Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Just Decide Already: Zuni Cafe and Pesce, San Francisco

Visiting a city like San Francisco, it's hard not to become overwhelmed when choosing a spot to dine. There was a time when I'd just walk down the street and pop into the first place that looked inviting (that's how I found one of my favorite DC haunts, Bistro du Coin, which introduced me to mussels). Now, older, perhaps wiser, and with an increased awareness of resources out there that can help you find good eats hidden from the tourist eye, I rarely eat out when travelling without first checking Chowhound, the local food critic, a few blogs, and other best of lists. Often, this helps me. Yet sometimes, due to the sheer amount of info out there, I become paralyzed, particularly when there are conflicting opinions from multiple trustworthy sources. That's when I take a deep braeth, remind myself that it's only a meal, and just decide already. On the trip to SF, when we finally threw up our hands and just picked--we ended up at Zuni Cafe and Pesce, and all was right with the world.

Citrus Salad with Olives and Feta

Friday night, after long days of work in the East Bay, J and I checked into our Union Square hotel with no plan for dinner. We wanted walkable, cozy, and still bustling at 10 p.m. Zuni Cafe, a 25 year veteran of the San Francisco dining world, sounded like just the ticket, according to ChezPim and my favorite critic, Tom Sietsema of the Washington Post. Zuni makes its home in a flat-iron-esque building, with big windows and lots of nooks and crannies for romantic dining (though not so private that we weren't attuned to every ridiculous make-out session of the couple two tables away). We started with a 1/2 dozen oysters, followed by a gorgeous, tart citrus salad with tiny olives for me and a frisee salad for J. We'd had a similar frisee salad the night before at a forgettable Italian place in Berkeley and it was interesting to compare--Zuni's was lightly dressed with tiny cubes of a robust parmesan, at the other place the greens were soaked in an oily dressing with a shower of shredded flavorless cheese.

For the main course, we both ordered the same dish--seared Bay scallops with wilted greens and shaved egg. The meaty scallops were perfectly cooked, and the shaved egg made the dish even more robust. We shared a half bottle of Montrachet; that plus the late hour and the rich meal made it impossible to stay for dessert.

Saturday night we headed to Russian Hill to Pesce, a seafood cicchetti (Venetian small plates) spot, found on the SF Chronicle's Top 100 Restaurants list. Here we made a glorious mess sharing 1/2 a Dungeness crab, sauteed in butter and red pepper flakes. The crab was followed by squid ink risotto with calamari, tiny day boat scallops served with chanterelles, cream and truffle oil, and one more dish I can't remember. However, the memory of the scallops is still seared (harhar) on my brain--they were amazingly, meltingly delicious. An interesting contrast to the meatier Bay scallops we savored the night before. We finished by sharing a rich brownie sundae concoction, with the thought that we'd grab a nightcap at one of the charming-looking bars on the block that we'd passed on the way in. Little did we know, that in the time we'd eaten dinner, the charming bars had turned into packed warzones, full of trendoids drinking cosmos, so we hightailed it back to the Hilton and up to the 46th floor Cityscape bar. This place has cheeseball written all over it, but the view of the Bay Bridge was tremendous, the scotch list extensive, and they even threw a few jazzy tunes in with the 80s/90s hits, so we were able to end the night with a few turns around the dance floor.

Zuni Cafe
658 Market St
San Francisco, CA 94102-5949
(415) 552-2522
Cross Street: Gough Street
late night dining

227 Polk St
San Francisco, CA 94109-1815
(415) 928-8025
Cross Street: Vallejo Street

333 O'Farrell St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 923-5002
Cross Street: Mason Street


Rorie said...

Two of my favorite SF eateries - sounds like a swell time!

Jennifer Maiser said...

"the charming bars had turned into packed warzones, full of trendoids drinking cosmos"

OMG - what a great line, and very apt for that neighborhood. All of SF's not like that, but the couple blocks near Pesce get completely overrun.

Erin S. said...

Jennifer, it was amazing the difference a few hours made--we had tea a block away from Pesce before dinner and all was quiet, afterwards crazy. Which can be fun sometimes of course, but not quite what we were looking for.

Sam said...

i used to live in that hood up til 2 years ago, and it sounds like the marina element might be moving in?

it was even kind of anti-trendy when i lived there. perhas the marina has run out of space and it is over-spilling?

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