Just got back from two days in SF (and a day in Monterey, but that's another board) and, as promised, here's my report. Thanks to everyone who helped us negotiate the eating landscape in the city.
On arrival, we were starved. Off to a dim sum lunch at City View on Commercial. It's definitely more posh looking for a dim sum place than what I'm used to but we had a great meal. It's a cart service, but you can also order off the menu if there's something they're not bringing around. We ended up with a combination because one of us won't eat pork or shellfish so we did manage to find enough vegetarian options to make this work. Everything was hot and fresh and flavourful. Maybe a bit more expensive than my usual grungy dim sum haunts, but the room was nice and we enjoyed our lunch.
Dinner at La Mar turned out to be the highlight of the trip, foodwise. Great space - if a bit noisy - but very lively and felt very fun. We ordered cocktails (maracuya sours) to start and they put a basket of dangerously addictive chips (plantain, potato, etc.) and a couple of salsas on the table to go with them. We ordered two different ceviches - the tuna and the halibut and both were delicious and fresh. Then we shared the quinoa salad, the vegetarian empanadas (filled with cheese and corn and some other things I can't remember), and the grilled fish main dish. Everything was really flavourful and service was efficient and unobtrusive. For dessert we shared Choco Maracuya - a sort of layered chocolate and passionfruit pudding thing which, frankly, I wouldn't order again. I found it too sweet but whatever.
Our last dinner in SF was at Aziza and I am sorry to say that I don't understand all the love that restaurant gets. We were seated in a rather grim back room, rather than the main dining area, despite the fact that there were tables available in the front. But it didn't seem worth questioning it at the time. I think I'd feel differently if I every go back (which I won't). Our server arrived with the menus and then disappeared. No offer of anything, no amuse-bouche, nothing. After looking over the menus and wine list (which we all thought was quite expensive and weirdly organized) we had to ask another server to find our guy so that we could order. When he finally arrived, we ordered the wine and appetizers - and I have to say he had attitude to spare. There was no attempt made to explain any of the dishes in more detail than what was on the menu - and the menu descriptions are so minimalist as to be almost comical (example: brassicas - couscous, almond, castelvetrano, harissa. WHAT???) Even asking for clarification yielded only slightly more detail and, of course, a haughty raised eyebrow ("Rurals!", I'm sure he was thinking). He also made sure to mention that if we were to require more of their flatbread to go with the appetizers, there would be a charge for it. Now, I was not expecting a free meal here but when you are paying $11 for a selection of "spreads" that probably amounts to 3 tablespoons at most, don't you think they could just throw the flatbreads in gratis? The spreads were nothing with nothing - 3 different ones that I could have made just as well at home. We also got the goat cheese with tomato jam which one of my friends described as tasting like cream cheese and jelly and what they called a smoked trout spread (I think - I can't find it on the online menu). The smoked trout didn't arrive with the other apps because we were told it takes SO much longer to make. It turned out to be basically chunks of more or less uncooked fish with some green bits and something shredded sprinkled on top. It tasted fishy and we didn't finish it. The story that it takes longer to make was clearly bull***t. Mains were utterly forgettable. I had the green farro with scallops and "himalayan truffle". It was more like a risotto with diced scallops in it - the flavour was ok, but nothing to write home about. Others had the couscous with brassicas which was nothing special and another friend had the branzino which I didn't taste but she said it was just alright. At one point I dropped my fork - the server standing beside me made no attempt to pick it up or replace it for me. Our main server was mostly interested in upselling us on the wine (which I just about gagged when he described to me as "showing nicely right now"). I'm really sorry but all the hype around this place seems extremely misplaced. The cuisine, which is supposed to be "modern Moroccan" had only some of the flavours of genuine Moroccan cooking but absolutely none of the underlying warmth and generosity of that region's food. There was nothing appealing about the space, which was dark and uninviting (but of course, we were sitting in the salon de refuse) and, well, the service was snooty and poor. No excuse for any of it.
We spent a couple of hours at the Ferry Plaza market on Saturday - wonderful place. I had a porchetta sandwich which was incredible (outside vendor). We also bought a bunch of amazingly delicious cheese from the Cowgirl Creamery and some bread for late lunch. It kills me to go to a market like that when I have no place to cook anything. A wonderful breath of warmth in February when you're coming from Canada. From there we headed down to Monterey and then home. Great trip - too short, but it was what it was. Thanks everyone who helped with advice and recommendations.