Recent out-of-town guests upped my usual amount of restaurant-going. It was my 1st time at all of these places, except Chez Panisse. Enjoyed a few good meals:
Destino: Three of us shared a variety of appetizers/small plates at this Latin spot, plus excellent cocktails, including pisco sours with a perfect topper of egg white fluff. We gave high marks to the pork picadillo empanadas (wonderfully flaky, light crust, tasty filling) and the ahi ceviche with mango, as well as the unique salad with hearts of palm, jicama, raisins, etc. (although they were out of fava beans). The "slow-braised" lamb shoulder was very tough, and it took such a long time to arrive (compared with our other dishes) that we suspected it had been whipped up at the last minute. On the whole, I would return to Destino for drinks and starters, and although the menu was creative and interesting, nothing stuck out in my memory as unbelievable.
Kabuto: I'm still exploring the SF sushi scene, but I really enjoyed my meal at this intimate Richmond district place and I'm dying to go back. I didn't order anything particularly unique (standard nigiri and sashimi), but I felt that the fish quality, quantity and rice texture were all excellent, and I could see that the sushi chef is a real artist. Next time, I'll sit at the sushi bar and have whatever he's pushing. His intensity was great to watch.
Chez Panisse Cafe: Wonderful food, as usual. The wood oven-cooked squid appetizer was phenomenal -- tender, with a wonderfully light smoky flavor, accented by a light but pungent lemon-zest juice. I am still thinking about it (always a good sign). The hot goat cheese salad is always a delight. The other standout was a broad flat-shaped pasta with succulent braised pork ragu. The service wasn't as good as usual, but maybe it was just chemistry with our waiter.
Chapeau!: Lovely place, nice atmosphere, good food, great service. Can't wait to go back for a date. As other diners have noted, the owner is wonderfully friendly, even to non-regulars like ourselves (yes, I got the double-cheek kiss from him). We had the 3-course prix fixe ($25 I think), which allows you to pick any 3 appetizers, entrees, desserts (small surcharges for pricy items like foie gras). Nothing on the menu seemed particularly unusual, but everything I tasted was well-executed and nicely presented. I had 6 oysters as my appetizer -- wonderful. My entree was the rack of lamb, cooked perfectly medium-rare -- simple but well-executed. The warm chocolate cake was a little gooey to my taste, but others loved it. Fabulous wines and champagnes, too.
Clementine: Nice place too, fabulous service by actual French speakers... and I'd go back, but I think I preferred Chapeau. I had the escargots (standard garlic butter sauce, maybe a little tough), the rack of lamb (delicious), and tried a variety of the desserts. I liked the pain perdu, but others at the table didn't. I didn't make it in time for the early bird prix fixe, but I'll try that next time and report back.
Overall, I ate very well, was bowled over by great service at Chapeau! and Clementine, and am wishing I had an expense account so that I could do this more often.