The thing that most East Coaster foodies may have a hard time with in California is the culture around restaurant reservations. Booking reservations well in advance just aren’t as ‘necessary’ on the East Coast, at least not in New England or New York. You can almost always find a decent restaurant with ‘space’ without having to book well in advance unless its prime time on a Friday or Saturday night.
Even though I have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for awhile, I still can’t used to the fact that it’ll be hard to get a seat unless I book in advance. I find myself thinking – who is loaded with so much cash they can keep the restaurants healthy and well on a regular basis? Oh yeah, the dotcommer geek kids and their girlfriends and the investors of their gigs.
There’s actually a lot of truth to this. When a company does well or a start-up explodes or goes public like Facebook recently did, what’s different about this region vis a vis anywhere else in the world is that suddenly there are a hundred or more new multi-millionaires within a month period. When it happens consecutively, houses get inflated, restaurants get inflated ($15-18 for a glass of wine from Napa or Sonoma (an hour drive away) is not uncommon. It all gets inflated. The ‘going out scene’ is part of that.
I’ve noticed that restaurants in rougher ‘hoods’ like one area of the Mission or an area that may have been rough but is turning like the Dogpatch, is starting to raise their prices to what might be comparable in one of the most expensive neighborhoods of the city: Russian Hill. Really? Guys, you’re not Russian Hill and there’s a charm to that, but you still need to pull it off including the quality of your wine list and your service. But, many of them are getting away with it for now. We just had another IPO out here if you haven’t heard. (even though investor confidence doesn’t remain high and happy). Then again, when you have a society who embraces normal as it’s quite okay to spend a $1b on a photo color changing app on a phone, of course we’re fucked. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re paying $25 for a glass of wine in San Francisco next year.
There are a few over-inflated places I’ve known about, tried and frankly just don’t spend a lot of time there because I think they’re over-rated and over-priced and the ambiance, service and quality of the ‘dish’ just isn’t there. I’m a foodie and while San Francisco has a ton of fabulous restaurants, the prices are going up and the quality of service and the food is staying the same or in some cases going down.
A few on my “I used to LOVE” and stopped going to list includes: Delfina Restaurant, San Francisco’s poster child, can do no wrong Italian eaterie, Range, a favorite when it opened based in the Mission, and the Slow Club, also in the Mission. All three of them started out with major thumbs up from this foodie ‘cat’ and after three consecutive trips to Delfina, where the bartender and waitress had so much ‘we’re Delfina attitude,’ I decided they didn’t need my patronage.
Range didn’t have the service issue, moreso their menu just got heavier and heavier so that I always felt like I didn’t have enough light and healthy choices to choose from……and oh btw, there’s ALWAYS a wait, even to sit at the bar. It became too much of a popularity contest and you always have to weight the hassle of hanging around and waiting in the ‘wanna be seen’ scene versus the quality of the experience. It just stopped winning over time, so I stopped going.
That said, if you go early enough, sit at the bar, order a nice glass of wine and an appetizer EARLY before that ‘scene’ arrives, I wouldn’t say no. Just wish they had a few lighter options on their menu.
Then there’s Slow Club, which I used to go to from time-to-time for girlfriend get togethers. We’d sit at the bar, order a salad and some wine and it ‘kinda’ worked. The bar scene albeit cool doesn’t come anywhere near the ambiance a girl’s gotta have for $25-28+ plates. It just feels too much like a dive bar scene, which frankly is fine, but not when you’re going to charge those prices.
Recently, I had to go there two nights in a row since it was the after hang out place for a seminar I did in the area. I tried their caesar salad which was on the small side, though I have to admit the dressing was really great. Well done Chef Matthew Paul.
Their butter lettuce with citrus, spiced roasted pistachios, ricotta salad is also a nice salad option on the menu. The seminar I was doing was a creative one, meaning people who subscribe to that life don’t spend $15-18 on a glass of wine or $28 on an entree every night of the week…I wasn’t surprised to see a number of orders of their $4.50 sides of garlic french fries. For example, they charge $12.50 for a FLAT BREAD: garlic confit, asparagus, smoked pancetta & montasio and nearly $20 for a linguine though it does come with lamb and pecorino romano. Didn’t try it but it sounded quite good.
What was absolutely delicious twice in a row was their pan-roasted California halibut, which was served with succotash of white corn, red peppers, favas, cippolini onions, and watercress, pimenton d’espellete & garlic-lemon aioli for $24.50. We also tried their pan-roasted chicken which was served with cornbread and shrimp stuffed artichokes, spinach, fingerling potatoes & pan sauce.
I had a great time both nights and the food was good. I still have an issue with Mission-based places charging what Russian Hill eateries do and call grunge trendy as a way to get around the prices and the inability to seat you unless you made a reservation days in advance. It all just feels too self important somehow. And it’s not like Phoenix/Tempe, where they’re always booked up yet make you feel like a rockstar regardless of the wait.
One cool tidbit about Slow Club is that use produce & meat from farms & ranches that practice ecologically sound agriculture whenever possible. Also, all fried items are cooked in peanut oil which is recycled into bio-diesel. Lastly, their bartender James, the one with the amazing tattoos, knows how to prepare a kick-ass margarita anyway you want it. (and in any glass you want if you ask nicely enough).