Where to take a party of 8 (I had wanted to do Commis)

I have friends coming from Budapest, who I want to take out for a very special dinner. I had wanted to go to Commis, but they are insistent that they can only accommodate groups up to six (we will be eight).
A view would be a plus, but the food is more important. I want some place to really show off California and the Bay Area.
Ideally it should be in the East Bay or easily reachable by BART.
The meal will be in early February.
Any thoughts ?

Any of the Michelin 2-3 stars would be the usual recommendation in these cases… and somewhat an upgrade from Commis.

I would also suggest anything on the Eater 38, not knowing more about these particular guests.

What are your feelings about those usual suspects?

A few suggestions:

  1. Chez Panisse: in the east bay, definitely qualifies as California/bay area. Not at all like Commis in terms of style/presentation.

  2. Iyasare: In the east bay, California influenced Japanese. I suggest this mainly because my friends from Europe are easily impressed by Asian food. Not quite as “special” as Commis, but great food.

  3. Benu: Definitely special. Asian influences, but more California/Bay Area. Close to BART. $$$$$ How much are you willing to spend?

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I made a reservation (as both a safety net and I think, a very good option ) for a private dining room at Gary Danko.
As far as places like Iyasare and Benu (one of my faves), I am a little reluctant to bring our guests to any Asian (or Asian inspired) places for this meal. They are very meat and potatoes kind of eaters and we will be taking them to sushi and dim sum places for other meals, where they can try these “exotic” cuisines. I don’t want this meal to be challenging to them.
We had thought of Chez Panisse, but unfortunately hadn’t been impressed with our last visit. They seem stuck in the 70’s.
As for our price point… We’ve committed to a minimum of $2000 for the reservation at Gary Danko and are good with that. The about $3500 it would cost for Saison is too much of a stretch, however.

what about Quince? I don’t know whether they have a minimum for 8 people.

Well! In that case, how about an old school meat and potatoes thing?

Waterbar ( your one view evening )
Harris Ranch

I think the closest you can get to Commis in SF is Commonwealth. It’s very california, very interesting, much less asian than Benu. However, I can’t see in my mind’s eye how you get a table for 8.

I would love to talk sh*t about Gary Danko, but based on everything I’ve ever read, I would detest it, so I’ve never gone.

Thanks for the Waterbar suggestion, I had been thinking of the Claremont Hotel as “the view evening”, but their food is mediocre at best.

and…Gary Danko probably has the best service of any place I’ve eaten in the city, and the food is well worth the cost. If you really want to talk smack about the place, you should try it (with an open mind).

You’re welcome for the waterbar suggestion. It would be nice if a new restaurant moved into the Greens location… there are so few view locations in the entire city.

I didn’t talk smack about Gary Danko, I said I would love to… but I can’t…that’s because I haven’t been there. Only that, due to other reviews, I’m afraid to eat there.

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It’s been years since I’ve been to Gary Danko and have no desire to go back. However, that has nothing to do with the food or service, which I always enjoyed. It’s just that Gary Danko has no sense of place; it could be a fine restaurant in any large city. If I went again I probably enjoy it just as much and I wouldn’t be ashamed to take anyone there. It’s simply that there are so many other choices nowadays that feel more singular.


We found Waterbar enjoyable but not special in the way Commis or Danko would be. Its best assets are the view - the permanent lights will be up on the Bay Bridge by then, as they are promised up in time for the Feb 7, 2016 Super Bowl at Levi Stadium - and the service, which we found noticeably better than Waterbar’s sibling steakhouse next door, Epic. Desserts are common to both restaurants and the pastry chef is exceptional, if you go.

Only once was the Claremont Hotel worth dining at, when chef Josh Thomsen ran the kitchen in the 2009-2010 period. He was an amazing chef, but then left for NYC and as far as I know has not returned to the Bay Area.

Do note that date for the Super Bowl! There will be an enormous influx of NFL, media, and SB tourists coming, starting from Jan 31st to Sun Feb 6th. This is Super Bowl 50, and is being hyped even more than usual. It’s estimated more than 1 million people are expected to attend the festivities in San Francisco during Super Bowl Week, NOT counting the events being held in the South Bay (where Levi Stadium actually is located).

Hope you and your guests have a lovely time!

Thanks for your thoughts.
My friends are actually coming in from Hungary for the super bowl. They don’t seem to be too interested in all the activities surrounding the game (only one of them knows anything about the sport).
We are trying to plan several meals over about five days, so a night at the waterbar (in addition to gary danko), seems like a good idea.

I’m still not turned off from Waterbar because you have not made one single mention of food in your review. The word “special” means nought because the only things you describe, bro, are chest-thumping and pomposity.


A recent dessert from waterbar, simple but well executed

I like their black cod when they have it. Their broccoli rabe, a vegetable I normally like, tends to be too bitter for me. Baked oysters good. Their fish sandwich and clam sandwich tend to be overcooked in my experience. I’m waiting for them to bring back their burger with softshell crab, which I had once long ago but have not seen since, possibly the best burger I’ve ever had around here.

At Waterbar most of the tables seemed oriented towards the view; Epic, not so much. Still, for the best view you’ll want to make a reservation and ask for a view table. They won’t guarantee it, but the sooner they will put the reservation in, the better your chances of not getting bumped for a partyful of VIPs.

OTOH, there are certainly other restaurants with a decent view of the lights, although again, only certain tables will enjoy a good viewpoint.

Our party of six found the food at Waterbar uneven. What was good was very good, but some of the dishes lacked balance (odd pairings that didn’t do much for each other) and one was oversalted. There was no rhyme or reason to it so impossible to make a blanket statement of “avoid this or that”.

Overall I’d say the grilled dishes, both fish and meat, were handled well although the meat accompaniments were not to my taste - I’m not a lover of curtido, and it was a strange pairing with a very fine French aligot of potatoes and cauliflower, for some lovely slices of NY strip. The grilled ono was flawless, however, as was the petrale sole. But the sablefish, like the steak, had such odd pairings: smoked potatoes, very sour sauerkraut, and a Hollandaise sauce(!), that we couldn’t imagine how anyone came up with such an unpleasant combo for a delicate, buttery fish.

I have recommended Waterbar only because it can be positioned as “view night” for a group. If it was me, I would actually run down the food, say “it can be surprisingly good but is not considered the best of san francisco”… if the goal is the best of SF food at a reasonable price, the best places are already discussed like Commis, Commonwealth, which have trouble with groups that size.

Opera cake at waterbar

Barley, are these pictures from the Emily Luchetti time period or are they more recent? I love her desserts, and I think her influence remains even after she left.

I’ve only been for lunch and their $1 oysters and desserts were plenty to draw me there. The prix fixe menu is a solid value but I’m not sure I would spring for the more expensive dinner menu.

they are recent, within past few weeks (when did she leave? I remember some impressive desserts from over a year ago). the sea salt on the opera cake was a nice touch.

I don’t know exactly when she left, but it’s been at least a year (but I think less than two years). She’s with the Marlowe/Park Tavern group of restaurants now, which is too bad because they are not very destination worthy coming from the east bay. If I lived close by I would try to stop in just for dessert.

I prefer Boulevard over Danko (which I don’t really care for at all) and it’s much more of a SF/Bay Area restaurant than Danko and you can walk through the FB before.

And for whoever mentioned the Bay Lights, they’re up again now.

ETA: oh, just saw the Super Bowl mentions. If it’s during that week, I’d find somewhere in the East Bay.

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