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Friday, August 05, 2005

San Francisco Magazine: 2005 Readers' Poll Results

The August 2005 issue of San Francisco Magazine contains the results of the annual readers' poll on Bay Area restaurants, based on over 8000 responses received by the publication.   The editors set out the top three vote-getters in each of 25 different categories, from Best Restaurant to Best Teahouse.   I will not attempt to relate all of the results here, but I thought that it might be interesting to take a look at a few of the categories and winners.

It is worth pointing out up front that this poll is actually a very poor vehicle for accurately assessing the quality of our local restaurants.   To begin with, the survey relies entirely on readers to decide whether or not to fill out and submit a ballot.   Accordingly, only those who feel most enthusiastic about participating will even bother to respond, thereby immediately skewing the results.   Second, because the survey is not scientific, the demographic distribution of the respondents is not representative of Bay Area diners.   If 90% of the respondents happen to be college students, for instance, places that offer inexpensive food will probably score much more highly than they would otherwise.   Finally, there is no way to determine the breadth of the dining experience that respondents have.   So, for example, even if thousands of people voted for Boulevard as "Best Restaurant," that is completely meaningless if none of these individuals have ever dined at other top-tier establishments such as The French Laundry, Gary Danko, The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, and so on.   In other words, the poll is an especially poor mechanism for evaluating one restaurant against another.

With all of these major caveats in mind, let's take a look at some of the winners:

Best Restaurant
1.   Gary Danko
2.   Boulevard
3.   The Slanted Door

One need look no further than the results in this category to see some of the poll's shortcomings.   Gary Danko probably deserves to be in the top three, though not at number one.   Boulevard, in my opinion, is one of the most overrated and underwhelming restaurants in the Bay Area.   Yet, because the restaurant has a very vocal fan base, it always seems to get catapulted to the top of public opinion polls such as this one.   As far as I'm concerned, however, Boulevard does not deserve to be anywhere near the top three.   The Slanted Door continues to serve good food, but everything else about the place has slipped over the years.   And in any event, it hardly qualifies as one of the three best establishments in the entire Bay Area.   Other restaurants having a better claim to being in the top three include The French Laundry, The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, Manresa, Fleur de Lys, and La Folie.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
There's more...

Best New Restaurant
1.   Michael Mina
2.   Sauce
3.   Myth

Michael Mina may well deserve the top spot here, and Myth's appearance at number three is consistent with the great things that I have been hearing about the restaurant for some time.   Sauce coming in at number two, however, surprises me; I think the spot should probably have gone to A16 - of which I personally am not the most zealous fan, but which does what it does very well and has obviously found great favor amongst Bay Area diners.

Best Restaurant For a Splurge
1.   Gary Danko
2.   Boulevard
3.   The French Laundry

Maybe it's just me, but the term "splurge" brings to mind the concept of saving up some money and then spending it on an outstanding, once-in-a-long-while meal.   In other words, it necessarily requires excellent food that is also a good value.   Under this criterion, none of the three winners here belong on the list as far as I'm concerned.   Gary Danko is very good, but at $79 for a 5-course tasting menu, it's a bit too pricey when compared against its competitors.   The French Laundry is still one of the best, but $175 per person and quality that has declined preclude it from being a good value.   And Boulevard, in my book, is neither a good value nor good.   In terms of value and excellence, I would place Manresa, Fleur de Lys and The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton in the top three.   If money were no object and value were irrelevant, my top three would probably be The French Laundry, The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton and Manresa.

Best Pizza
1.   Zachary’s
2.   North Beach Pizza
3.   Amici's

These are interesting results, particularly in light of the veritable pizza revolution that has recently swept the Bay Area.   I wouldn't be surprised to see North Beach and Amici's replaced in next year's survey by Pizzeria Delfina, Little Star Pizza, Pizzaiola or A16, and Zachary's could very well be dethroned from its top spot as well.

Best Indian Restaurant
1.   Indian Oven
2.   Naan 'N Curry
3.   Shalimar

Indian Oven definitely deserves a seat at the table, but Shalimar?   Naan 'N Curry?!   Come on.   Both provide decent food for bargain basement prices, undoubtedly making them popular among students.   But neither qualifies as one of the three best Indian restaurants in the Bay Area.   I would put New Delhi, Gaylord's (in Ghirardelli Square), India Clay Oven, Amber India (Mountain View) and Roti all well ahead of Shalimar and Naan 'N Curry.   And even in terms of cheap places, Chaat Café easily outperforms Naan 'N Curry, if not Shalimar as well.

Best French Restaurant
1.   Fleur de Lys
2.   La Folie
3.   Chapeau

This is one category in which the poll results seem more or less aligned with my opinion, but only if the "California-ized" French cuisine of the three winners deserves a separate category from the French-inspired California cuisine of The French Laundry, The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, and Gary Danko.

Best Waitstaff
1.   Gary Danko
2.   Delfina
3.   Michael Mina

Delfina's waitstaff is good, but better than the waitstaff at The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton?   I don't think so.
And The French Laundry's servers – though no longer what they once were – are probably still worthy of being in the top three.

So, there you have it, some of my reactions to a few of the winners in this year's San Francisco Magazine readers' poll.   Some of what I consider to be unexpected outcomes are undoubtedly due to shortcomings in the survey's methodology, while others may well be attributable to peculiarities in my own personal preferences.   In any event, check out the August issue of the magazine, and see what you think.


Anonymous gobears said...

I take umbrage at your comment regarding Zachary's Pizza, which remains hands-down the best pizza in the Bay Area....

August 05, 2005 3:10 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

hey gobears - give him a break - he didn't say anything bad about Zachary's at all. He just said it *might* get dethroned next year, that's all.

I have no problem in spelling it out though - I think Zachary's sucks. Call me a fusspot but I don't care much for acidic uncooked tinned tomatoes dominating the top of my pizza.

I disagree with the Indian comments though. Chaat Cafe couldn't have had less inspired food or less soul when I tried it out. I'd go back to Nan & Curry or shalimar, but I wouldn't bother with the 3rd street chaat place ever again. worse naan ever

August 05, 2005 7:27 PM  
Blogger NS said...

gobears: I don't particularly dislike Zachary's, although it is a bit on the heavy side for my personal tastes. My only point is that we appear to be in the early stages of a possible shift in the Bay Area's preferences regarding pizza, and it will be interesting to see whether Zachary's can continue to maintain its stranglehold on the top position in polls such as this one.

Sam: I'm surprised that you thought Chaat has less "soul" than Naan 'N Curry. That place, every time I have visited, has had mediocre food in a setting that is completely chaotic, with people trying to place their orders and people trying to pay after having eaten all clamoring about a single counter, diners being required to fetch their own water and silverware, and so on. Admittedly, Chaat is only marginally better, but I feel it is better nonetheless. Of course, I may have an irrational soft spot for Chaat because some of the food they serve is a faithful replica of things I first sampled as a child on visits to India. The bottom line here remains, however, that none of these three places (Chaat, Naan 'N Curry, or Shalimar) deserves to be identified as one of the top three Indian restaurants in the Bay Area.

August 06, 2005 1:04 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

hmm -this is an interesting discusion
i'd love to hear more about which you think are the best 3 in SF. It's something I have read lots about and am always looking for - and there does seem to be a conssesus amongst many, that shalimar in particular makes some curries that are full of depth and good flavour.

I have no experience of inidan food from india so i personally judge everything against British indian food which does have somewhat of a reputation of its own, albeit not an authentic one necessarily.

I have had much better chaat in London than anything I've tried in the Bay area. My boyfriend has travelled in India as an adult and finds the tenderloin places to be more authentic in his opinion than chaat cafe.

I have lots of brit friends that semi-recommend India Oven. Only trouble, is everytime i find parking in the Haight, i just can't resist rosamundes and a beer next door instead.

Have you been to Kennedy's?

August 08, 2005 3:10 PM  
Blogger NS said...

I think that Indian Oven is very good and definitely deserves a spot in the Top 3, with well-executed food in a nice atmosphere of the sort that is all-too-rare among Indian restaurants. Parking is, however, a major headache.

New Delhi (at 160 Ellis) is another one of my favorites, with a wide range of very tasty dishes presented in a relatively nice atmosphere. Their portion sizes are a bit on the small side, however, and their prices are not anywhere near as low as Shalimar or Chaat Cafe. But as I indicated in a separate post, their Chicken Korma is definitely among my ten favorite dishes.

A relatively new entrant in the SF market that seems to be quite promising is Roti, over on West Portal Ave. Again, very nicely-done food in a relatively casual, somewhat boisterous setting (probably because those of us who live in that part of town have been without a decent Indian restaurant for so long). This is the second location for Roti, the original being down in Burlingame.

Finally, I think that Gaylord in Ghirardelli Square is actually quite good. (The unrelated "Gaylord's" in Embarcadero Center is terrible.) I personally have yet to have anything other than a satisfying meal there, and the nicely-appointed dining room has spectacular views. I understand, however, that they will be moving soon to Sausalito.

As for chaat, I'm not surprised that you've found better versions in London than here. Whenever I visit England, I'm always struck by how ubiquitous Indian food is - from the restaurant scene to the grocery stores. Obviously, the cuisine is much more developed and integrated into the broader culture there than it is here.

I'll have to give the Tenderloin restaurants (including Shalimar) another try, as it has been some time since I was last there. And I won't say that these places are less authentic than Chaat Cafe -- only that a few of the menu items at the latter struck a real chord with me.

I have never been to Kennedy's, but it certainly sounds quite interesting. Do you recommend it?

August 09, 2005 3:18 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

I am writing about kennedys for SFist tomorrow

and maybe New Dehli will have to be my N restaurant as I have been struggling to find an N I want to visit.

I also recommend darbar - especially their sheek kebab and aubergine dish!

August 09, 2005 6:24 PM  
Anonymous gobears said...

Sam & NS: Zachary's is generally not the sort of place you go for pizza once a week precisely because their stuft pizza is so heavy.

Sam, if you don't like tomatos then I agree Zachary's is not the place to go. I disagree with the characterization of the tomatos as an "acidic, canned quality" -- it beats the heck out of the processed tomato sauce used by 199 of 200 other pizzerias.

Until someone figures out how to make a real New York pizza, or Zachary's finally prices itself out of the market (which is entirely possible - they raised their prices again) I just don't see a Bay Area "pizza realignment" coming. The Zachary's stuft chicken pizza has extraordinary flavor and is quite unique.

As for Indian food, there is a new place on College Ave. in Oakland just before Broadway that opened in July that you may want to check out. I'm having difficulty recalling the name.

August 23, 2005 10:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The new Indian place on College is called Khanna Peena. So far, the service is spotty. You can order the food dangerously hot.

August 26, 2005 2:15 PM  

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