This is my SF report (long-ish). Thank you to everyone who contributed ideas! I posted this in the original request for thoughts, but decided it would have a larger audience with a separate post.
First, we had to make do with a couple of so-so places. They weren't terrible, certainly not great, and all told, it could have been much worse for places that we just walked into. They are Fuzio on Chestnut and Cioppino in FW. These were xmas eve and day dinners, so we are lucky we found anything. Pretty ho-hum.
We dim-summed at 2 places - Ton Kiang on Geary and Yank Sing on Stephenson. I'd been to the latter before. Overall, I preferred TK. I was a little surprised at the negative comments on this place once I returned and reviewed out of curiousity. It is a pleasant space, tasty preparations, nice service, everything was hot. Particularly good were the spicy greenbeans. On the other side of the spectrum was the eggplant stuffed with shrimp, which was a bit too oily. We had a variety of dumplings, veggies, rice noodles, bao, a couple of fried things (not many). It compared favorably with dim sum I've eaten in LA, Seattle, and Vancouver. Yank Sing can't be beat for variety, but it is very pricey, and on the really simple things like har gow and shui mai, their offerings were sub-par. In fact, we only went because I read an apparently outdated review of Limon - hoping to try some Peruvian - we got dropped off in the Mission, and it was a different restaurant that wasn't open for lunch. Rather than strolling in the somewhat sketchy looking area, we grabbed the first bus out, which dropped us off on Market near the water. I tried to convince my DH to go to Witchcraft - not having tried it or any TC places - but he wasn't in a sandwich mood. I happened to know YS was there, so we went.
Tartine for breakfast. We tried everything. Croissants - plain, ham/cheese, chocolate, almond. Gougere, morning buns, buttermilk scones. Do they sell anything else? It was all delicious, decadent. My fave was the ham - but I love savories. I don't want to imagine the number of calories in that thing. More likely twice the recommended daily total. In any case....
We hit up the ferry building for lunch once. Bread from acme delicious as usual. Several of us tried the Japanese place across from the coffee place, on the water side. Name is escaping me, but it isn't a Japanese name. I got a bento box. The mushroom salad and green bean salad were tasty. I got the chicken dumplings, which are like breaded chicken meatballs actually. They were ok. Minced water chestnuts added interesting texture.
We went to Cafe Zuni as well. I really wanted the chicken, but with 2 small kids, waiting an hour wasn't a realistic option. Interestingly, my smallest one - who is 2 - was really quiet and focused for a good 45 minutes after he ate, peeling the paper off of crayons we brought :). So husband and I shared 2 other, delectable entrees. One was gorgeous delicious sweet sea scallops prepared with large beans, olive oil, garlic, and bread crumb/olive relish. Wonderful. We could really taste the fruitiness of the oil and the bread crumbs gave a nice crunch. The other was a grilled hangar steak with sorrel mashed potatoes (couldn't taste the sorrel) in a wild mushroom broth. Beautiful, buttery, delicious meat. Loved it. The chocolate cake was pretty yummy too. I believe they called it a Gateau of some sort. Others in our party tried the polenta, risotto, sea bass, and caesar, and pronounced everything good. They were also very nice and brought us 2 plates of buttered, parmesan-ed spaghetti for the kids for only a couple dollars each.
Saving the best for last. SOQR. Thank you so much for turning me onto this place. We arrived at 5:10, got in line, and got a table at the first seating! After that, people continued to be turned away the entire time we were there. We sampled the better part of the menu, such that when I half-jokingly suggested a return trip the next day, husband looked at me and said, what haven't we tried yet? The 8 of us shared 10 appetizers, 4 pastas, and 2 desserts. The rundown, if I don't forget, and comments:
-Chicory salad w/anchovy and lemon - exactly as it sounds, very refreshing.
- Sunchoke salad w/radicchio, almonds, tangerines. Amazing, inspired, incredible. The sunchokes were crunchy outside, gooey inside, a little sweet. Lovely.
-Tuna/celery/potato salad - you can make this at home if you halfway know how to cook.
- Pork sausage w/lentils. Delicious. I wish I could've tried a bigger piece.
-Butter beans with anchovies. My older son ate just about the entire plate and then asked us to order another one. I didn't get much of a taste, but it seemed yummy.
-Beets with ricotta. Simple and tasty. But again, nothing terribly special.
-Fried bocconcini. They were good, but who doesn't like fried cheese? I have to say, once you fry it, the difference between fresh mozzarella and string cheese rather fades away.
-Brussel sprouts. Out of this world. So good. This is why I wanted to return. Oh and for more sunchoke salad.
-Fried chicken livers. My companions were not willing to try the sweetbreads. Too bad, because these were also uninspired. They tasted exactly as they sounded, and were not dressed in any way. Maybe a lemon wedge.
I can't remember #10!
Pastas were the ones with broccolli, cacio e pepe (rigatoni), amatriciana (spaghetti), and canneloni with lamb and potato. I liked everything, less so the cacio e pepe, which I found to be a little plain. What blew me away was the texture of the spaghetti. I didn't taste the giuncale, and wish I had, but the spaghetti. All dente doesn't do it service. It's chewy, with a bite, and I've never experienced that type of elasticity with fresh or dried pasta before, except maybe once or twice in a chinese noodle place. So good.
Desserts - we tried the budino and panino. Budino was rice pudding, basically, with pistachios and quince. The fruit was a very nice touch. It's not your everyday offering, and was very pleasant - floral, reminded me of the tropics. The panino I really have to pass on. It sounded so good, but tasted like chocolate grilled cheese sandwich. There is just something about highly buttered toasted bread. For me, there is no way you can take that taste and convert it into a dessert. My older child loved it of course. Thank goodness, because the adults weren't partaking.
So thanks SF! I look forward to eating in your lovely city again soon.