I met a friend for lunch at Samovar, high above the MLK fountain at Yerba Buena Gardens. The setting is lovely, although it took a 15-minute cell phone conversation to direct her there ("no, not by the carousel; yes, come down the stairs east of Metreon").
I like Samovar in the Castro quite a bit, but we had a decidedly mixed experience downtown. I appreciate what they're trying to do in theory with the round the world set menus (which range from $11-17 and include tea). But it ends up being quite pricey, and the food and especially the service are just not up to a $20 lunch.
Teas and serving dishes are exceptional. We shared the Indian set menu and the Chinese one. The Indian dish was a tofu curry with basmati rice, a limp raita, a huge mug of Samovar's excellent chai, and oddly, a dry pistachio rice pudding. We thought it was too much rice. My companion who is from Kerala pronounced the curry very authentic. I liked the chewy rice, which had raisins and cardamom pods.
Her plates included delicious if greasy potstickers, a so so chicken claypot, three delectable coconut bean confections, and a choice of a pot of oolong or pu erh. The tea service was yi xing style, but the woman who delivered didn't bother to pour even the first pot.
Although there were perhaps 5 tables and two servers, it took much too long to get my dessert and the bill ($35 including tip). I would return for tea and snacks, but probably not for lunch. The bison burgers looked very good, btw, although I can't imagine going to Samovar for a burger.