Sunday, December 09, 2012

Best Restaurants in San Francisco - 2012/2013

The Zagat San Francisco Bay Area Restaurants 2013 and The Michelin Guide San Francisco, Bay Area, and Wine Country Restaurants 2013 were recently released. So it's time for Blue Heron's annual summary of the critics' choices for the best restaurants in San Francisco and the Bay Area.

Zagat's list of the five most popular restaurants includes Gary Danko, Boulevard, Slanted Door, Kokkari Estiatorio, and French Laundry (Yountville, Napa Valley). The top rated restaurants for food are Gary Danko and French Laundry with 29 points. Seven Hills, Erna's Elderberry House (Oakhurst), Marinus (Carmel Valley), Kokkari Estiatorio, Sierra Mar (Big Sur), Evvia (Palo Alto), Redd (Yountville, Napa Valley), Acquerello, Commiss (Oakland), Kiss Seafood, Chez Panisse and Chez Panisse Cafe (Berkeley), Rivoli (Berkeley), and Gibraltar Cafe (El Grenada) received 28 points. (All restaurants are in San Francisco unless otherwise noted).

Once again, Michelin awarded three stars to the French Laundry (Yountville, Napa Valley) and The Restaurant at Meadowood (near St. Helena, Napa Valley).  As in 2012, two stars were awarded to Baumé (Palo Alto), Benu, (San Francisco), Coi (San Francisco), Manresa (Los Gatos), and Saison (San Francisco).  Atelier Crenn, which received one star last year, received two stars for the first time.  Cyrus (Healdsburg), which received two stars every year since the first Michelin Guide for San Francisco was published, closed this year.

The "San Francisco Chronicle" awards four stars to the top restaurants. Current recipients are Benu (San Francisco), Chez Panisse (Berkeley), Coi (San Francisco), French Laundry (Yountville, Napa Valley), La Folie (San Francisco), Manresa (Los Gatos), Quince (San Francisco), and The Restaurant at Meadowood (near St. Helena, Napa Valley).

Come to San Francisco and you'll have a chance to pick your favorite. Be sure to make your reservations well in advance as these top restaurants frequently fill up two months in advance. If you wait until the last minute, you may not be able to get a table or may have to dine at 5:30 or 10:00 p.m.

If you want to see last year's summary, click here

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Holidays in San Francisco

The latest edition of "Rick's Tips," Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel's free newsletter is available.  This edition provides tip for having fun during a holiday visit to San Francisco.  Click here to see the November edition.  If you would like to receive future editions, send a request to

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Good Food with Bay Views

When we first arrived in San Francisco 33+ years ago, we brunched at the Mission Rock Resort, a funky restaurant near San Francisco's dry docks.  It had good food, nice water views, and a very rustic atmosphere.  Calling it a "resort" was a real stretch.  Then the restaurant changed hands, lost its identity, and was eventually shut down after being a dance club.

This past Saturday, we lunched at the new Mission Rock Resort on its first full day of operations.  We'll definitely be returning.  The bay views are still good, but the food is the best it's ever been.  We had barbecued oysters, tuna tartar, an heirloom tomato salad, and matchstick fries.  All were very good.  The staff were friendly, and the service remarkably good for a restaurant that had only opened to the public the night before.

We had a chance to chat with one of the owners who pointed out to us that the wood siding was made from old seats from University of California's Memorial Stadium.  You can see the seat numbers when you look up close.

It's nice to have the Mission Rock back.  If you want a casual breakfast, lunch, or dinner with a nice bay view, give it a try.  Being located in the Mission Bay area at 817 Terry Francois Blvd., the restaurant is not the easiest to find if you are a visitor to San Francisco.  However, the T-line light rail stop at Mariposa and 3rd Streets is just 2 blocks away.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Southern Food in San Francisco

Few visitors come to San Francisco to taste Southern-style cooking.  If you want this type of food, most folks head to New Orleans or Charleston.  Yet locals do crave a break from California cuisine, and in recent years a few top-notch restaurants have opened serving Southern inspired food.  Here are a few that I've had a chance to sample.

1300 on Fillmore is the most upscale of the Southern-inspired restaurants I've visited.  Located in the heart of the Fillmore jazz district, this restaurant features upscale dining and a lively bar scene.  While the food is influenced by the South, chef David Lawrence adds a touch of California to his cooking.

Boxing Room in Civic Center is the newest of the Southern restaurants in San Francisco.  Situated just a few blocks from Davies Symphony Hall and the Opera House, Boxing Room is a great place to eat before going to the symphony, ballet, or opera.  The food here definitely takes its cue from New Orleans and Louisiana.  The Boudin Balls are a great way to start your meal.  There's a wide array of Nawlins' favorites such as Jambalaya, Po' Boys, fried chicken, gumbo, and red beans and rice.

Brenda's French Soul Food is the real deal for fans of New Orleans cooking. Not all visitors will feel comfortable journeying to the Tenderloin to experience a touch of Louisiana in San Francisco.  However,if you are hankering for shrimp and grits, Po' Boys, red beans and rice, fried chicken and catfish - all at very reasonable price - then head on down to Brenda's.

Farmer Brown is located where the Tenderloin meets Union Square.  I haven't had a chance to dine here, but the reviews are good.  So, if you are staying in Union Square and want some southern cooking, check it out and let me know what you think.

There are a few other Cajun, Creole, and Soul Food restaurants in San Francisco but these seem to be the cream of the crop.  You don't want to eat Southern food every day as you are arteries will soon start screaming for their lives, but once in a while it sure tastes good.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

International Orange at Fort Point

In honor of the Golden Gate Bridge's 75th anniversary, 16 artists have come together at Fort Point to present a unique collection of works honoring the color of the famed bridge.

Fort Point was built in the 1850s to help guard San Francisco Bay.  It quickly became obsolete and was used for a variety of other purposes before being decommissioned by the army.  Today, Fort Point is a National Historic Site with a variety of interesting displays and activities.  For the first time in many years, the fort will be open daily this summer from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.

(Photo courtesy of National Park Service)

International Orange is a collaboration between FOR-SITE Foundation, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and the National Park Service.  The 17 installations are set up throughout the three floors of the fort.  My two favorite pieces are "Reveille" done by Cornelia Parker (right) and "Chrysopylae" (Golden Gate in Greek) by Doug Hall.  Below is a photo of some of the 75 pieces of bunting designed by Allison Smith that adorn the railings over Fort Point's courtyard.

I always enjoy visiting Fort Point, not only for its rich history, but also for its great views of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay, and the Pacific Ocean.  International Orange runs through October 28, so now you have extra incentive to visit the old fort.  If you would like to take a private tour of San Francisco that includes a stop at Fort Point, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at (800) 326-4237 (toll free) or

Monday, May 28, 2012

This Time Worth a Star

Last week, I wrote about a restaurant that had received one star from the Michelin Guide but did not seem to be even trying to be a restaurant of that caliber.  This week I had the opportunity to dine at another one star restaurant: Quince in San Francisco.  Quince is the epitome of fine dining - excellent service, memorable food, and a superb wine list.

From the moment we walked in, the service was attentive without being overbearing.  We were attended by multiple servers, all of whom knew the menu inside-out.  When the sommelier saw me reviewing the wine list, he came over to see if he could be of some service.  He was.  When we had questions about the ingredients in our dishes, the servers were able to answer them.

Quince offers a four-course, prix fixe menu as well as a ten-course tasting menu.  We opted for the latter.  Each dish was a fascinating blend of flavors and textures. Most of the dishes featured seafood but one used chicken and two others included lamb.  While we were quite full when the optional cheese course was offered to us, we couldn't resist.  A cart with an array of varied and interesting cheeses was wheeled to our table and we shared a selection of three delicious cheeses.

Dining at Quince is a memorable experience.  It's not cheap, so this is a restaurant to go to celebrate a special occasion.  I would not be surprised if next year's Michelin Guide awards Quince another star.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Can a Michelin Star be a Curse?

When the Michelin Guide came out last year, I (and likely many others) was surprised to see that La Costanera in the oceanside town of Montara had been awarded one star.  (If you are not familiar with the system, one star means the restaurant is excellent.  Three stars is the top award and only two restaurants in the entire Bay Area received this rating.)  I had driven by this large restaurant many times and it looked like a nice, casual restaurant with a view.  I also have eaten at La Costanera's sister restaurants in San Francisco, Mochica and Piqueo's, so I thought the food would likely be good.

As soon as we walked into the restaurant, I could see that this restaurant should not have been awarded a star.  The place is large and noisy.  The tables were not covered with cloths and the staff were hustling everywhere.  When we were seated, we were greeted by our server who said, "My name is _ and I'll be serving you tonight."  This is not done in restaurants with fine dining.

Then the service broke down.  Our appetizers came out way too quickly, before our drinks and wine arrived.  The drinks came shortly thereafter, but the server had to ask whose drinks they were.  The wine took an eternity to come and then the wrong wine was brought to us.  Once the correct wine finally arrived, and the restaurant thinned out a bit, the service improved.  It was not the type of service one expects in a starred restaurant but it was attentive and timely.

I mention all of this to point out that the Michelin star raised my expectations.  I envisioned a certain type of dining experience, which La Costanera is not attempting to provide.  Last night the service was flawed, but even if it had been a perfectly served meal, La Costanera provides a casual - not a fine - dining experience.

By the way, the food was terrific.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Golden Gate Bridge's 75th Anniversary

The Golden Gate Bridge celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.  This means, a party is in order and San Francisco will be celebrating.  The big party occurs on May 27, but many other events will be held.  A full listing can be found at  

In addition, big changes are occurring on the San Francisco side of the bridge.  A new Bridge Pavilion will host a visitors center that includes information on the bridge and a gift shop.  Up the hill, close to the toll plaza, the Bridge Roundhouse will be the starting point for tours of the Bridge and will house a commemorative photo program.  Both of these buildings open on May 9.  The cafe is still under renovation with no firm opening date set.  When it opens, the menu will be greatly improved.

West of the toll plaza, the Coastal and Bay Trails have been improved and are now open for hikers and walkers to explore the bluffs overlooking the Golden Gate and Pacific Ocean and the historic batteries.  In the near future, two new vista points will offer breathtaking water views.  The picture above was taken from a battery on the Coastal Trail just west of the Bridge.

If you would like to take a tour of San Francisco that includes a stop at the Golden Gate Bridge, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or

Sunday, May 06, 2012

"Interview with the Vampire" in San Francisco

Recently, I had a guest on tour who was a big fan of the novelist, Anne Rice.  He told me that one day, Ms. Rice was driving by 503 Divisadero Street and was inspired to write a novel about interviewing a vampire in that Victorian home.  During our tour of San Francisco, we stopped by the address so my guest could get his photo taken by his mother in front of the house.  He met the owner of the building, who had no idea that her home inspired Ann Rice to write the popular novel, Interview with the Vampire.

If you would like to see the home that inspired Ann Rice and many other great San Francisco sights, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Beautiful Marin County

The latest edition of "Rick's Tips," Blue Heron Custom Tour and Travel's free, quarterly newsletter of fun things to do in San Francisco, the Bay Area, and Northern California is out.  This issue covers San Francisco's neighbor to the north, Marin County.  To learn more about "Beautiful Marin County," click here.

If you would like to take a private tour in and around Marin County, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or

Friday, April 20, 2012

Lands End Lookout Visitors Center Opens

Today, I had an opportunity to stop by the new Lands End Lookout Visitors Center.  While not officially open until April 28, the center has a preview opening this week.  Not all the displays are finished nor all the systems are functioning right now but they will be by opening day.

From what I saw today, the Visitors Center will be a great place to learn more about Lands End, Sutro Baths, and environs.  There are a variety of informative displays and a wide array of souvenirs, books, sweat-shirts, and tee-shirts for sale.  Perhaps most importantly, there are public bathrooms and a small cafe serving coffee, pastries, sandwiches, and salads.

If you want to take a private, custom tour of San Francisco that includes a stop at the Lands End Visitors Center, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or

Monday, February 20, 2012

Radio History at Point Reyes

A visit to Point Reyes National Seashore usually includes hiking, spectacular ocean views, wildlife viewing, and spring wildflowers.  However, there is also a bit of radio history at Point Reyes.

If you are driving out to the lighthouse or Chimney Rock on a Saturday afternoon, you may see a sign by the side of the road announcing "Historic Radio Equipment."  Take the turn and you will arrive at the historic receiving station opened by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in 1920.  Initially, the array of radios captured messages transmitted from around the Pacific Rim and forwarded them to the RCA office in San Francisco.

After World War II, maritime station KPH, started operations in the building.  KPH, which first transmitted from San Francisco's Palace Hotel in 1905, provided telegram services to ships at sea via Morse Code.  Point Reyes was the receiving station for KPH, while the transmitting station was in Bolinas, about 20 miles south of the park.  KPH ceased commercial operation in 1997.

Volunteer Radio Operator

Historic Radio Equipment

Now members of the Maritime Radio Historical Society have brought the station back to life.  Volunteer radio operators have restored much of the old equipment and transmit and receive messages via Morse Code from nostalgic radio operators aboard ships and on land.  The receiving station at Point Reyes usually welcomes visitors on Saturdays from noon until 4:00 p.m.  However, don't make a special trip to visit the station without first contacting the Society to make sure the station will be open.  You can reach the Society at  More information is available on the Maritime Radio Historical Society's website,

If you would like to take a private tour that includes a visit to KPH, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Pizza by the Bay in Sausalito

I'd been longing to eat at Bar Bocce in Sausalito as I'd heard the pizza is terrific.  Yesterday I finally had the opportunity to lunch there and was not disappointed.  

Bar Bocce sits on the shore of Richardson Bay just north of the center of Sausalito.  Tables are available inside, but the place to sit is outside by the shore.  (Think of Otis Redding as you sit by the bay as Richardson Bay inspired Otis' most famous song.)  Not only are there tables with heat lamps, but you also can sit by a fire pit or on a wall separating the restaurant from the beach, or you can stand at bar tables and chat with your friends.

Bar Bocce serves about a half dozen exquisite thin crust pizzas, as well as a variety of salads and a few dishes from the oven.  I had a pizza with artichokes, feta, and tapenade that was delicious.  My guest enjoyed tomato soup and a baked salmon covered with shaved brussel sprouts, both of which she said were very good.  The restaurant has a good wine list and a variety of beers by the glass or pitcher.

Most of the folks dining here appeared to be locals as visitors to Sausalito usually don't head out of the central business district.  However, one can easily walk from the ferry terminal to Bar Bocce.  After disembarking from the ferry, walk out to Bridgeway, Sausalito's main street, and turn right.  Walk about 1/3 mile north on Bridgeway.  Bar Bocce will be on your right.  Better yet, take Blue Heron Custom Tours' private tour of San Francisco and Muir Woods, which includes a stop in Sausalito for lunch.  For more information on this tour, and all of Blue Heron's tours, phone (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Tips for Avoiding the Crowds

The latest edition of "Rick's Tips;" Blue Heron's free, quarterly newsletter of fun things to do in San Francisco, the Bay Area, and Northern California; is out.  This edition provides tips for avoiding crowds during your visit to San Francisco.  To see the full issue click here.  If you would like future editions of "Rick's Tips" sent directly to your mailbox, send a request to