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Tuesday LUNCH - Boulevard vs Zuni vs CP Cafe plus Perbacco vs Cotogna?

Dear SF Hounds,

I will be solo in SF (FiDi area) for the day next Tuesday for work, which should finish around 11a. I have a 7:30p return flight (to LA) out of Oakland and will have a rental car. I plan to make the most of my time to enjoy the gustatory delights of the City. I travel up to the Bay about 2-3 times a year but seem to have missed a few institutional type places for one reason or another.

My plan is to hit at least two sit-down restaurants for lunch/late lunch. I am not limited SF (hence the Chez Panisse cafe question) but also do not want to drive all over the place.

I have been to Cotogna and greatly enjoyed it. I am thinking of a return visit to sample some seasonal pastas or going to Perbacco instead for the Northern Italian pastas and lamb stew. I have traveled and dined throughout the Piedmont and Ligurian regions in Italy so this cuisine is very comforting and sentimental for me. Plus, the cheese selection is a big draw.

Which would you pick?

For the other restaurant, I would like to go more Californian/F-to-T cuisine. I have missed out on Zuni in the past (can I order the chicken as a solo diner?) as well as Chez Panisse and Boulevard. I know the food at Boulevard is somewhat different than Zuni/CP (and I realize Zuni was opened by CP alum so the food may be similar) with different price points.

Which would you pick?

Other places I have enjoyed up North: Cotogna, Wood Tavern, Tony's Pizza Napoletana, Tadich Grill, Slanted Door, La Taqueria, Flour + Water, and a whole slew of places I can't remember right now.

Since it is lunch a lot of the top end fine dining is out unfortunately.

Thanks!

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  1. Sure, you can order the Zuni chicken as a single diner, but you do need to allow an hour cooking time. When I was there last month, I talked to a long-time customer from Manhattan at the next table. He told me that he eats there a few times a year, every time he's in San Francisco. He was alone and ordered a three-course dinner. He said he would be back the next day for lunch to order the chicken and regularly hand-carries the leftovers on the flight home.

    9 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      Excellent. Thank you for the info. Being able to order the chicken does tip my choice in favor of Zuni. I was thinking: Martini or Gimlet, oysters, Caesar salad, and the chicken (maybe the fries as well). That seems like a big meal but I will plan to bring some chicken home to share with my family.

      I will try to make it over to Perbacco afterwards for cheese and maybe a pasta dish if I have room.

      1. re: Searching4Dunny

        That's classic Zuni. To end, order the espresso granita.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Great to hear and the granita sounds perfectly refreshing.

          1. re: Searching4Dunny

            Exactly. And not filling. You'll have room for your second lunch. ;)

        2. re: Searching4Dunny

          The Caesar salad is THE BEST; it's so big, I split it with someone. Since you'll be alone, I'd definitely get the salad but would skip the fries .. it's a big order, they are skinny and start to get cold quickly.

          I make sure the server knows I want only one course at a time; I really dislike it when they bring main before I've finished the salad. Zuni is pretty good in this department.

          1. re: Searching4Dunny

            I wouldn't order fries with the chicken since it comes with the bread salad, which is delicious and doesn't hold up as leftovers as well as the meat does.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Actually, I think the bread salad can be better the next day. Warm it up in the toaster oven to recrisp the edges, and enjoy all that chicken-y goodness infusing each bit.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Some great tips here. Will probably skip the fries in light of the above. Plus, I want to save a little room for some after-lunch eats. Sounds like I will lugging a lot of food back from this SF chow session.

        3. There's a family resemblance in the style at Zuni and Chez Panisse Cafe but the menus are pretty different. If you order the chicken, expect some leftovers. I usually find other dishes more exciting, but I've had the chicken many times so it's not like I'm missing out on anything.

          Cotogna has more California influence, Perbacco's closer to Italian-in-Italy. If I was craving charcuterie and/or cheese that would tip the balance to Perbacco. Both make great pastas.

          Logistics, if you make your second meal CP's last seating at 2:45, that would put you over the bridge for your trip to OAK before the bridge traffic starts backing up.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Yes, I like being able to be over the bridge before rush hour but I may just have to grin and bear it so that I can have the meal at Zuni. It sounds to me like CP is better for dinner in the actual restaurant so maybe I should save it for a more worthy meal.

            It is looking like Perbacco may be the choice over Cotogna as well for the cheese and maybe a pasta dish.

            Thanks for the feedback - it has been very helpful!

            1. re: Searching4Dunny

              The difference between lunch upstairs at Chez Panisse and dinner downstairs is much greater than the difference between lunch and dinner at Zuni.

              If you do Zuni and Perbacco, I'd say do Perbacco last as you'll have a shorter distance to cover in rush hour traffic.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Thanks for the tip. I think that is the order I will follow. I have a lunch res at Zuni for 11:30a. Perbacco is currently offline from OpenTable but I have the impression that I can just walk-in after 1/1:30p with only a minimal wait for a single diner. I may be completely off base on that so I will likely check with OT again to see if it is back online.

                1. re: Searching4Dunny

                  After lunch rush on a Tuesday you should definitely have no problem walking in to Perbacco. The bar in front is very comfortable for solo dining.

          2. Getting to CP Cafe from the FiDi and parking will take 45-60 minutes each way in the middle of the day. Do you have that kind of time? If so, I want your job.

            That said, those are all good choices. If you go to Perbacco, don't miss the house charcuterie!

            5 Replies
            1. re: MissEnPlace

              I will have from about 11a until I take my flight back to LA, which leaves at 7:30p so this is kind of a work sanctioned daycation.

              Thanks for the rec on the charcuterie!

              1. re: Searching4Dunny

                I have too many favorite dishes at Perbacco to fit them all in a single meal.

                salumi
                salsiccia di Bra
                carne cruda
                agnolotti dal Plin
                tajarin with pork and mushroom sugo
                brussels sprouts
                cheese plate

                The seafood dishes and braised meats are always great, too.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Yes, I've seen some of your previous posts on this topic. Thanks for the detailed reporting.

                  Agnolotti is starting to become more common in SoCal these days but tajarin with sugo done in the traditional style is a dish that I have rarely if ever seen outside of Italy. That would likely be my choice along with the cheese plate. The salsiccia di bra is also something that is hard to find in the US (raw pork aversions I guess). I may go for this if I am not at near capacity from all the preceding food!

                  I noted the squid with white and red beans on the Perbacco website. It sounds like a refreshing dish but I think I am going to try to keep the meal here to a pasta and cheese if possible. Things can of course change very rapidly ;)

                  1. re: Searching4Dunny

                    I was disappointed with the tajarin I had at Perbacco, which was more akin to ordinary spaghetti than the eggy thin ribbon pasta which I had in italy (scannabue in torino). I also don't find their pastas as thin as one might hope. But ymmv.

            2. How much lunch did you squeeze in?

              3 Replies
              1. re: Melanie Wong

                I was actually meaning to post a review so thanks for the follow up.

                I went to Zuni and ordered 4 oysters to start with Gimlet. Followed by Cesar salad, then the chicken (with a glass of the Mt. Edna Pinot which was apparently designed to go with the chicken per my waiter). The oysters were good. I got all three kumamotos and one that the server recommended. Decent oysters, but the ice they were presented on was somewhat melted and kind of spilled into the oyster shells. I enjoyed nevertheless.

                The Cesar salad was nice with good flavor of anchovies but the lettuce could have been crisper. Not bad but I would go with another choice next time.

                The chicken was outstanding. I ate about half of the bird with ample amount of bread salad. I really enjoyed this and definitely will be back with a dining companion to finish it off a whole order next time. I brought some home but the fresh version in the restaurant was much better.

                After some walking and brief digesting I ended up at Cotogna. I sat at the bar and ordered two pasta dishes. The cacio e pepe which was toothsome and delicious, followed by the agnolotti dal pin that really hit the spot. Agnolotti was full of meaty flavor (veal, chicken and pork I believe) and really delivered. I enjoyed two glasses of wine. One was a dry tuscan wine and the second was a nebbiolo that paired very nicely with the agnolotti.

                I didn't make it to Perbacco but was happy with my meals and would go back to either in a heartbeat. I failed to order dessert thinking I would pick something up from a bakery but the time crunch left me with an unsatisfied sweet tooth since I had to rush back to the airport. Next time I will make sure to rectify that.

                Thanks for all your feedback. SF is a great food city and always a pleasure to visit. I will most likely be up there again in a month so am looking forward to doing something completely different (or the same - why not?) at that time.

                1. re: Searching4Dunny

                  Thank you for sharing your double lunch with us. Way to chow!

                  If you're in FiDi again your next visit, you might want to compare the salumi at Perbacco with charcuterie at Trou Normand (and a cocktail taste-off too).

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Thanks for the suggestion. I may very well need to make that happen! Cheers.