Just spent a week in the Bay Area (didn't consult here beforehand (gasp!))...here's what I found
I spent most of my week in the San Mateo area, with a few days in the city and essentially picked and chose places to eat with very little research beyond hitting up their website and seeing if there was a line out the door. I think I ended up doing pretty well actually. Of course, being the Bay Area, I'm guessing the ratio of good restaurants to bad is probably a lot higher than most other cities.
The one exception to this blind picking was Cooking Papa in Foster City, which was recommended to me. I thought they did a really good job with their roast duck and cha shu, but hands down, their egg puffs were the single best thing I ate all week. Man, those were really really good. The watercress and pork soup was also very good. The broth almost reminded me of a really good ramen broth. Tasty! I wasn't as impressed with their cheung fun, mainly because their wraps were pretty thick, but the fish and cilantro one was pretty good otherwise.
There were two other standouts for me over the week.
One was Cafe Pescatore near Fisherman's Wharf. I would kill for a restaurant like this near my home! It felt very much like a local hangout and not a tourist trap and the service was really good. I got the apple salad, which was perfectly dressed, and the crab ravioli, which was super rich and satisfying.
The other was Scott's in Mountain View. They had wonderfully fresh seafood and, again, great service. I can't tell you how nice it was to be waited on by people who actually cared enough to listen. Here, I got the beet salad and the trout with crab entree. Both were great! And, the coconut bread pudding is killer!
Other good places that I'll go back to are Brioche in SF, where I had a very nice quiche, and Crepevine in Mountain View, where their fresh salmon and spinach crepe was super!
A minor miss for me was the Straits Restaurant in Burlingame. I got the fuji apple salad (pretty good), origami seabass (nicely cooked, but kind of salty), and chicken pad thai (overcooked chicken and "meh" noodles). Everything was decent, but seemed like I could get the same or better elsewhere at half the price.
Also a little disappointing was Armadillo Willy's in San Mateo. Got the baby back rib lunch plate, which tasted good, but wow, that was a really really small portion for $10.
But, I had a great week there and wish I could afford to move there. Totally jealous!
I pretty much agree with your assessment. Scott's in MV has always been good. Straits is expensive and sometimes hit and miss as far as quality and service. Armadillo Willy's...I've learned to use their daily specials to keep the prices down. I pretty much only order their burger and fries which is pretty good.
Thanks for the report! It's always helpful to get feedback on restaurants in the wharf area, since most locals assume they are all tourist traps (which they may be) with terrible food (not necessarily true).
Crepevine is a local chain, but pretty good for what it's doing. As you suspected, the ratio of good restaurants to bad is pretty high here -- there's just too much competition for bad ones to survive.
re: Robert Lauriston
It looks like Pescatore is one of the "old guard" now! It seems like it's been around for a while.
One of the things about the Wharf that surprised me was how early everything closed there. Since it's so touristy, I thought things would be open late, but most everything closed around 9 or 9:30.
Thanks for checking in!
Cooking Papa is the kind of restaurant you'd get recommended to if you checked in with us. In San Mateo proper, I always think of Japanese - it's a great cluster - and chinese second and some other reasonable places.
Scott's MV - I've eaten there twice and never liked the place particularly. I thought the seafood was average, and at least they got out of the way of the fish, didn't overcook, and had decent ingredients --- sounds like attributes you appreciate. Scott's did not come up on a discussion of peninsula fish places "to take a non fish eater". I've had very good luck with Scratch's fish specials.
You would have been steered generally away from Straits. The original in SF was pretty good albeit not fully loved, and the outposts have been generally disliked.
The only place in the south bay people are talking about re: BBQ is Smoking Pig in San Jose - just get the brisket, though, it's not really a ribs place.