His & Her DINKs

Two thirty-somethings with no kids. We don't dislike kids, we just don't have them. This is our life.
HIS: Works in publishing by day and is a writer/comedian by night.
HER: Works in advertising by day and a food-, wine-, media-, and cat-lover by night.

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Restaurant: Ichi Sushi & Ni Bar

Date of Dinner: 4/12/14

Rating: 7.5/10

Living in the Excelsior area has its benefits especially the cost of living compared to other parts of San Francisco. It does not have the fanciest of restaurants but Ichi Sushi and Ni Bar is definitely changing that, though its location may be considered Bernal Heights or the Mission. It is located in one of those areas where three neighborhoods meet. Hell, two blocks over is Noe Valley so maybe that can lay claim as well.

Parking is abysmal in the area, at least at 7:00 on a Saturday night and it got so bad that HIS dropped HER off while looking for parking before biting the bullet and parking at the nearby Safeway and hoping to not receive a ticket. This was after fifteen minutes of driving around looking for a spot. Spoiler alert: No ticket!

Once inside it is a really neat space with one wall depicting a pop art demonstration on how to eat sushi properly. I am not going to lie, I learned a few things. It is nice to learn something other than ‘I shouldn’t have eaten that’ when out to dinner.

On to the menu which is underwhelming at first, it just looks like a regular sushi menu which is not what we were expecting after hearing so many nice things about Ichi. But once the food arrived we saw where the good reputation come from. All the fish came pre-dressed with sauces or roe or some other touch that made the traditional addition of ginger, wasabi, or soy completely unnecessary. It was literally grab and shovel. And grab and shovel we did.

The cold dishes were very good. We went with squid, tuna, and salmon and the stand-out warm dish was the cod. The edamame was served cold which was a first for us, but also very good. It is tough to screw that up.

One oddity of the place, and we call it an oddity simply because we do not know any better, is that depending on where you sit only certain parts of the menu were available. If you are not in the bar area, you can only order warm plates. We were in the bar area so it was order what you want prison-rules style. That is recommended.

Restaurant: Absinthe Brasserie and Bar

Date of Dinner: 3/29/14

Rating: 8/10

Having lived in the Civic Center when we first moved to San Francisco, Hayes Valley holds a special place in our hearts as the area for good restaurants. And Absinthe in particular is special because it is the first nice restaurant we went to once we settled in so we make a point to go back about once a year. 

The bar area is the first thing you run into upon entering and it always packed even if the opera and symphony are dark, as they were the night we went. The reputation for good cocktails is deserved which is why the bar is so packed and even the price is decent with some cocktails less than ten bucks, including the Sazarec, which we ordered after we sat down. As nice as the drinks are, the bar area is not the most comfortable unless you are sitting at the bar.

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Another positive of Absinthe is the people watching as it seems to be a very popular restaurant for a girls’ night out. HER gets to criticize their clothes while HIM appreciates the lack of clothes on some of the women. It is a win-win.

Food-wise the menu has been pretty consistent in the three-plus years we have lived in San Francisco with a couple selections of beef, fish, and chicken. We went with fish, getting the salmon, and chicken, coq au vin, and both were very pleased. Food prices are a tad higher than similar restaurants but the buck or two you save on the wine and cocktails off-sets the cost. Portions are perfect and the sauce and vegetables go perfectly. It is really good.

Absinthe has been a staple in the area for quite a while now and well-deserved. I see no reason why we would not continue to make the trip once or twice a year. And the Hayes Valley is a nice area to get a post-dinner drink as well and continue the pretty people watching.

Restaurant: Commonwealth

Date of Dinner: 3/22/14

Rating: 8/10

Tax season is terrible for a number of people: the self-employed, CPAs, rich people. For others it is not so bad because it means getting a tax return. Free money! All I had to do was give an interest-free loan to the government and they pay me back a year later. So with our tax return windfall we went all out on an expensive dinner at Commonwealth.

Back story aside: We had asked some friends recently for a fancy dinner suggestion. Not realizing how hard they partied they recommended some places that were $250-300 per person. After we nearly shit ourselves we were recommended Commonwealth which came in at $75 each for a tasting menu which was more our speed if we are going all out. We skipped the $40 per person wine pairing because, well, holy shit were already paying a lot for food. We stuck to beer and a couple of cocktails one-third the price.

To the food. It was pretty incredible. It started with an amuse-bouche of dungeness crab. The tasting menu then consisted of (copied from their website):

  • brandade, coastal succulents, meyer lemon, wild flowers, chilled pea soup
  • scallop, hearts of palm, popcorn puree, pea greens, yuzu kosho milk
  • rhubarb, artichoke, fromage blanc, wild greens, hazelnut, fava leaf pesto
  • sweetbreads cooked in beeswax,  parsnips, asian pear, honeyblack truffle
  • celery sorbet, verjus soda
  • beer meringue, chocolate ganache, pretzel crumble, crème fraîche ice cream

If you know what more than half of that stuff is you are a smarter diner than the two of us. They did make some adjustments for HER and her celiac disease and made a point to explain all the dishes to us as they were dropped. We nodded and said ‘excellent’ like we were hip to the jive, but I think they were onto us.

The standouts were the scallop and the final dessert. We do not get dessert often so every dessert seems like the best dessert ever so we may not be the best judges.

Because the price is high the judgment level rises with it and our criticism is that some of the dishes felt like showing off for the purpose of demonstrating how skilled the chef is. The celery sorbet was good, but is there really a need for celery sorbet? The sweetbread and brandade seemed pretty straight forward but were done so well that it was obvious how good the chef was because there was a reference point that we could relate to. I would imagine this the kind of restaurant that industry professional must really like because of the skill level.

The beer and cocktails was priced nicely. An expensive restaurant will jack the prices of beer because the food is expensive; not Commonwealth. Though they did have a couple of ten dollar beers, they also had two different $5 beers.

This review focused a lot on the cost but we do not want to discount how good the food was. It may not be the best meal we have ever had but it is in the conversation and was a memorable experience.

Restaurant: Piqueo’s

Date of Dinner: 3/14/14

Rating: 7/10

The HIS and HER dinner splurge usually occurs on Saturday evenings but because of other plans Piqueo’s became the destination for the rare Friday night dinner extravaganza. I know you are as excited reading that as I am writing it.

We joined another couple for some Peruvian tapas, which is something we did not know existed so this was a new experience for us. Right off the bat the restaurant was very accompanying by circling the items that did not have gluten which made ordering much easier for HER. Between the four of us the dishes included scallops, baby octopus, fried chicken (with a very light batter), paella, pork and yucca fries. If anyone was unhappy they kept it to themselves because conversation trailed off each time food was delivered.

The only criticisms are more aesthetic than culinary. It is a tight squeeze for a lanky man of over six feet and the food was delivered with large gaps. Our past experience with tapas would be dishes coming out every few minutes, This felt like two separate courses as we each got one plate, finished those and got another round fifteen minutes later. Again, a very minor criticism.

Drinks were beer and wine and prices around the same as most SF restaurants. Sam Adams, for example, was five bucks and wine glasses were $9-11. Service was solid and they were especially nice about our friends confusing the two waiters even though one had glasses and a beard and the other was clean shaven with strong eyes.

Restaurant: Precita Park Cafe

Date of Dinner: 3/8/14

Rating: 7.5/10

From the ashes of lies, the truth shall rise. I read that on a poster once. And from the lunch cafe a really good dinner shall rise. That one I just made in reference to the Precita Park Cafe, a place in Bernal Heights that served us dinner on a recent Saturday evening.

For weeks and months on end we have seen the Precita Park Cafe on Open Table just sitting there asking for it with its high ratings. It seemed like more of a lunch spot so it had gone ignored until HER pulled the trigger and made a reservation. A wise decision.

A very simple place that looks like a large sandwich shop that one would stop at while out riding their bike. It also features huge windows that were open on this unseasonably warm evening. The menu too is relatively simple; one option each for beef, chicken, fish, and vegetarian as well as some pizzas. HIS went fish while HER went chicken. Both were excellent, the fish was especially good seemingly wood grilled because it had some smokiness to it. Portions were perfect and price was also very good. The fish was the most expensive thing on the menu at twenty bucks.

Drinks too were ‘San Francisco cheap’ with all glasses of wine at less than $10 and beers at four dollars, including Harp which is not something often seen on the beer list. Service was nice and even though it was a tad loud, the room echoes, you could have a normal conversation and not hear the people on either side of you.

Whether or not we were so pleased with our meal was because of low expectations or if it was legitimately that good is uncertain. To be certain we will have to go back. No need for arm-twisting to do just that.

Restaurant: Coqueta

Date of Dinner: 3/1/14

Rating: 9/10

A recent Saturday night dining experience came out of a fortunate happenstance of events. Bumming around the Embarcadero with some friends we tried to see if we could get dinner at Coqueta, a very popular restaurant that is getting rave reviews. It is run by Michael Chiarello who has appeared on ‘Top Chef’. Because it was so early, about 5:30, they could squeeze us in before the 7:00 rush. In a word, it was awesome.

We did not know ahead of time that it was tapas style so it really worked out that there were five of us dining. Nearly every tapas on the menu was ordered and thrown in the middle of the table where we ravaged every morsel. Peppers, calamari, chicken, duck and pork meatballs, salad, olives all laid out in front of us just asking for it.

The food was priced well, especially for the quality. Most tapas were in the $10-12 range and if you were going as a couple, 4-5 tapas would do the trick. There was also a selection of ‘bites on a stick’ that were a couple of bucks and fun and tasty. The cocktails were on the pricier side, most were $12-13, but again going here the expectation would be the prices would be a tad higher.

Everything about this restaurant lived up to the expectations, from the host to the waitress to the food to the view. One of the best.

Restaurant: Southpaw BBQ

Date of DInner: 2/22/14

Rating: 6/10

Twas’ a fortnight prior that HIS and HER dined at Hi Lo BBQ in the Mission and were blown away. We decided to maintain the BBQ kick and try Southpaw BBQ, also in the Mission. 

Not only is Southpaw known for its BBQ but it also has an extensive bourbon, whiskey, and scotch menu. If it is brown, drink it down. Unless it is in a toilet, then flush it down. For that reason, HIS started off with a George Thorogood Flight, one bourbon, one scotch, one beer. But let’s raise a single finger to their less-than-two finger pour. 

Food wise it was uneven but that was partially our fault and how we ordered. We each went with the ‘one meat, two sides, and three hushpuppies’ meal. HER got the pork with grits and greens. She ate what she could. The food was great, it is just that the portion was huge. HIS made a mistake getting too much fried food, ordering the catfish with greens and fried pickles. Just way too much batter. All were fine on their own just too much in total. We’ll blame the diner and not the restaurant.

We can blame the restaurant for over-booking the space. Shit happens but we did seat about twenty minutes after our reservation and had to sit at the bar. And we got off easy. A few couples that came in with us had to wait over half an hour (though that may have been because they did not want to sit at the bar). Normally the bar is fine, sometimes even preferred, but you needed a little more space than what the bar could provide to dig into your meal.

Price-wise it left Hi Lo in the dust and the price point would be the main drive to get us back. We really think it was just an off night all around and deserving of a second chance. Some day.

Restaurant: Sushi Raw

Date of Dinner: 2/16/14

Rating: 7.5/10

We previously mentioned Chenery Park as one of our neighborhood regular haunts. The other that we visit the most frequently is Sushi Raw which has a few locations but this particular restaurant is located on Mission St. in the Excelsior DIstrict.

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The first thing one should know before settling in for dinner is that the waitstaff will push the expensive specials. Hard. You order the hamachi, expect to be upsold on the fancy special that is four times the price. Once you get past that it is a very enjoyable experience. Oh, and some of those specials are pretty good, I once got live sea urchin. And HER ate a whole fish, including the head.

On this night we got miso soup, a full squid to share and then a couple of rolls and sushi orders consisting of eel, mackerel, spicy tuna and hamachi. And for every fifteen bucks you spend you can order something off the discount menu, usually a tuna hand roll or oysters. There are also beer and sake specials, order one get a second for a buck.

The food is all very good, the presentation is nice and the pacing of the delivery of the food is solid. We like the sit at the sushi bar and watch the chefs do their thing. The man who appears to be the head chef, he’s the oldest and stares down the younger chefs when they work, is very friendly and helpful to us white people as we traverse this foreign land. And there is a flat screen TV that is usually showing sports.

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Price is also top notch as we have yet to spend more than sixty bucks on dinner including a drink or two. Atmosphere can be unique. We were there once when one guy dined and dashed. Another time a guy walked out of the restaurant and just fell down on street. Welcome to the Excelsior.

Restaurant: Johnny’s Harborside

Date of Dinner: 2/15/14

Rating: 7/10

The three-day President’s Day Weekend turned out quite DINKy as we left the city for a day of bumming around Monterey and Carmel and spent the night in Santa Cruz where we would go zip-lining the next morning. While in Santa Cruz we had a nice dinner at Johnny’s Harborside

The reviews and restaurant’s write up highlight their fish and that is exactly what dominated the menu and our bellies. We each got a cocktail to start and loved the sub-$10 price and washed those drinks down with a half dozen oysters, again enjoying the non-SF prices. 

If you have ever been to Legal Seafoods (a New England institution) the way you can order a meal is a three step a la carte process. 1) Pick your fish, 2) Pick your seasoning, 3) Pick your side. Johnny’s did the same. HIS went with Salmon and HER went Mahi Mahi and both ate every morsel. A bonus for HER, who suffers from celiac disease, was that they had a Gluten Free menu making ordering very simple. They even had a gluten free beer.

We even went off the deep end and ordered desserts and it may have been the best part of the meal. They offered mini-desserts where you select three and you get smaller portions that in total equal the size of a normal dessert.

Being that it was off-season it really felt like the place was full of a lot of regulars as we heard a couple of people asking about items that were on the menu previously. The restaurant overlooks the harbor but the way the place was lit made it difficult to get a nice view of the water and boats, particularly since we were not sitting near the windows.

Parking was odd too because it appeared you had to pay at a kiosk but we could not figure it out so we did not pay. Don’t tell anyone, it’ll be our little secret.

Restaurant: Catch

Date of Dinner: 2/8/14

Rating 7/10

Discount Weekend continued on Saturday where we had Goldstar-purchased tickets to see the ‘Revenge of the Nerds’ at the Castro Theater accompanied by a near-complete cast reunion in honor of the film’s 30th anniversary. And what 8:30 screening is complete without a pre-show dinner at Catch on Market near 17th in the Castro. And damn straight we had a Groupon.

Admittedly we probably never would have considered this place had it not been for the Groupon. Even though it was mostly a seafood menu, which is our favorite, there were only two entrees less than $25; the magic number that makes an already expensive San Fransicso restaurant a ‘tad’ expensive (Note: over $30 is ‘fucking’ expensive; $40 is ‘are you shitting me’ expensive; and $50 is ‘no fucking way’).

The atmosphere was nice, a tad ordinary initially until you realized there was a piano player on a platform above the dining area. That was pretty slick. Our entrees were grilled halibut with panchetta and spinach for HER and fettucini with lobster for HIS. Both were inhaled very fast and with minimal conversation. Sam Adams was on tap and a couple were had with dinner; though at $7 per it was hovering dangerously close to ‘fucking’ expensive territory which may explain why the beer prices were not on the menu. On the plus side the oysters were less than $3/piece. While that price may result in you serving time in New England, it is the going rate at most SF restaurants.

Other than the price there was absolutely nothing to complain about. Our waiter was nice; diners around us appeared to be having a nice time and seemed to be regulars and it was very easy to get to being only a three-minute walk from MUNI. It is also a historic landmark, the former home of Harvey Milk’s camera shop and once housed the AIDS quilt. Maybe we’ll be back the next time we see a show at the Castro Theater, provided we get a raised in the interim.