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: 3/1/14
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.
Restaurant: Chenery Park
Date of Dinner: 1/31/14
The Excelsior District in San Francisco is where we hang our proverbial hats and that makes the Glen Park area a walkable destination. And that is part of the reason that Chenery Park has become the restaurant we have visited the most (probably half a dozen times over the last year). The other reason we visit so often is that is provides a solid experience every time.
It is a large restaurant so we usually have no problem getting seated at 7:00 on a Friday without a reservation. The menu is minimal, maybe twelve dinner items, and all that we have tried have hit the spot. On this evening HER got mussels and fries while HIS got the night’s special, shrimp scampi with polenta. And some of HER’s fries because there is a five fry table tax. That’s Dining 101. Both were excellent. We have ordered the grilled brussel sprouts in the past and they too are very tasty.
One aspect of Chenery Park that is unique is that you will see kids there which is a rarity in San Francisco. And they all tend to be well-behaved. I guess if you are raising kids in SF you probably make decent scratch and can afford the best meds to sedate the kids. Or these people are just good parents. A lot better than the parents at the Daly City In-n-Out Burger.
Another aspect of Chenery Park that is unique is that you can get a cocktail for less than $10. We are not sure when $10 became the minimum you pay for a Sazarec at a restaurant but we no like. There are a couple of $7-9 cocktails on the menu and being able to get a cocktail for just a buck or two more than a beer gives you a chance to change up your alcohol ordering.
One of the best things about living in the area of San Francisco that we live is that it is neighborhood-y. And Chenery Park is definitely a nice, neighborhood restaurant.
Restaurant: O3 Bistro and Lounge
Date of Dinner: 1/25/14
It was a coupon Saturday night. Discounted symphony tickets via Goldstar? Check. Dinner coupon via Gilt City? Check again. That confluence of events brought us to the O3 Bistro and Lounge, a Thai restuarant on Van Ness Ave up the road from the Civic Center.
Our coupon allowed us one appetizer, two entrees and one drink each which turned out swimmingly. We started with a Sazarec and a sparkling wine (guess who got which) and a spring roll appetizer that sliced to almost look like sushi. Dinner was a chicken curry dish for HIS and pad thai for HER. The only way I can tell bad thai from good thai is bad thai tends to be really dry. That was not the case here. It was very solid.
The atmosphere was very nice and every seat was filled with what appeared to be the pre-theater/opera/symphony crowd. We finished dinner a bit early and enjoyed a drink in the bar area which featured a comfy couch to plop down.
People-watching was solid this evening as well as we were fascinated by a leggy lady wearing a nice (HIS’ description) and trashy (HER description) dress. She looked to be in her early 20’s and we assumed she was with another good-looking twenty-something. Nope, she was there with the good-looking guy’s father. We assumed he was rich.
Restaurant: La Viga Restaurant
Date of Dinner: 1/18/14
On a recent Saturday night we ventured out of the city and down the peninsula to dinner with another couple in Redwood City. Per their recommendation we went to La Viga, a Mexican/seafood restaurant. A good recommendation it was.
You can find fancier and cleaner places but you may not find tastier places in the area. What the place lacked in decor it made up for in spice. Even the salsa that came with the free chips had some kick to it. Very nice. HIS ordered something called Cochinita Pibil, a braised pork dish that was inhaled very quickly and without any conversation. Yup, it was a tad tasty. HER went with a mahi mahi dish. She didn’t say much but the plate was empty when she was done not talking.
If there was a downside it was their drinks. I do not know if you are familiar with a Chavela but never order it. Ever. It was listed as a beer with lime and chile powder. It was more like a margarita made with beer instead of tequila. My bad. I think it was put on the menu to see if a white guy would be dumb enough to order it. Guilty as charged. Still coming back for the food though.