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.
Date of Dinner: 3/22/14
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):
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.
Date of Dinner: 3/14/14
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
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.
Date of Dinner: 3/1/14
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Date of Dinner: 2/8/14
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.
Restaurant: Hi Lo BBQ
Date of Dinner: 2/7/14
Discount weekend began Friday night in the Mission at a place on 19th St. called Hi Lo BBQ. Normally we are not the BBQ type but a Gilt City coupon got us to stray from out comfort zone.
We assume many places team up with a Gilt City or Groupon to drive new business to their establishment, woo said new business, and now have new loyal customers. If that was Hi Lo’s mission then it must be deemed a success.
This particular special was for two people and it allowed one glass of beer/wine per diner, an appetizer of pickled vegetables and a shared dinner plate consisting of three meats and two sides. We went with beef brisket, pulled pork and fish (halibut I believe) as our meats and dirty rice and greens for sides. Being fish and chicken people we were hesitant on the brisket. Fears averted. It was excellent. Probably the best we have had (though gun to our heads I am not sure I can point to a time previously where we have had brisket).
Our server was great and even talked us into a pre-dinner cocktail that hit the spot. The restaurant itself is roomy with two floors. The bottom has the bar, a large communal area and some small tables while the upstairs, where we sat overlooking the ground floor, was all tables.
Had we not had the Gilt City discount we would have found this a tad expensive. The dinner for two we got would normally go for $55 (with a slight deviation in the food choices). Even though this is San Francisco, once you cross that $25/person entree price the expectation goes into the stratosphere. And all cocktails were $10+ and beer was $6+. I know it is all locally sourced and all that happy horseshit but that really adds up.
While most of the food was excellent, the fish was average and the picked vegetables were not that good. Those two minor reasons were what kept Hi Lo from being out of this world. But we shall return.
Date of Dinner: 2/1/14
There are a number of neighborhoods with good restaurants and Hayes Valley is at or near the top for the two us and Nojo is one of our favorites. It tends not to get the publicity that some of the more popular, and expensive, places like Rich Table and Absinthe receive which is why if we ever were to appear on Check Please: Bay Area (a PBS show in which locals recommend and review three local restaurants) Nojo may be the restaurant we choose.
We had a post-theater-rush dinner on a Saturday night so we did wait a bit for our table despite having a reservation, but that is to be expected at the 7:15 time slot. In the past we have been able to order a drink while we wait and even enjoy it outside at one of the stand-up tables on the sidewalk. But is was windy. And chilly. So we stayed inside because we have gone soft and just stared at people as they ate to make them feel uncomfortable. I find rubbing my belly while I ogle someone’s chicken skewer is a particularly effective way to make a diner self-conscious.
The food is Japanese tapas and provides a good chance to try things we may not have had prior. We split five dishes: Tsukune (chicken sausage type skewer with soy and egg yolk dipping sauce), pork jowl, chicken breast with wasabi, tempura-battered mushrooms, and a beef tendon salad. I do not even know what half of that means and I just typed it. But all was very tasty and would recommend it all.
One aspect that sticks out at Nojo is the service in that the delivery of the items was spaced out perfectly. We got the two large dishes first; the mushrooms and salad. That allowed us to eat some of that then try one of the skewers when delivered. Then back to the salad/mushrooms. Rinse and repeat.
The beer and wine selection is minimal and a lot of the beer is super-expensive. I did not know any of the fancy beers but I can not think of any reason where I would order a $45 beer. Unless it was a keg. There is a sake selection as well but neither of us know anything about sake. Perhaps a future project will be to learn about and try some sake.