Californios, Commis, or Keiko? [SFBA]

I am heading up to the Bay Area for work next week. Was looking at dining options that have piqued my interest for a while and that have availability for the time that I am there. I am thinking about:

Keiko a Nob Hill (never been)
Californios (never been)
Commis (been three times and would gladly go again, esp. since I will be staying in the East Bay)

Any recent or relatively recent experiences that may help me to make my decision would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.

Of the 3, have only been to Californios so can’t compare them. Californios seems to have addressed what I thought was the weakest part of their otherwise excellent tasting, the final savory/meat course, which was flawlessly executed the last time I visited (a few months ago). Recommended.

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Thank you for the feedback. I went ahead and made a reservation. Hopefully, the purpose for my business trip won’t get postponed again. I will most certainly report back.

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I really like what Californios is doing, and it’s quickly becoming one of my favorites in SF. The menu is very smart and I’ve had some really delicious and interesting dishes there. Textures are well-thought out, there’s a very nice progression to the courses. Back when it was $97 (recently raised to $157), I thought it outperformed its price point and I was impressed by how relatively high-level the menu was in its concept.

Their “frijoles” dish is very interesting - it’s gone through several permutations already - the key being how they use homey flavors with good play of textures and levity in terms of mouthfeel. Recently they added abalone in their menu, and they made a great dish with a beautiful tomatillo, olive, and chayote broth. Also, their binchotan-roasted spring lamb with yogurt chli mole, charred ramps, and green onion sourdough was fantastic. I will return soon.

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This sounds ridiculously good.

The “cordero” dish was indeed a very well-composed. I like how they just threw the ramps directly inside the grill, too. But it’s not just for show - the execution was better than at the $300p/p newly minted Hashiri - where their charred ramps were overdone, stringy, and awkward to eat.

Consider also this menu excerpt as well (from an earlier meal):

  • Seabass with crisp skin, sorrel, charred grapes, and chayote. “Salsa verde” was pitch perfect against the fish’s oiliness, with just the right brightness of sorrel and grapes against the smokiness of the well-crisped fish skin and charred grape skins. There was some tannin with the grape skins, so the off-dry Gewurtztraminer/Kerner/Riesling was a harmonious pairing as it had both green, floral sweetness and fresh citric acidity to match the “salsa verde.” I was later told this was an experimental dish that was kind of off-the-cuff and was only on the menu for a few days. But the concept was great.

  • “Swagyu” - wagyu barbacoa with aged black garlic mole and spicy flavors of pineapple, paired with a zero-tannin new world Rioja. Then a cheese course, then “Piña and Pinon” a dessert of pineapple and pine, then another of overripe banana with foie ice cream, caramel and cacao nibs, all with a 2005 Tokaji with unexpected acidity, fresh greenness, and phenolic notes. Then a very refreshing cool “Andes Mint” inspired dessert.

Each meal I’ve had there has had a beautiful flow and the cooking is smart, the ingredients are purposeful, and the whole experience has been continually impressive, especially for its price. Personally, I found it more high-level than Mosu, Commonwealth, etc. (though those are nice) even though it has a cool, casual vibe to it. 90’s hip-hop, Nicolas Jaar, Bat for Lashes, etc. and they don’t take themselves too seriously. Heck, once I had a lime and clam soup with mitsuba (very reminiscent of an “owan” course) paired with Pacifico Beer, and it worked, because what else with a piping hot lime broth than chilled suds?

As fate would have it, my biz trip got cancelled. So, no Californios. I hope this does not get to be a pattern for me, asking for advise on the board and then not getting to go. Next trip up is for Xmas, and going to try to do Cockscomb for Xmas eve.

What I will say about my limited exposure to Californios is that their telephone communication is outstanding. From the confirmation to the cancellation, the service was really bright, thorough, and enthusiastic. Might not seem like much, but it’s enough to keep the place on the top of my list.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold