I am happy to report that our Mem Day weekend eating & drinking tour of SF was a smashing success. We chose our stops from a number of sources, including this board, and were (almost) never disappointed. A quick rundown:
Blue Bottle Coffee: single-origin espresso (Ethiopian) was mindblowingly intense, vacuum pot was subtle, elegant, beautiful. "Brioche" was tasty, though not actually brioche. Service at the main location was efficient and excellent. The Ferry building location did not have its act together service-wise, but the coffee was still good.
Absinthe: We mainly used them as a curator and enjoyed their excellent selection of oysters, caviar (farmed in CA), and cheese. Inventive and wonderful accompaniments with each cheese. 2 great salads, including a killer re-invented Caesar. And, of course, lovely glass selection of wine. Oh, right, and the absinthe was pretty cool too.
Gitane: One of the major happy surprises of the trip. Exotic transporting atmosphere. Fantastic food, with exciting and surprising flavor combos. Standouts include Bastilla and the Bacon BonBons (I know they are not the first to combine prune, goat cheese, bacon, and port wine glaze, but it was still a surprise somehow.) Amazing cocktails: try the Solera, kind of like a Sidecar but with a sherry base! Great sherry selection. Reasonably priced.
Swan Oyster Depot: one of 2 disappointments. The place is entirely charming, but the oysters were not fresh or not the best. The sea urchin was excellent. I did not enjoy watching the servers reach into trays of shrimp with ungloved hands to assemble salad plates, and I did not see nearly enough handwashing to make this ok.
Maruya Sushi: a quick pre-lunch snack, 2 nigiri pieces and a shiso maki roll, all very nice.
Good Luck Dim Sum: Gorgeous buns! Wanted more and more but had to save ourselves.
Alembic: Great cocktails, very inventive and original, up there with anything we 2 lushes have found.
Aziza: disappointment number 2. Ok, it didn't stink, and actually was rather good at certain points, but the overall impression was of a competent suburban neighborhood place shooting for something higher and missing. Boring sweet cocktails (ok, this was right after the Alembic), boring wine selection, some very good food but nothing to compete with Gitane from the previous night. The kitchen and service was clearly huffing and puffing to keep up with a full Sat-night dining room. Did not live up to the glowing reviews.
Saigon Sandwiches: 2 great sandwiches, roast chicken and "fanci" pork. Awesome.
Bourbon & Branch: Well. we tried, but weren't aware that reservations were necessary. I guess they take the speakeasy thing pretty seriously, locked door, secret codeword, etc. Oh well.
1550 Hyde: Really good food, fresh produce. Well-crafted savory food, large portions. Sardines, steelhead tartare, ricotta gnocchi, pork shoulder & farro stew, all excellent. And a lovely bottle of white Burgundy, a Pernand-Vergelesses. Very helpful wine guidance from our server. A joy all around.
Clock Bar: Good, interesting cocktails, comprehensive ingredient stock. This place is clearly trying to be at the cutting edge of cocktails, and does a pretty good job. The largely ignorant clientele surely doesn't help. I watched one young woman who could not herself name a single cocktail ask for the bartender's favorite -- he gave her a cosmo, which seemed like a good choice. I really enjoyed my Spanish Sidecar, that was certainly something new.
Turtle Tower: Pho for breakfast! Yum.
All that plus a cumulative 30 miles or so of walking equal a thoroughly satisfying trip. Thanks SF.