I've been away from San Francisco for more time than I like to think about, but there are still various things I miss from there, including several chow-related things. One such thing is the large number of small-ish places that emphasize fresh and creative cuisine-y food, but where a tie would be out of place, and where the waiters would probably be wearing t-shirts when they tell you about the wine. (Any other SF exiles remember Val 21 in its great days?)
Oleana is a bit bigger than most such places, but it _feels_ similar; Ten Tables seems like (in my one visit there) very much an SF-style kind of place--a place that both feels like a neighborhood place in a diverse neighborhood, and also serves food that can beat larger and fancier places. (I had the vegetarian tasting menu which I thought was adventurous and often great, and a member of the evening's chowteam gave me tastes of some of his bluefish which is really a standout.)
Central Kitchen is another place that has had this feeling to it, and though it's fallen a bit out of favor with my chowteam lately (another topic entirely), at its best it feels like a neighborhood place you might drive or take the T from somewhere else to go. You could get a 20 dollar entree there and an expensive bottle of wine, but you could also get a bowl of mussels and fries and a pint of beer and feel just as welcome.
All these places are places where lots of people have come there by walking a few blocks, and many others have come from across the river. (Admittedly, Oleana is a little more elsewhere > locals because of its size and reputation in the summer especially, but still.) Maybe another way to put it is that all of these places can be both a special occasion place (any of the ones I've listed would be suitable for a couple's birthday dinner), and also (Central Kitchen might be the best example of this) a "tonight is a special occasion because we say it is" kind of place.
So--these are three often-mentioned places on Chowhound--what are the others that have this feeling? (And if there is some restaurant-industry way of describing this kind of place, I will cover my eyes and then peek out between my fingers to read the phrase.)
thanks for any tips...