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Apr 30, 2014 10:49 AM

LA hound seeking help with SF

LA hound visiting SF over Memorial holiday weekend. Need help picking out a few lunches and dinners, casual preferred so no fine dining on this trip. No car, staying in SoMa, but open to public transit so places near rail/bart are preferable. For reference, in LA I enjoy Republique, Alma, Baco Mercat, Sotto, Bucato.

Wondering if the Eater essentials and hot spots are chow-worthy. How about the Michelin bib gourmands and 1* stars?

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  1. Eater's "heat map" is just what's new and hyped, no indicator of quality.

    The Eater 38 and Michelin Bib Gourmand lists are solid, there are so many great places to eat in SF that it's not hard to come up with short lists like that.

    The Michelin one-stars are not to my mind the best of SF. That list is mostly about which of the most expensive restaurants have the most French influence.

    1. I would focus on high end dining (e.g. michelin 2+ stars) if you can afford it, cal-italian, mid-range Peruvian, & Dosa. Maybe Burmese.

      Outside of meals, I'd definitely check out bakeries (B Patisserie, Craftsman & Wolves, Knead etc.), Coffee (too many to name) and Ice Cream (Bi-Rite, Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous, Humphrey Slocombe etc.)

      Cocktail programs are something worth checking out if you drink 'em.

      As Robert stated, Eater 38 is a pretty solid list.

      9 Replies
      1. re: goldangl95

        A couple of weak points on Eater's 38:

        Burma Superstar: go to Burmese Kitchen or Little Yangon instead

        Tony's: try to do too many things, inconsistent, not worth the wait

        1. re: goldangl95

          Would like to try Quince or Crenn, but I'm going to Chicago later this year and saving up for Alinea.

          Patisseries and snacks are right up my alley, filling the gaps between meals.

          Love a boozy cocktail, wife doesn't drink, gastropubs are a middle ground, instead of straight up bars.

          Besides mentioned lists, brief research turned up Porcellino and Coqueta that sound interesting to me.

          State Bird impossible res, put name down as walk-in, kill 2hrs, then go back?

          1. re: zack

            The michelin one star list for SF is nonsensical - I'd switch to the Eater list at that point. If you really want to go to a one star, people on this board favor: Aziza (though some mixed reports and it is quite out of the way), Keiko, La Folie, & SPQR (a bit mixed in reports).

            Coqueta in my humble opinion is a perfectly good tapas place. It's on the waterfront which gives it a nice setting. It's nothing revelatory like Bazaar (for example) and it's somewhat pricey.

            I'd only go to State Bird if you really want to devote your vacation to food and see what the hype is about. It's concept is supposed to be playful & spontaneous, and therefore uneven. But with the reservation mess, the food doesn't hold up to the amount of effort it takes to eat there.

            1. re: zack

              If you are first in line at State Bird, you can get seated immediately.

              1. re: CarrieWas218

                On the other hand, I've seen reports from people who got in line at 4:30, an hour before opening, and didn't make it into the first seating.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Forget it, not wasting vacation time on the waiting game while there are good eats all around the neighborhood.

                  How's Super Duper Burger? Skip if it's similar to In-n-Out.

                  Aveline and Gaspar Brasserie appear promising, opening mid-May. The respective chefs looked like they know what they're doing from their appearances on Top Chef, although going to any restaurant in its first months is a gamble.

                  1. re: zack

                    Super Duper is better than In N Out, but nowhere you need to go out of your way for. There are several of them in the city, so perhaps you can go there for a random bite if you happen to be walking past while hungry.

              2. re: zack

                Quince is nothing like Alinea. Creen is only like it terms of experimenting but in a totally different way if one can compare Alinea to other places. For boozy places where the wife will feel comfortable too Bar Agricole in Soma or Monk's Kettle (for beer) and it's more winecentric but still casual Abbot's Cellar. All also have food although I find Bar Agricole's portions to be small and uneven for the price but haven't been since they had a chef turn-over

                1. re: zack

                  Porcellino has great porchetta and it's reasonably priced. I eaten at Coqueta at least 1/2 dozen times (business meals) and found the tapas very average. I find the ones at other places such as Canela on Market to be better and cheaper. But it's not a bad place to sit in the bar and have a small bite and a drink.

              3. the Michelin bibs are all decent places and the 1 stars are based for the most part on a type of service and consistency rather than how exciting the food is.
                noteworthy place to me having eaten at most of them are SBP, SPQR, Keiko A la Nob Hill but they have gone to a much higher price point and are chasing 2 stars. La Folie is good if you want French.

                The heat map is almost a what to avoid if you want food over hype not that the places aren't good just that they are usually packed. However Verbena is my favorite new restaurant of 2014 (yes it opened late 2013). Kin Khao has an amazing rabbit dish but some dish fall flat and people looking for cheap familar thai wouldn't find it here. I personally have had lackluster meals at Alta CA, although it's a good place to go for drinks and get food late at night. I didn't find anything that noteworthy at The Square, il Casaro or the Coachman.
                Trou Normand is good to get your drink on and they will make your wife mocktails.

                I would add AQ to your options, it's in Soma, it's now does a prix-fixe 4 course with 4 choices for each and is a good value for the price. Foreign Cinema is always good for brunch and takes reservations. La Ciccia is excellent at what it does as is Cotogna although I prefer Quince. I never understood the hype or appeal of Flour + Water. Good pasta, not great.

                36 Replies
                1. re: tjinsf

                  Could you elaborate on Verbena? Why do you like it so much?

                  Some people were down on it. But looking at the plating, it looks like it is putting out 3 Michelin star plates. Most of them look better than anything at the big 2 Michelin star places around SF.

                  Do the flavors of the food live up to the incredible plating?

                  1. re: BacoMan

                    Verbena's a spinoff of Gather in Berkeley and the chef moved over there. Lots of reports on his food here:


                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Is it standard practice in SF to review the food at a restaurant by in fact reviewing the food at its sister restaurant?

                      Has anyone actually been eating at Verbena? Or do people just go to Gather?

                      1. re: BacoMan

                        In this case I think what the chef-owner was cooking at Gather is relevant because from what I've read and photos I've seen he's continuing in the same vein and making some of the same dishes (e.g. the brassicas).


                        1. re: BacoMan

                          I haven't been to either, so I have no answer to your specific question. As for your more general question, if you go to a place and it's a tightly run ship with good food, chances are that a nearby sister restaurant will also be good even if the concept might be slightly different. There is usually some form of correlation.

                          1. re: BacoMan

                            "Is it standard practice in SF to review the food at a restaurant by in fact reviewing the food at its sister restaurant?"

                            Absolutely. Honestly, pedigree counts for almost everything in SF. It can take a while for a sister restaurant or Chef's new project, to gain it's own identity.

                            1. re: sugartoof

                              Taken out of context, this can sound like we're a bunch of snobs, but knowing a chef's previous work is often a strong indicator of what a subsequent project can be like, sort of like having a favorite film director.

                              1. re: dunstable

                                Sean Baker moving from Gather to Verbena was in many ways more like a restaurant moving from one location to another. It's the same chef-owner, same concept, same style.

                                Most spinoffs don't have that kind of continuity. I don't think reports on Coi are very relevant to Alta CA.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  Same with films, but still, knowing the director will at least generate certain expectations, and the same came probably be said of Alta CA, vis a vis Daniel Patterson (although I love Coi and think Alta CA is just okay.)

                                  1. re: dunstable

                                    Personally I don't think reviews of a restaurant are relevant when a spinoff is a different chef doing a different concept and style.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      We're repeating ourselves, but my opinion is more that if you are a fan of the guiding hand, you might like the next project. Seven Samurai has almost nothing thematically similar with Red Beard, and yet it is fair to say that a person who enjoys Kurosawa will probably enjoy both. We can agree to disagree.

                                      1. re: dunstable

                                        Everybody's entitled to their opinion, I just object to mine being characterized as supporting a general rule that I believe is wrong.

                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    "Most spinoffs don't have that kind of continuity. I don't think reports on Coi are very relevant to Alta CA."

                                    Patterson owns both, but currently doesn't chef in any of his places but you're right there isn't the same continuity, but when we talk about Alta CA, we never separate it from Patterson. Rarely does Flora come up.

                                    Some of it's logical, but some of it's really lazy based on all the blogs, and too many restaurants to invest the time and money to check out first hand.

                                  3. re: dunstable

                                    "sort of like having a favorite film director."

                                    It can be, but we do the same thing with journeyman cooks that have passed through kitchens and open their own places. One recent well regarded Chef/Owner restaurant that opened this year is frequently tied to name places he interned at for 4 months, and another he was merely the fish monger, prepping.

                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                      Wow...from my perspective, this sounds incredibly weird.

                                      If people do this in LA, I'm completely unaware of it.

                                      1. re: BacoMan

                                        It goes on in every major market.

                                        Mind you, San Francisco is a city where someone cooking pizzas on the street with a Hibachi can gain a reputation. I think there's a desire to get excited about our food scene, and it leads to overcompensating.

                                        At the same time, it kind of makes sense. Thomas Keller is known for certain signatures, and if he opens a place with a copycat menu from Bouchon, you can assume some things. When Hubert Keller opened up Burger Bar in Macy's, nobody was making presumptions based off Fleur de Lyse, so there are limits to it. AQ's sister project TBD probably got the benefit of the doubt due to AQ's reputation. When Rich Table opens an inevitable new location with a new concept, people will form opinions immediately, and more so if they have anchovy chips on the menu.

                                        1. re: sugartoof

                                          Yeah, I get that, to an extent, but to popularize a restaurant because, say, Keller used to be a busboy there is really taking it over the top... that seems almost insane to me.

                                          1. re: BacoMan

                                            I totally disagree, nobody gets a pass around here. Each restaurant stands or falls on its own merits.

                                            Most of us might try a restaurant once because of some connection with another restaurant, but that's no guarantee of anything.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              I agree that there is "no guarantee of anything". In reality, though, there are people in the restaurant business who know what they are doing and there are people who don't. If people who know what they are doing are opening a new place, there is likely a higher probability that it will be good than if it's opened by clueless people. But, yes, there is no guarantee for anything. And sometimes perfectly good restaurants fail simply because the concept wasn't a good fit for the location.

                                              1. re: nocharge

                                                opening up lots of success restaurants has much to do with a good business manager, a good pr team as it does with food especially in this little town.

                                                One only has to look at the mini chain in this city by a white guy doing what he calls Mexico City street food who's wife/co-owner wrote for some local mags that just happen to always say the nicest thing about her less than delicious bar/mexican food places.

                                                A chef having multiple places tells me only one thing, they have enough hype to get financial backers. Nothing about their food.

                                                1. re: tjinsf

                                                  If you don't have a good management you probably won't last long, but a lot of popular places become successful solely through word of mouth, with no PR.

                                                  Charles Phan has the most successful restaurant in town. He hasn't had such great luck with his other ventures.

                                                  1. re: tjinsf

                                                    There is more to a restaurant than the food. There is service, ambience, etc. A competent chef that can attract a competent management team and financial backing to open up a second place should have a higher probability to pull it off than someone who can't do either.

                                                    In my experience, the first place may well be the one to suffer in the opening phase of the second place. The chef may well take his senior staff away from the first place temporarily to help the second place get up to speed.

                                                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  "I totally disagree, nobody gets a pass around here. Each restaurant stands or falls on its own merits."

                                                  Yeah, suuuuure. Once you get a name in this town, you can get away with a lot. Eventually it catches up with you, but the idea that reputation, and reviews are always based in merit is laughable. We could both come up with case studies on this.

                                                  It's never a guarantee you'll succeed but it's a guarantee you will get press, and hype counts for more than it should.

                                    2. re: BacoMan

                                      I've been to both, I don't think they are the same at all in dishes but they are both vegetarian and seasonally focused. I find Gather to be far less interesting but I'm also lazy and live in the city...

                                      Some members of this board like to base opinions on non-personal experiences of actually eating at a place and more on things like the reputation of a place or where the chef has cooked before. Not my style.

                                      The flavours at Verbena are very earthy and almost rustic in some dishes but the presentation and technique is more modern. I'm partial to it for some general and some personal reasons, 1. I eat with lots of people that are pescatarians, vegetarians or just on some whack-a-doo diet and Verbena was great at knowing the menu even the first week and being able to accommodate folks. 2. The dishes had strong flavours without overwhelming the main proteins or ingredients.

                                      I found all the dishes I've eaten there to be interesting and most to be ones I would have again.

                                      Don't judge based on Michelin star necessarily. At least for SF that tell me about the service, the price point and a level of consistently good food but never the best deal for the price.

                                      1. re: tjinsf

                                        Very interesting discussion. I'd never actually looked at the Michelin list for SF so I did:

                                        Out of the dozens of places I've eaten at and enjoyed in our 13-odd trips to the Bay Area since 2007, I've eaten at exactly three of 'em, all one star: Aziza, Commis and SPQR.

                                        1. re: grayelf

                                          I have to say, looking at the dishes put out by all of the places (and just the general vibe from the menus) those are pretty much the top 3 places that look awesome to go to in SF. (Just "below" those seem to be State Bird, and Cotogna).

                                          How did you like your meal at those three places?

                                          1. re: BacoMan

                                            We went to Aziza when it was still much more Moroccan, and less pricey. The food was tasty, but the cocktails really had wow factor. Commis was intriguing as I hadn't really done that kind of dining before, and we went before the prices rose, so it was good value but my main memory of the food was that the duck two ways was under and over done. SPQR was much more recent (last year) and while we loved the appetizers and the wine selection, the mains were not as good, with one of four that I would characterize as a fail.

                                            I'm interested in State Bird but have been put off by the difficulty of getting in. Cotogna, on the other hand, I've lunched at thrice and dined later once. It is a superb choice, though again we've largely stuck to pastas and apps. Their sformato in whatever form is such stuff as dreams are made of.

                                            1. re: grayelf

                                              It seems to me like people enjoy eating at Cotogna more than virtually everyone else in SF except maybe Crenn, and Saison (and even that is questionable).

                                              I've gained a rather large penchant for Italian food somewhat recently thanks to the LA Italian New Wave going no down it's really at the top of my list. Their porchetta is literally legendary on the LA boards... but so are the pastas.

                                              Since Commis appears to be competing with Crenn/Saison/Benu/Manresa/Coi, etc... it kind of seems like it's an absolute steal at $150pp for food and wine pairings. Frankly, the dishes also look the best online (I recently spent a whole night just looking at pictures of meals from all of the big name places).

                                              I really admire places that can compete with the big names like that in any city.

                                              It seems like I've missed the boat on Aziza. I think I only really want to go to the Aziza of the past...and it sounds like the current incarnation isn't that. Oh well...

                                              1. re: BacoMan

                                                I think Cotogna's currently the best Cal-Italian in the area.

                                                Commis is a great deal for that kind of menu, and if you go there when they open, you might have enough appetite for a second dinner around 9.


                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  The courses are that small at Commis?

                                                  Is it likely that you can just get seats at the Chef's Counter at Commis if you just show up without reservations?

                                                  1. re: BacoMan

                                                    I think there's a fair chance two parties of two will have reservations and the fifth seat will be available. I called around 4 or 4:30 and they told me to come at 5.

                                                    I wasn't hungry when I left at 7:30, but it was a light meal compared with Saison or Manresa. After walking and bar-hopping my way over to Rockridge I had enough appetite for some noodles and a sandwich.

                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      Ah, ok, so it probably wouldn't workout for a party of 3-4 to try to walk in around 5 right?

                                                      1. re: BacoMan

                                                        You never know. Opentable shows they have space tonight.

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          It's more for next Saturday, which is my birthday. Apparently the only night they are booked solid =/

                                                          1. re: BacoMan

                                                            They might have a waiting list, give them a call.

                                                    2. re: BacoMan

                                                      we left Commis completely satiated. and we are not delicate creatures.

                                2. Thanks for the recs. Narrowed down the list to these considerations:

                                  Lunch: Swan Oyster Depot, Ferry Building, Brenda's, Zuni Cafe, Foreign Cinema, Porcellino

                                  Dinner: Verbena, Cotogna, SPQR, Aziza, AQ, Trou Normand

                                  7 Replies
                                  1. re: zack

                                    Swan is long lines unless you go for a late breakfast.

                                    Ferry Building is best on Saturday when the usual shops are augmented by the big farmers market.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      I think the Ferry Building on a Saturday is only good if you go for the Farmers Market part which does indeed provide you with a lot of food options. For the regular stuff there, the crowds will just screw you up. I walked by Hog Island on a Saturday some months ago and had to shake my head at the long line outside similarly to what I do at the tourists who form a long line outside Swan on Polk Street. (At least the people outside Hog Island had better views.) But you don't need to go to either of the two to get good oysters. Other places have good oysters and better ambience and won't have you wait in line on the street for an hour. That's for clueless tourists.

                                    2. re: zack

                                      Brenda's and Foreign Cinema are both better for brunch, IMO.

                                      1. re: zack

                                        My vote would be Porcellino for lunch (assuming you can be forgiving of a just opened restaurant) and AQ for dinner.

                                        Porcellino is a good example of what SF can do well, casual playful food with excellent ingredients and an Italian bent. It's a cute neighborhood too.

                                        AQ is a good example of the other type of food SF does well, experimental playful food with excellent ingredients and a molecular gastronomie bent (I will note that AQ doesn't quite match up to my own subjective, personal tastes - I like my food a bit saltier/unami-er). Excellent cocktail list - and a well curated wine list.

                                        1. re: zack

                                          Verbena and Cotogna are both difficult "gets" for resos so I'd get on it, though I don't know when Memorial Day weekend is, being a Canuck :-).

                                          1. re: zack

                                            I would recommend Trou Normand over AQ if you like salumi/charcuterie. I find AQ a bit uneven. Have been going regularly to Trou Normand since it opened and not been disappointed yet (although I admit we haven't even tried a main course yet, due to the quality of the meats, starters and salads). AQ has a slightly fancier atmosphere. Trou Normand's cocktails are excellent as you would expect from their pedigree. AQ cocktails can be uneven; I have found them to be better when ordered at the bar than when delivered to a table, FWIW.

                                            If you find yourself back in the city on a regular weekday I would highly recommend lining up for State Bird. In my experience in the week there's no problem getting in. I was last there April 8th and a party of 7 behind us in line walked in to eat at 5.30. There were plenty of spaces even after the line had cleared, and we got a table for 3 at 7.30 and went around the corner for a drink. Personally I think it lives up to the hype, plus (if it matters) it is an amazing deal for the quality.

                                            1. re: zack

                                              I think Brenda's would be a letdown for anyone coming from LA. The non-new Orleans, Southern dishes (standard brunch things) are often below average, and I think most of us could point you towards a better Southern brunch/lunch if that was the request. I like Front Porch or Radish instead, but there are better all around brunches.

                                            2. L.A .resident here as well. If you like Alma, I truly believe that Commis in Oakland would be a very good option. It's the place I long to return to when planning a trip up north. I really enjoy sitting at the counter and watching the cooks do their thing. Having said that, I don't know how BART convenient it would be to get there.

                                              Since you like Republique, Zuni is a great choice as it is more or less the mother-ship of that type of cuisine. I could eat either Judy Rodgers' and Walter Manzke's roasted chickens every week for the rest of my life and never grow tired.

                                              I really enjoyed Aziza as well. We really don't have anything quite like that in Los Angeles. It's a treat.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: djquinnc

                                                Commis is somewhere between hard and easy. MacArthur BART and either a short cab ride (recommended by default) or a sketchy and lonely, but generally safe, longer walk (0.7 miles). Google maps will tell you.

                                                Or you can take a longer walk through a residential neighborhood, Hoof it to 19th St oakland. 1.4 miles. There is a _LOT_ of good food & drink near 19th St, this is called "Uptown" and you can search the area. A hybrid would be to walk around the corner to Broadway, and take the bus that runs down broadway to 19th (again, where there's good food and drink).

                                                My personal favorite for a stop near 19th street is the now-venerable Van Kleef, where there's often music, a big mural. The place actually uses lousy watered down booze (sorry Peter), but they squeeze the grapefruit fresh at the bar for a greyhound - just call the vodka (they only have one or two). Or get a screwdriver - which is just orange and vodka, also fresh squeezed, ignore the 70's connotations.

                                                But there's a few other good stops as well, between music, drink, sonoran hot dogs on the street in front of the Uptown Bar, no-name soju bangs, the car show at the burger place, the gallery at Rock Paper Scissors.

                                                1. re: bbulkow

                                                  The no-English-name soju bangs are Dan Sung Sa on Telegraph near 28th, which is north of Uptown in Pill Hill, and Kang Tong Degi near 37th, near MacArthur BART.