorating for spring but changing to prix-fixe only. There will be a ~$50 four-course with choices for each and an $80 tasting menu without.


                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  Well...guess I will inadvertently be one of the first diners to see how that change goes!

                                  Actually, the $50 4-course will be a splendid change for my companion and I though, and the way we'd like to order. So this is excellent news in some sense.

                                  Thought hopefully the food quality is not affected.

                                  1. re: BacoMan

                                    No reason the food quality should change except for the better.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      Seems like it *crosses fingers* A bunch of the more adventurous places in LA have made this transition to good results.

                                      1. re: BacoMan

                                        Their new place TBD a couple of doors down is a la carte so it's taking over that role.

                                        Many of the high-end prix-fixe places in SF evolved from a la carte.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          That was a great hijacking which helped me immensely! BacoMan, imagine if you had just ONE meal in the city, it feels like an impossible choice to make. I am going to be in Sonoma for the rest of the weekend with friends, but I decided to fly out one day later so that I could have one solo meal. The fact that the full tasting at AQ is now $80 is an interesting consideration...although 4 courses would probably be fine. And my budget would love me.

                    2. Commonwealth is quieter, doesn't have a full bar - so on that basis alone as a solo diner I'd prefer the more bustling atmosphere of AQ (Neither though ranks in my top 10)

                      17 Replies
                      1. re: goldangl95

                        I searched your profile and cannot find your "top ten" anywhere in your recent posts. Might I ask that you share here?

                        1. re: kstaigs

                          Sure. I don't have an official top 10 list but if I were to toss out food I've really enjoyed (at restaurants) in the last year in SF more than what I had at AQ or Commonwealth (and in no particular order):

                          Quince (just a perfect all around meal)
                          Skool (though service was not great)
                          Flour + Water
                          Coqueta (it didn't necessarily "rise above" but it was a solid meal and liked the atmosphere)
                          1760 ( a total random surprise but I liked their cocktails and food)
                          Roka Akor (total vegas, totally pricey,wouldn't necessarily recommend it here - but there's such a dearth of solid sushi that I'll take it)
                          Nopa (though it's just as solid as many others that don't have the same amount of reservation pressure)

                          Now granted, I live outside SF and so I get most of my Indian, Chinese, Mexican etc. there - so my list is skewed towards the upper end 'trendier' type restaurants that are much rarer outside SF.

                          I guess when it comes to both AQ and Commonwealth, perhaps I don't have an adventurous palate? (I openly acknowledge I'm more sensitive to bitter tastes than the average person) - but while I appreciated the innovation at both restaurants in the end I didn't actually ENJOY the food enough to want to go back. I still appreciate both of them over State Bird Provisions which was not particularly innovative (IMHO).

                          1. re: goldangl95

                            Thank you for that! I would say my palate craves "adventure". My favorite place here in Chicago is Schwa, which many don't like because it is REALLY out there. And several other Chicago restaurants which wow most I find pedestrian. Basically, my goal here is to try a flavor combination I have never had before. I am not necessarily a fan of gastronomical biology, at least not when it is gimmick above taste. But such treatments often go hand in hand with the kind of innovation I am always seeking. It can be a tricky task and has led to some crappy meals, but there it is.

                            1. re: kstaigs

                              Wow, jealous. How was Schwa?? I hope to get to dine there one day.

                              I wonder if you would be happier at Commis in Oakland than either of the three original places you brought up?

                              1. re: BacoMan

                                I thought about it, but wouldn't the cab fare be ridiculous? It does look most clearly up my alley.

                                1. re: kstaigs

                                  You can take the Bart over the bridge for like $5.

                                  1. re: BacoMan

                                    Hmm. Well, it would involve an almost mile walk from the BART station in Oakland through what I understand is a slightly sketchy neighborhood. And yes, I live IN Chicago and I spend a fair amount of time in sketchy neighborhoods. But is it worth it with so many great choices so much closer?

                                    1. re: kstaigs

                                      That's a personal choice. I don't think it's as sketchy as it is made out to be from my personal time spent in Oakland.

                                      A mile isn't that long of a walk imo.

                                      But if you don't feel it's worth it, then sure, don't go.

                                      Just seems like it's more up your personal alley, and you may be deeply enough into food to warrant it.

                                      But who knows. I doubt either AQ or Commis will top Schwa sadly. =(

                                      1. re: BacoMan

                                        Oh, I am not expecting it. It was just one of those once in a lifetime synergistic things where everything came together just right. I guess, given the time it would take to get there and back, it might be a lot of pressure on Commis to make it all worthwhile. I know from experience that managing expectation is important. I have never loved a really out there expensive meal as much as a more moderately priced one in the same wheelhouse. It just makes me personally feel like it needs to be THAT much better, and is it ever? It probably can be, it just hasn't happened that way for me yet. Maybe I need more money. In this case, I think the distance might make me...grumpy.

                                        1. re: kstaigs

                                          Yeah, go to AQ then. I sympathize with you (as one of the few fellow non-millionaires here). I would say just go to AQ.

                                          Ultimately I made the same decision, and it sounds like we're pretty similar in dining style, tastes, etc...

                                          Too bad we'll be in SF on different weekends!

                                          1. re: BacoMan

                                            True! Also apparently too bad that we are both going after the big shakeup on the 18th. Not that I think quality will suffer, but such a change might always disrupt the magic, especially so soon after. Or it might be just what they need to get that stupid old Michelin star. Either way, we will never know, because we will never have experienced it the way it was. Now I am getting wistful. Must be the wine.

                                            1. re: kstaigs

                                              Ah well... I am actually looking forward to the change. It is going to massively improve my experience, unless it causes the food to suck.

                                              My main gripe with AQ was the menu formatting from what I have seen online, so I am quite excited about it.

                                              Which weekend are you going again though? I thought you were going before the 18th?

                                              1. re: BacoMan

                                                Nope, this dinner will be Sunday the 23rd.

                                                1. re: kstaigs

                                                  Oh, crazy! I must've misread something. We actually will be in town on the same weekend!

                                                  Let me know if you're interested in a serendipitous meeting of some sort, it could alter the possible options.

                                                  I don't see a private message option, but here is a a public email you can send me a message at if you're interested, it could change your dining options:


                                                  1. re: BacoMan

                                                    Email sent. Let me know if you didn't get it, yahoo is being a jerk.

                                2. re: BacoMan

                                  Oh, and Schwa was far and beyond the best dining experience of my life. No servers, no host, just you and the kitchen and other diners, some with $200 bottles of wine, some with a 12 pack of PBR. I heard from a friend who staged there that they liked gummy candy, so I brought some kind of fancy gummy bears, and they treated us to 4 extra courses and poured several off the menu from their personal supply. Every dish was remarkable and brought me pure joyful delight. OK, one dish was unremarkable. But one out of 14 ain't bad. For weeks I would look over the menu I saved (and on which I wrote notes to include the extra stuff) just to relive it for a brief moment.

                          2. re: goldangl95

                            Also curious about your top 10, if you don't mind sharing.

                          3. Well, I'll take the bait and chime in with a thumbs up for Commonwealth. I have had the tasting menu a few times, a la carte a few times, and always felt that the flavors are creative and the ingredients allowed to shine, a fine balance. We've brought friends there from out of state who have also enjoyed it, for what it's worth. Also love their wine list and pairings. I have only eaten at the bar once but it was comfortable and provided a good view of the kitchen. So I think you can't really go wrong with either AQ or Commonwealth given your parameters. I can't speak to S&D.

                            1. If you can stretch the distance and a bit more money I would go to Atelier Crenn.

                              I was hugely disappointed in Sons & Daughters.
                              Have not been to Commonwealth.
                              I would go to AQ over S&D, but Atelier Crenn is truly splendid. Their 'Signature' menu of 9 courses is $120. Definitely no need to go for their $195 blowout.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: pauliface

                                Really? Atelier Crenn has a $120 menu that's worthwhile?? I don't know how I didn't realize that!


                                1. re: pauliface

                                  Sunday night, Crenn is closed. As are all my other first choices, actually. I was going to go all out. But alas, it is not to be this trip.