UPDATED 2007 - It has been six years since our last trip to San Francisco, and we returne eagerly. We remembered San Francisco as a great food town, and it still is, but we left with the feeling that something is gone. The restaurants are all bright and trendy. The cooking ranges from good to great, but the sense of excitement that characterized the 80s and 90s seems to have disapated. Has California cuisine gotten tired. All the right ingredients are there, as are most of the techniques, but, with a few exceptions, the restaurants seem to be going through the motions.
What happened? Is the new San Francisco which is emerging, shiny and gentrified, along the edges of the old one? Entire neighborhoods seemed to be springing from the earth with acres of construction cranes in constant motion. Already, the ground floors are filling with shops and restaurants, but so much seems unformed. Besides, many of the restaurants we dined at were far from the urban frontier. In some ways the city is as lively and interesting as ever, but the chains have taken over Union Square, and have opened new frontiers. A lot of the idiosyncracy that made San Francisco itself seems to have been ironed out.
This has filtered into the restaurants. Now that California cuisine has matured, there is no sense of shared adventure. This is not to say that the food is not good, or the restaurants inhospitable. The Chinese food was better than ever. New Asia, which probably came over with the first Spanish missionaries, was better than ever. Boulevard was still excellent, but one of our favorites this time was Terzo, which was surprisingly, and pleasantly retro, serving food from the 1980s. Of course, they've updated things, but it reminded us of what has gone missing.
Whenever we are in San Francisco, our most fervent wish to have have four stomachs, like a cow, so we could eat four or maybe even eight rich meals a day. Given the size of available airline seats, we have had to compromise, since we do have to fly home, so the spirit may be willing, but the flesh is definitely weak. None the less, we still manage to stuff it in and spend our spare time clambering up and down the city's hills.
Unlike Boston, where it is impossible to find anyplace that serves lunch, San Francisco is geared to all day dining. Some places, like Cafe Marimba, Great Eastern, J&J, upstairs at Chez Panisse, and Yank Sing even serve all through the afternoon.
Since there are just too many restaurants to review all of our favorites, here are some reviews of some of our most recent visits.