A Big Apple thanks to all the hounds who provided such excellent suggestions for my annual pilgrimage home to the Bay Area. I didn't get to every place suggested, or even that I intended, but I think you'll see from my report that I still did pretty well.
Flew into Oakland, where it was pouring, so I had to scrap my plan to hop off at fruitvale and try the east bay El Farolito. Instead, I stopped in the North Beach at Taqueria San Jose, where I had an excellent burrito al pastor (but sadly got soaked anyway). This was actually probably the best burrito I had my entire trip--the quality of certain old standbys had clearly slipped a lot.
I also had dinner at A16. I'd had the pizza at lunch once before, so I tried the burrata, gnocchi, lamb sausage. Burrata was truly a revelation--buttery, salty, oily deliciousness. The sausage was great, too, though the gnocchi were a tad watery. Special thanks to Robert Lauriston for prompting me to try A16 again.
Next meal of note was at an old favorite in the east bay, Top Dog, where I had a german and a calabrese, both of which were excellent. By contrast, I was a bit disappointed by another old favorite, Cactus Taqueria. These used to be among my favorite burritos in the east bay. But my two meals (carnitas taco and steak burrito) both left me cold, kind of like the meat. Guac also tasted off.
I had a much better experience at China Village. In fact, this was probably among my better chinese (certainly sichuan) meals ever. Home chicken tasted like the most remarkable chicken salad. Dry-fried beef was perfectly cooked--crispy, salty, and delicious. Seasonal greens sauteed with garlic were bright in appearance and flavor. Village lamb was tender and spiked with cumin. Many, many thanks to Ruth Lafler for this outstanding rec.
Another Ruth recommendation, Rivoli, also turned out to be solid. Portobello fritters were delicious, as was the ravioli app. Braised lamb with yoghurt and the duck were both good, but not spectacular, though my taste buds may have been dulled by China Village! I also hit Jimmy Bean's for breakfast. Silver-dollar pancakes were excellent, and the eggs and bacon were fine. Coffee, however, was awful, and located at an awkward self-serve location in the rear.
Back in SF, I had a decent, if unspectactular, burger and fries at Liverpool Lil's in the Marina. Someone else ordered the ceasar salad, which would seem to be the way to go. Also in the Marina, I had a very pleasant meal at Three Seasons. Chicken satay, quail satay, and pork ribs were all quite tasty. Summer rolls and (esp.) crispy tofu with fried scallions were fantastic. Unfortunately, a roast chicken burrito at Andale' was just awful.
My last two big meals were probably my best. The first was at Chapeau! where I had an outstanding mesclun salad with pistachio and fried cheese, a truly remarkable cassoulet, an unremarkable cheese plate, and some outstanding profiteroles. Full disclosure, Philippe and Ellen are family friends, so I'm a tad biased. But aside from the food, which is excellent, it always amazes me the way they greet strangers with the same enthusiastic hospitality that they've always shown us.
My final meal, and easily the most outstanding, was at Bar Tartine in the Mission. We started with porcini salad with lentils, poached egg, citrus salad, arancini, serrano ham with pears, and frites with bearnaise. For mains, we shared the scallops, the olive-crusted cod, the venison, and the roast guinea hen. Finally, for dessert, we split the espresso and chocolate pot de creme, the gingerbread cake, and the three sorbets.
As I say, my Bar Tartine meal was remarkable. The porcini salad was transcendant, as were the frites. Among the mains, the winner was clearly the venison, particularly the crepinette, which was worth the price of the dish alone. Olive-crusted cod was also good. Both the gingerbread cake and the sorbets (kiwi, orange zest, and pomegranate) were outstanding. The only (relative) downer was the guinea hen, which suffered only by comparison.
Anyway, many thanks again to all who responded. Bay Area chowhounds truly rule! And make sure to give a holler when you come out to NYC. I'll make sure to return the favor!