Hi all, long report ahead summarizing a LOT of different first-time outings in roughly reverse chronological order during this year. Much, much thanks to this awesome board for steering me and my friends to all these wonderful places. I hope some of the info below is helpful to all of you who, like me, are always looking for more opinions on popular places - I don't live in the city, so when I make the trip up, I try to minimize risk by going to popular, more thoroughly discussed places. Like listening to a greatest hits album, if you will.
Next up may be Winterland. Any recent reports?
The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton
This was my most recent chow adventure and by far the best! 2 friends and I went early Saturday night. Before getting to the food, I have to compliment the service and the atmosphere. Many hounds have criticized both for being too formal and stuffy, but I think they are perfect for this kind of experience without feeling stuffy at all. Our meal took a little under 4 hours but was one of the most relaxing and well-paced meals I've had. Other meals have taken as long but came with more rushed sweeping of plates and silverware, with less consistent timing between multiple courses, and with staff having to be flagged down multiple times for the same thing. Here, we had none of those problems. We felt the servers were not overly fawning or intrusive but chatty and friendly. The room is also elegant and spacious, nobody has to compete for space. The room also lacks the kind of intrusive noise that really ruins the atmosphere of many nice restaurants in the city.
A quick anecdote about the perfect service: I asked our main server to take a photo of us, and although my flash was turned off from previous pix, not only did he turn it on before I mentioned to him, but he even used the zoom to crop the image better for us! That epitomizes the above & beyond that they go to.
Onto the food ... 1 friend and I got the Salt & Pepper Tasting Menu, and the other friend ordered off their regular menu. He really enjoyed the regular menu items, but our tasting menu was AWESOME. Brief rundown:
chilled asparagus soup - too salty for me
crab cake on plum sauce - good enough and big enough to be its own course
sea urchin panna cotta with spinach fritter - really rich and interesting ... this is supposed to be one of Chef Ron Siegel's specialties, and I enjoyed it but am not the biggest sea urchin fan
SALT & PEPPER TASTING MENU (very similar to what's posted online):
dungeness crab claw wrapped in spot prawn sashimi - almost like a crab spring roll but with sweet prawn skin instead of rice skin!
seared toro - the toro was seared a little more than I would've liked, but I did pick up every single peppercorn, delicious
foie gras - my friend loved it, but I substituted mine with something else as I don't really enjoy foie gras
lobster with pork belly - my favorite course, the crisp pork belly skin with the juiciness of the belly fat and the lobster, perfect
duck breast - the sweet cherry sauce and hearts of some kinda green (?) meshed very well w/ the salt/pepper combo he used, the duck didn't seem like the focal point here but it definitely delivered all those other flavors
beef rib eye - my next favorite course, this was served with squid, melted onions, and potato gnocchi and topped off with some freshly ground Szechuan pepper ... the squid wasn't fully cooked or seasoned and really elevated the beef with its chewy, soft texture
sorbet - forget what kind of sorbet it was (most likely peach), but the champagne soup accompanying it was fantastic
dessert - fruit cocktail, honey ice cream, strawberry crepe. I usually eat each component of a dessert separately, but when I put these 3 items together, they were incredible, I just couldn't help raving about it to my friends. On its own, each item doesn't really make an impact
I had a glass of champagne and a glass of wine with the meal but don't know much about wine, so I can't really speak to their effectiveness w/ the food other than to say I appreciated the waiter's recommendation and enjoyed everything with everything, haha. My friend who ordered the tasting menu with me got their wine pairing ($76). I think it's a very reasonable wine pairing because he got 7 generous (4-5 oz) pours.
Went for a late night meal/snack, so didn't get the entire Zuni experience, but it was enjoyable. Between everybody in my group, we had some oysters, the burger, and a variety of desserts. IMHO they're rightly praised for their burger and chocolate cake, but since I don't live in the city, I wouldn't make it a destination just for those items. I'll have to try their roast chicken and a couple other things to figure it out. The service was fantastic and very accommodating for our large group, BUT the younger hostess who greeted us told us there were no tables for us, after which an older hostess checked the system and around the room a little and seated us immediately. Dunno what the younger hostess' issue was, but we already walked outside before the other hostess graciously sat us. I feel like a large group may be hard to accommodate but probably worth it for a restaurant, right? Would be interested to hear other opinions on that.
The food was all around great, but I especially loved my brie and onion tart appetizer. Lot of great flavors, great aroma. My salmon main course was a generous portion and delicately cooked, feeling very rich without going too far. Tried my friends' duck and filet mignon courses as well, also very good but a bit smaller and richer, which makes sense I guess. The prix fixe options, especially the early bird special, are pretty reasonable. They may be keeping the prices low with a small waitstaff and large number of tables given the space, but I'm not sure I'd wanna deal with those problems. Literally less than a foot between most tables, and 2.5-3 hours for a 3-course dinner is just too long for me. Went on a Friday night, I assume it's less congested earlier at night or during the week?
I've read a lot of recent pizza threads, and people seem pretty divided on this place. Here's where I come down: I'm not a fan of their margherita but loved their sausage pizza. I find a lot of pizzas too salty for me, but I found the margherita too watery and bland. I much prefer the margherita at Pizzeria Picco in Larkspur and at Pizzeri Delfina. We also got the soppressata and burrata, both fabulous. Would go back to try other pizzas and salumi. Thought the chocolate cake dessert was wayyy too heavy on the salt but liked the olive oil touch. Very reasonably priced, you can get out of here for less than $25 w/o drinks and feel full.
I really wanted to love this place, and it was good but not great. At the same time, that may be a bit unfair because the portions are very generous for the prices. I got their seasonal green salad, beef "tacos" and beef cheeks. I enjoyed the tacos very much, good value. The beef cheeks were tasty but too rich and salty and NOT helped at all by the salty greens they came with. Not knowing the dish was served with greens, I would have appreciated our waitress telling me that I was basically getting 2 salads. I would order the dish again but with the flatbread or something else to balance its richness. Again, maybe a bit unfair since I usually ask about a dish, preparations, sides, etc, but it slipped my mind at the time. I feel like with their small menu, though, it should be pretty easy to point out.
CAV Wine Bar
Nice selection of snack foods and cheeses, but I was hoping for more wines by the glass as I don't drink that much, so I generally avoid full bottles. Also, the back part of the room isn't inviting at all. Big metal tables and bare walls ... I mean, candlelight can only make up for so much! Love those pork sandwiches, though.
Don't have much new to say here except that I enjoyed everything I tried, especially this lamb sugo pasta they had at the time. Also reasonably priced, get out of here for under $30 w/o drinks. Some great deals on wines by the glass, too. This may be one of those places that gets overly noisy, though.
This is a great alternative to other SF Chinese. Prix fixe choices for $45, $55, $80, $150 and maybe one or two other price points. Some may say the decor and service don't merit this kind of price. I went before their renovation, so I can't speak to the room as it is now, but honestly, it didn't get in the way as to feel uncomfortable. With only about 8 tables, you get as much room as you want. Of course, the bathroom leaves much to be desired. As for the service, it's just the chef's wife and maybe one other person. They are friendly, polite and accommodating, and since they only have a few tables to serve, they practically serve you as if they were dedicated just to you. I think for 20-30 course tasting menus with high quality ingredients and cooking, this is a great place to eat, if not a romantic or luxurious place.