Special Section: San Francisco Restaurant Reviews and More
Your greatest difficulty in San Francisco may be deciding where
to dine; the number of choices is overwhelming. On a recent
trip, I selected four of the better-known restaurants (and one
that is not so well-known, Firefly) for meals; my reviews are
below, along with some other information. Try to make reservations
wherever you choose to eat, particularly if you'll be there
on a weekend, and recognize that you might not be able to get
in to the latest dining "hot spot".
(4288 24th Street at Douglass, 415-821-7652). The first thing
you'll notice here is the lack of a sign out front; you'll know
you're in the right place when you see the giant firefly. This
is a plain, neighborhood restaurant, a long cab ride from Union
Square. The eccentric decor, which includes a white cloth ceiling
and the occasional plastic dinosaur, is mirrored in the menu,
which hopscotches through many cultures. Your server will likely
be an energetic twenty-something, but don't expect an attitude
to go with their unusual hairstyle, because there's no pretension
here. I started with Baby Beet Salad with Blood Orange Vinaigrette
and Walnuts. This was a mound of fresh greens, nicely dressed,
atop sliced red and gold beets, with walnuts sprinkled around
the perimeter--a nice combination of colors, textures, and tastes.
I was told that Shrimp and Sea Scallop Potstickers with Sesame
Soy Dipping Sauce was more or less a signature dish here,
so I ordered it. Four large, fried potstickers were garnished
with scallions and served with a cold, marinated vegetable medley.
Unhappily, the dipping sauce was too salty, and the marinated
vegetables proved too acidic and peppery; the potstickers themselves
were good, though. The Meyer Lemon Cake with Strawberries
and Mascarpone Cream was a disappointing dessert. The mascarpone
cream was delicious, but the cake was dry and lacking in good
(500 Post Street, in the Pan Pacific Hotel, 415-929-2087). This
was the prettiest dining room I saw in San Francisco. It was
a comfortable atmosphere, with lots of greenery and flowers.
I chose the tasting menu, which included an amuse bouche and
five courses. All of the dishes had good points, but not all
worked well. For example, Crab, Artichoke, and Black Truffle
Gratin contained respectable portions of the title ingredients
and had a good flavor, but the artichoke was undercooked and
the dish was utterly unappealing in appearance. The meat in
the Roasted Colorado Lamb on Golden Lentils with Yogurt-Mint
Coulis was of first-rate quality and had been cooked perfectly,
but the dish was marred by the lentils, which had been cooked
only to the al dente stage. When will chefs realize that nearly-crunchy
legumes just aren't pleasant to eat? The best courses were the
assortment of artisanal cheeses and my dessert (Rustic Apple
Tart with caramel, creme anglaise, and vanilla bean ice cream).
There were no salt shakers or mills on the tables here; unless
this was an oversight, it smacks of a presumptuous attitude.
(558 Sacramento Street, 415-434-4100). I liked Rubicon. It's
an unpretentious, friendly, very urban restaurant with an efficient
and polite wait staff. As is the case with many restaurants
in San Francisco, some effort has been made to provide dishes
suitable for vegetarians. I began my meal with Mixed Field
Greens with Roquefort, a large plate heaped with fresh greens
with a good, acidic dressing. A generous amount of roquefort
made the salad more interesting, and overall it was very good.
The Braised Rabbit and Wild Mushroom Tart was similarly
well-prepared, with cipollini in addition to the pieces of rabbit
and mushroom. The earthy, deep flavors in the tart were satisfying
and filling. My dessert, Chocolate Chiffon Cake with Hazelnut
Ice Cream and Chocolate Soup, was not up to the standard
set by the rest of the meal. It was amusingly and artistically
presented, and the hazelnut ice cream was excellent, but the
cake, though chocolatey, was dry and tasted slightly burnt.
(545 Post Street, attached to the Prescott Hotel, 415-776-7825).
Noisy and modern and very much a place to see-and-be-seen, Postrio
is not the place for a quiet dinner. The atmosphere tends toward
the informal, especially at the bar. My appetizer, Mixed
Lettuces with Sherry Vinaigrette and a Bread Stick, was
the largest individual salad I've ever seen. The greens were
fresh, and the dressing provided a nice, tangy accent, but the
portion was big enough for at least two people. I selected another
appetizer, Foie Gras Terrine with Shaved Apples and Sauternes
Jelly. The buttery-smooth, if very small, portion of terrine
was surrounded by three ultra-thin slices of apple, topped with
the jelly and sprinkled with fresh chives. Fresh toast points
were very properly served with this dish. The combination was
terrific, though the terrine was a bit salty. For $19, however,
it was overpriced. My dessert, Assorted Cookies and Candies,
was a plate filled with miniature sweets, all very pretty, including
biscotti, chocolate chip cookies, and a number of other varieties.
Everything was good, though there were no standouts in the bunch.
Postrio will prepare a sampler of their desserts, but only for
two or more people; what about single diners? Don't they count?
I thought the service was a trifle patronizing. The paintings
and decorations here are as bold and modern as can be wished,
but, unusually for me, I quite liked them.
(450 Post Street, 415-956-6969). Unquestionably, my dinner here
was the best meal I had in San Francisco. The decor here is
novel if not arresting; it looks like a dream a deep-sea diver
might have when afflicted with a very high fever, though it
isn't unpleasant. The wait staff seems to fairly fly during
busy times, but service remains polished and professional. I
began with Truffled Peekytoe Crab and Blood Orange Salad
(with pickled red and gold beets, mache, and satsuma mandarins).
The crab was gloriously sweet and fresh, though I detected no
taste of truffle and I thought the seafood rather overwhelmed
the beets. French Kiss (seared Hudson Valley foie gras
with Cognac-laced prunes and pears) was simply perfect, a decent
portion of perfectly- seared foie gras balanced atop the deliciously
poached fruit. Only the knowledge that licking one's plate publicly
is considered bad form stopped me from doing so. Eleven different
samples of the pastry chef's work formed my dessert, called
Small Endings; it was fun to taste all of the petite
cookies and candies, which ranged from a chocolate truffle to
a square of intense fruit jelly to sesame brittle. If you sit
in the Nautilus section, you'll get a view of the kitchen while
you eat. My only problem with Farallon is the knowledge that
there are no restaurants like this where I live. Go!
in San Francisco:
I have just one recommendation here, the hotel where I stayed
on my recent trip.
Park Hotel (450 Post Street, 415-788-6400). The Kensington
Park's location, half a block from Union Square and next door
to Farallon, is unbeatable. The building in which the hotel
is housed, an Elks Lodge built in the grand style of the 1920's,
also contains a working theater on the second floor (hotel rooms
start on the fifth floor). Rooms are spacious, comfortable,
and nicely decorated, with extras like an ironing board and
iron. A Continental breakfast, available on each floor between
7 and 10 am , is included in your room rate, as is the morning
paper delivered to your door every day except Sunday, when you
must ask for it at the front desk. Afternoon tea/sherry and
cookies in the lobby are also gratis. The staff and concierge
are helpful, knowledgeable, and genuinely nice. Be warned that
rooms on the Union Square side of the building can be noisy.
Closet space in some rooms is limited, and I found the old-fashioned
heating system hard to control. If you have young children,
you might be better off at a hotel that has a kids' activity
center. Similarly, if your budget is tight, recognize that service
and location do not come without a price. However, if you're
looking for something other than another cookie-cutter hotel
room; if you want a small hotel with personality and a nice
staff where you can be comfortable; and if being mere steps
from Union Square fits in with your plans, check out the Kensington
in San Francisco:
So much chocolate, so little time! I couldn't get to a lot of
places I wanted to try, but I can still give you some suggestions.
Except where noted, all places are in San Francisco.
C. Chocolates (75 O'Farrell Street, 415-781-2601). Forget
about San Francisco's more famous chocolate names, and go here
instead. Very good bonbons, molded chocolates, and truffles,
with a nice selection from which to choose. Conveniently located
in Union Square.
Chocolates (417 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley, CA, 415-383-8887).
Nice assortments of prettily-designed bonbons. Chocolate roses
and fudge, too. I have spoken out against large truffles for
years, but Lyla's might just convert me.
Rainbow Ice Cream (various locations in San Francisco, one
store on Powell Street near Union Square). Double Rainbow is
most famous for their fabulous chocolate sorbet, but they make
a number of other varieties of sorbet and ice cream, including
some flavors you'd be hard pressed to find elsewhere. Great
for both kids and adults.
Truffles (754 Columbus, 415-421-4814). Jean-Marc and Caimira
Gorce produce small but delicious truffles in 21 varieties,
both with and without liqueur, with several different types
of coatings. There's even a vegan soy truffle! Definitely worth
Faerie Queene Chocolates (415 Castro, 415-252-5814). An
eccentric establishment that doesn't even open until 1 pm. Nonetheless,
the staff knows whereof they speak, and the proprietor has a
genuine love of good chocolate. Promise me anything, but give
me the Manon bonbons! Note that some chocolates have names that
are PG-rated. By now, the owner may have dropped the "RoCocoa"
part of the store name.