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111op Visits San Francisco

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Apr 6th, 2009, 09:46 AM
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111op Visits San Francisco

I just spent about 4.5 days in San Francisco. Thanks to those who helped with the planning, but there are some people who deserve special thanks.

Easytraveller came and met me on Day 2 of my trip and gave me a really nice driving tour of the city. I really enjoyed it and I saved lots of time from having to navigate on my own. Also I learned about the free walking tours offered by the volunteers for the SF Public Library from Fodor's:

http://www.sfcityguides.org

Based on my schedule, I opted for two tours: Cityscapes and Public Spaces and the one on Haight-Ashbury. While tours are technically free, donations are encouraged, and I gave a total of $15. Tours were very informative, but I preferred the CItyscapes tour.

I'll start by reviewing my hotel and internet access in San Francisco as that requires virtually no work.
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Apr 6th, 2009, 10:04 AM
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Priceline for San Francisco, Westin St. Francis and Internet Access in SF

Priceline seems especially convenient for San Francisco. I was able to book Westin St. Francis for about $85 a night (taxes included) just a few days prior to departure. And I didn't do it the most efficiently either. I won't get into the story, but Priceline allows four free rebids for San Francisco if you're trying out for a 4* hotel (well, I think so, anyway). This is not the place to explain the free rebids, but since I didn't exhaust them, it's clear that the lowest possible winning bid must be below where I bid.

I was a little apprehensive about this hotel since it has some questionable reviews on TripAdvisor. And it's true the desk agent reminded me quite a few times that my room had been prepaid on Priceline. However, in reality, there was nothing I could complain about the room (especially for $85).

The location is also especially convenient since Powell & Market is a major transportation hub.

Here's some info that may be useful for people staying at this hotel.

I was given two coffee beverage coupons for Caruso's. I didn't have to redeem them for coffee, however (and I drink little coffee). One I used for juice and another I used for bottled water. I think tea and soda were also acceptable substitutions.

It took me two nights to realize that I could get $5 off coupons if I declined room service. I declined room service for two nights. One coupon I used for breakfast at Caruso's (just a croissant and water). Another I used for a lunch wrap on my day of departure. The wraps and sandwiches (over $10) are overpriced, but my wrap came with a bag of chips, so I figured it was an acceptable way to use my coupon.

No, you can't use the coupons in Michael Mina, but you can use them at Caruso's, the Oak Room and for room service (and maybe some other stuff -- the coupons will tell you).

If you read the fine print, you'll realize that if you decline a delivery of USA Today to your room, you get a credit of 75c. I never tried this, but it was amusing to find that I got the paper only two of the five days I was there. I never read the paper.

I was told not to move things in the minibar as it's sensor-based and I'd be charged if I moved anything.

Another useful tip: Westin St. Francis offered a computer terminal and a printer that you can use to check in online. The screen had links to all major airline websites. I printed out my boarding pass ahead of time this way. This was a free service.

Internet access was 14.95 for 24 hours (yes 24 hours, not a calendar day) and that rate did include taxes.

WiFi in San Francisco

There's supposed to be WiFi in Union Square, but I couldn't get it to work. In any case, if you happen to forget your battery, like I did, and have to plug in your computer, there are outlets in the north and south side of the Square. They are next to some trees (you may have to flip a cover over to discover where you can plug in your computer).

The free "Where" magazine for San Franciso lists the following WiFi hotspots in San Francisco:

--Crocker Galleria, 50 Post Street
--Emporio Rulli, Union Square
--Metreon, 101 Fourth Street
--111 Minna Gallery, 111 Minna Street
--Puccini & Pinetti, 129 Ellis Street

Of these I tried Metreon, as I had researched this ahead of time, and I couldn't get WiFi to work there either. But I did get it to work at the mall diagonally across from Metreon (closer to 3rd Street), at least for a couple of minutes.

And I even managed to access Union Square WiFi from my hotel room very very fleetingly. The webpage took forever to load and then the connection just died on me.

I didn't try Starbucks or Peet's.

I did find one Kinko's and I used it. Interesting, internet access was 25c a minute, 5c cheaper compared to Kinko's in NYC.
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Apr 6th, 2009, 08:32 PM
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Hi 111op, I hope you got to do some serious eating while you were here. Your opinions are always so...unadulterated. In any case, whether it's about food, art, transport, grime or crime, I look forward to the next installment.

FYI, I can barely get consistent wifi in my house and I pay for it.
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Apr 6th, 2009, 08:58 PM
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I think easytraveler should be SF's Ambassador! She's always so generous to other Fodorites.
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Apr 6th, 2009, 09:06 PM
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Yes, hats off to easytraveller, who even insisted on paying for everything (I finally had to put a stop to it). She said that that's what Fodor's is all about, and I'm not sure if I agree. I did say that I'll do my best to get her into museums in NYC when she's here for a visit. It's the least I can do.

Leely, I did collect a few Michelin stars on this trip, and I'll review the restaurants.

I ate at

Chez Panisse (*)
Michael Mina Lounge (**)
Delfina (*)
Range (*)

I also had dim sum at Yank Sing, but it doesn't have a star.
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Apr 6th, 2009, 09:11 PM
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I ate at

Chez Panisse (*)
Michael Mina Lounge (**)
Delfina (*)
Range (*)



Wow!
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Apr 6th, 2009, 09:14 PM
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I'll say this right now before I write further about the meals that I liked Chez Panisse the most. I feel that its reputation is well deserved. The staff is friendly. I had forgotten to take the menu with me when I left. I called them to have them mail me a copy. The menu arrived today. Here's what I ate:

Goat cheese sald with beets and chicories

Alaskan halibut with Chino Ranch leeks and crispy pancetta

Grilled Wolfe Ranch quail al mattone with black trumpet mushrooms, roasted new potatoes, and spring vegetables

Rhubarb tart with muscat sabayon

I took a friend out who recommended that I have their red zinfandel, which I enjoyed.

The same friend took me out to Range later (which I guess sort of defeated the purpose, but well I'll just have to treat him again another time ).
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Apr 6th, 2009, 09:26 PM
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I think that I may do the report thematically rather than chronologically, so let me offer a list of things I actually did, and I'll fill in the details later.

Since I've been to SF before, I skipped some of the standard attractions, such as Fisherman's Wharf and Chinatown. I did walk past them.

Day 1

Dim sum at Yank Sing (Rincon Building)
Ferry Building

Public art:
Maman (Louise Bourgeois)
Cupid's Span (Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen)

Afternoon: Berkeley
Musical Offering
Amoeba Records
Strada

Dinner at Chez Panisse

Day 2

easytraveller's driving tour:

Fisherman's Wharf
Marina
Fort Point
Crissy Field
North of GG Bridge (Battery Spencer)
Cliff House + Ocean Beach
Land's End
Presidio -- Letterman Arts Complex (George Lucas)
El Camino del Mar
Broadway near Lyon (Billionaire Row, Getty's House?)
Alamo Square
Golden Gate Park, de Young Museum (tower), Cal Academy of Sciences (Foucault's Pendulum)

Evening in SOMA
Contemporary Jewish Museum (Daniel Libeskind)
SFMOMA

Dinner at Michael Mina (Lounge menu)

Day 3

Cityscapes and Public Spaces Walking Tour
Castro (Harvey Milk camera shop)
Tartine bakery
Valencia Street
Mission Dolores
Art Galleries
Cable car rides and Lombard Street
Dinner at Delfina

Day 4

Wine Country tour with Grayline
Dinner at Range

Day 5 (Half day)

Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption (1111 Gough Street)
Japantown
Walking tour of Haight-Ashbury
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Apr 6th, 2009, 10:55 PM
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Thanks for the useful tips on the Westin St Francis. We will be staying there for 5 nights later this year (unfortunately, not through Priceline!) and your comments are very helpful. I'll try to remember not to put my water bottle in the minibar.

With regard to the restaurants, from sf7307's reaction, I take it that these are notable dining establishments. Is this because they:
a. serve seriously good food (the stars suggest so);
b. are seriously expensive;
c. are seriously hard to get bookings for;
d. seriously, match all of the above?

Rob.
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Apr 7th, 2009, 02:33 AM
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Hey Rob, well I usually try to lower the cost of hotels. Some people care a lot about the hotel and the room they get. I'm not like that. If your reservation is cancellable and you've some flexibility, then Priceline for SF seems like a good bet.

Regarding the chosen restaurants, I think Chez Panisse is the most famous of the lot because of the Alice Waters connection.

Are they difficult to book? My friend and I were talking about this. I said that I couldn't see any evidence of a recession, but he said that the fact that I got in so easily was a sign of the times. I just walked into Delfina at 6:30 (no reservation), and he made a same-day reservation for Range at 10 pm and sent me a text message asking whether I wanted to join him. I booked our reservation at Chez Panisse less than a week before. People have said that CP requires a month to book, but that wasn't my experience. I didn't even have to ask for an alternate day.

Granted, the restaurants were quite packed. Delfina was obviously not completely full. My friend said that in the heyday people would be queuing outside to get in before the restaurant opened (I guess it's a little like Lupa in NYC -- wonder what it's like there these days).

Are they seriously expensive? I usually keep costs down, so they are more expensive than an average dinner, but they are not exorbitant.

Chez Panisse's prix fixe menu ranges in price. The weekend menus are more expensive ($95) but the midweek ones are $75. So we spent $110 a head.

I was at Delfina and Michael Mina alone. $35 for the former, $70 for the latter (that was why I insisted on eating in the Lounge as the main restaurant would easily be over $100).

Range was $60 a head. We each had a glass of wine and shared a dessert. These two things are things I sometimes skipped to save money (as in Delfina).

Actually my friend and I were joking about how expensive Yank Sing was. I think my dim sum was about $25, about twice the price in NYC. And my friend joked that for an additional $10, I ate at Delfina!

Since I live in NYC I expect to spend $50 and up for a moderate establishment. I think that it's possible to eat very well for much less (Chinatown, for example), but it'd just be a different kind of experience.

And normally I don't expect much from these restaurants either. I do think that it's sad that a dinner should cost $50 for something that's a little more interesting and nicer than average. We reached that point when restaurants routinely started to charge over $20 for a main course.
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Apr 7th, 2009, 09:03 AM
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kiwi, my reaction wasn't so much about the quality of the food at the restaurants chosen, but about the fact that 111 planned so well (we almost never make advance dinner reservations when we travel), and went to a bunch of very popular restaurants. Interesting about getting reservations, because I tried to get same-day reservations on a Friday night in early February for both Range and Delfina, and neither was available until 10:30 p.m. I wonder if it's just gotten worse.
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Apr 7th, 2009, 09:13 AM
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Reservations
Could it be that many locals were out of town last weekend, due to the start of Easter vacation week???

Stu Dudley
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Apr 7th, 2009, 09:15 AM
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SF

Prime Time had about half of the normal attendees last night.
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Apr 7th, 2009, 09:31 AM
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Well it may seem that I planned well, but in reality I was really winging it. The only reservation I made was Chez Panisse.

Everything else was more or less spontaneous (I was not expecting to get taken out to Range, for example). I thought about calling Delfina, but I figured that I'd just try to walk in. I'd have wanted to get there at 6 or earlier as a walkin, but because I was stuck on the cable cars, I couldn't get there as early as I wanted. As it turned out, it wasn't an issue anyway.
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Apr 7th, 2009, 09:31 AM
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Stu, do you mean Prime Time as in our gym (as opposed to Prime whatever -- the restaurant on 3rd Avenue)? I was there, too, I'd say between 6 and 7. I'm guessing it was due to the men's NCAA basketball championship.
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Apr 7th, 2009, 10:09 AM
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I rarely call a restaurant more than a day or two in advance and can usually get a table if I'm willing to eat early or late. Hasn't been a problem. I would probably make plans earlier if I were looking to book a four-top or bigger. Or if I were hauling myself all the way over to Berkeley.

I have mixed feelings about Range, so I'm curious to read your review.

Never been to Michael Mina! Fancy.
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Apr 7th, 2009, 10:23 AM
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Leely2, yes, as for Range (where I have not been), my foodie co-workers response was "Why Range?" None of them is particularly impressed. As for Delfina, it's a really good neighborhood restaurant. If I lived nearby, I'd go often. But not a "destination" place.
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Apr 7th, 2009, 11:04 AM
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Since we're talking about food, I'll review the restaurants first then.

Yank Sing

There are two locations. I went to the one on 101 Spear in the Rincon building. From the outside, the Rincon building says "Post Office," so I actually thought that it was a post office and I didn't go inside at first. There are some interesting murals inside this building.

The dim sum at Yank Sing was good, but the prices were steep. I'd not have expected six xiao long bao (little soup dumplings) to cost over $10. They were nice but certainly not as great as the famous ones at Taiwan's Din Tai Fung (now an international chain). I had two other small dim sum dishes. Oolong tea was actually offered to me as a choice, which I picked. Typical dim sum tea would be pu-erh or jasmine (xiang pian). Tea was brewed in a see-through teapot.

It was nice, but I doubt that I'll spend $25 again on dim sum again here (at least not alone).

Yank Sing, 101 Spear Street, 415.957.9300

Chez Panisse

Undoubtedly this was the star of all the restaurants I ate on this trip. As I'd written before, there are two parts to Chez Panisse. The upstairs seating is a more casual a la carte cafe. The more formal restaurant is located downstairs. There's an open kitchen and everyone eats the same prix fixe menu. Well, more or less the same, as I did hear people asking for substitutions. But that'd not be the norm.

The restaurant posts menus a week in advance. The restaurant required a $25 deposit per person for donwstairs, refundable provided the reservation was cancelled at least 24 hours ahead of time.

I'd heard so much about this restaurant that I felt I had to try it. And I had flexibility with my schedule, so the timing was perfect. I've not read much about Alice Waters, but my impression is that she was seminal in a food revolution. With Chez Panisse, you can be assured of simple and stylish cooking with fresh and organic ingredients (not the heavy sauces that one would associate with classic French cooking).

Indeed I was not disappointed. The decor was also tasteful and understated. I think there was a bit of an art deco theme, but the front of the restaurant was quite simple as well. Service was attentive and yet unintrusive, and, as I mentioned, the restaurant sent me a menu by mail when I requested it.

I'd told this story already, but the server asked if we were celebrating a birthday. I said no initially, and then I said, actually yes, it was my friend's birthday. It was an April Fool's joke so I didn't tell you at first.

I wanted 50% off and the waiter said, well, I'll give you 50% off if you give me 25% back.

In the end, they had a candle on my friend's tart.

I'd already posted the menu earlier on this thread.

Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley. 510.548.5525 (downstairs). $110 per person ($75 prix fixe menu and one drink).

Michael Mina

This is the restaurant in Westin St. Francis. It's one of three restaurants in San Francisco with two Michelin stars as listed in the 2009 Michelin guide. The other two are Aqua and Coi.

I had researched the menu online prior to leaving and I figured that the lounge would not be too expensive. Also when I checked in at the Westin, the desk agent was raving about the lobster pot pie, which I'd planned on having anyway.

I think what's done in the main restaurant is that the chef prepares various dishes three ways. Also the lobster pot pie would have commanded a $35 supplement in the main restaurant. On the lounge menu, the pot pie costs $20, so this was a no-brainer decision for me.

Unfortunately when I arrived, I hit upon a snafu. The lounge was also the bar, and every seat was taken. I wasn't quite expecting this when I showed up around 9:15 pm. The woman at reception told me that they'd stop serving food quite soon, but I wasn't willing to give up quite so easily. I went back a couple of times to check on things and I asked a server when they'd actually stop serving, and he said 10 pm.

I guess my obsessive behavior and loitering scared them a bit, and someone else took pity on me and came up to me to ask if he could help me. He offered a table in the main restaurant, but obviously it wasn't the best table. And if I didn't feel like having a full dinner, I could order from the lounge menu.

Perfect! I didn't have to spend more money than I wanted. Decor in this restaurant was with muted, neutral colors. It was what one'd expect with a restaurant in a hotel.

Here's the lounge menu:

http://michaelmina.net/mm/pdf/Lounge...Bar%20menu.pdf

I picked the dungeness crab and lobster pot pie and chocolate for dessert. The lobster pot pie was interesting. It came in a small copper (?) pot. The server expertly removed the pastry crust and laid it on my plate and then proceeded to scoop out all the goodies and lay them on the crust. I usually find that lobster isn't especially flavorful, and I actually found the vegetables to be more flavorful in this dish.

Obviously the cooking and presentation seemed fussier than Chez Panisse, but I preferred Chez Panisse.

The chocolate dessert was delicious.

There was one small problem at the end. I was charged for three savory courses ($55) instead of two savory courses ($20 each) and dessert ($12) for a total of $52. I pointed this out and they of course reduced the bill by $3.

Michael Mina (Lounge) at the Westin St. Francis Hotel, 335 Powell Street, 415.397.9222. Two savory courses ($20 each) and one dessert ($12). Total $70.

Delfina and Range reviews coming up...
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Apr 7th, 2009, 11:37 AM
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Delfina

My friend had mentioned this restaurant to me quite a while ago. it's also easily accessible by public transportation, and earlier in the day I had been wandering about in the Castro and Mission district, so I figured that I'd give this one a try.

I arrived later than I wanted at 6:30, but when I apprehensively asked for seating for one, there was no problem at all. I was led to long counter seating that overlooked the main restaurant. (There was additional seating at the bar, but then I'd be facing the wall instead.)

I had a very attentive server. She noticed that I didn't touch the butter. I rarely use butter on bread, and she asked whether I wanted to have some olive oil on the side. I appreciated her kindness, but I just opted for plain instead.

I had fregnacce with white shrimp and a side of peas and mushrooms in mint butter sauce. I believe the menu at Delfina is supposed to change every day, but evidently, when you do a search online, you'll discover the fregnacce is in fact mentioned quite often. I'm not a big fan of squid, but I believe my friend said that there's a good squid dish that's a mainstay as well.

Dinner was fine, but it wasn't spectacularly good. I didn't feel bad spending $35.

Delfina, 3621 18th Street, 415.552.4055. $35 for one pasta dish and one side dish.

Range

I got out at the 24th Street BART station and started walking, but it turned out that Time Out San Francisco had this location slightly wrong. I think it'd have been better to use the 16th Street BART (the restaurant is close to 19th Street). But my friend said that the walk might have been a little scarier.

In any case, there was a very lively stretch along 22nd Street when I crossed over from Mission to Valencia Street. And on my way I stopped some women to ask for directions, and they insisted that I had to have the roasted chicken at Range.

Then I arrived to discover that the restaurant was actually next to a couple of shops I was visiting earlier on this trip. It was right next to the Arts Cooperative and the pirates store started by Dave Eggers (I'll write about these later). I just didn't notice the restaurant at that time (as my friend said, there was hardly a sign).

My friend was already waiting and we had corner seating. It was great for people watching. I joked that the crowd was quite stylish (I wasn't -- actually having seen this friend a couple of times on this trip, I was thinking whether he was wondering if I brought only one outfit to SF), and this was like dining in a NYC restaurant! Except that people didn't seem as anorexic looking and they seemed quite happy.

The wine list was challenging. It was ironic to be presented with a menu like this one after a Wine Country tour. I guess I didn't learn anything. I think that I had a glass of white wine from Alsace but I'd never heard of the grape (or what I think was the grape) -- the wine I had is not listed on the wine menu online, which features a different wine from Alsace. By the way, is one supposed to order a wine by grape or vineyard? This tells you how little I know about wines.

Online wine list:
http://www.rangesf.com/wine.html

Interestingly, my appetizer is not listed on the menu online either. Instead of asparagus with a poached egg, I had leeks instead. It was interesting, but it was also chilled, and I wasn't expecting it. I had the roasted chicken and it was nice (no one should go to a restaurant that can't properly roast a chicken). As it turned out, the table next to ours ordered the same main dishes (my friend had skate). When the roasted chicken arrived for our neighbor, I was having second thoughts. After all, roasted chicken is really plain. What's the point of having this at a fancy restaurant? Had the pork shoulder from the online menu been offered, I might have chosen it, but we were offered lamb that day if I remember right.

Online dinner menu:
http://www.rangesf.com/dinner.html

But the chicken was fine. Of course nothing could compare with the Hainanese chicken rice I had at Tian Tian in Singapore for a fraction of the price.

We had the last chocolate souffle (with a molten core) for the evening. I think they gave us another dessert for free (certainly we didn't order it).

Range, 842 Valencia (around 19th Street), 415.282.8283. $60 per person (one appetizer, one main course, 0.5 dessert, one glass of wine).
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Apr 7th, 2009, 11:46 AM
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Dinner was fine, but it wasn't spectacularly good. I didn't feel bad spending $35

Yes, I think Delfina is as popular as it is because it's a very good meal (as you said, not spectacularly good, but very good) for a very fair price.
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