8 Can’t Miss Menus in SF Dine About Town

Today is the 2nd day of Dine About Town (“DAT”), a bi-annual event that promises 10-25% discounts at over a hundred SF restaurants through January 31st, 2014. Dine About Town menus offer two-course lunches for $18.95 & three-course dinners for $36.95.

Finding the restaurant with the best Dine About Town offerings requires some digging. Luckily, Simmr has taken care of all the work for you! Here’s a list of our favorites:

Lunch

The Cavalier’s marble floors and red leather banquettes

1. The Cavalier: The Cavalier certainly didn’t skimp on their Dine About Town menu, giving guests the option to pick two mains for each of the two lunch courses (instead of slapping on a dinky dessert as the second course). Not only will you get your pick of the best reviewed lunch items (we recommend the Fish and Chips that Michael Bauer wrote about or the Farro and Roasted Beets for vegetarians), you’ll probably be able to feed two with just a Dine About Town menu for one, saving at least $9 off the menu prices. Also, here are some secrets about The Cavalier you probably didn’t know:

2. La Mar Cebicheria Peruana: This waterfront Peruvian establishment even threw in an extra course on their DAT lunch menu, making sure you leave happy with some delicious seasonal sorbet in your stomach and saving you between $11 and $15 on your meal through DAT. You have to try the Cebiche Clasico and the for the vegetarians out there, both the Empanada Tamalito and the Causa Vegetariana are tasty, so take your pick. You’ve also probably rarely had quinoa served the way it is at La Mar, wok fried with bell peppers, eggs, soy sauce, and fried egg noodles! If you’re in the mood for a drink, try the Pisco Sour — everyone on Foursquare has been raving about it for ages!

3. Absinthe: Absinthe has been on the Eater38 list for many years now, and is old gold here in San Francisco–one of the few restaurants that has maintained a stellar reputation for over 15 years of operation! What we like about Absinthe’s DAT menu is that it actually offers up dishes not typically on their menu. Not only that, but what amounts to be a free dessert from Absinthe means a lot more to us than it would at another restaurant, because Absinthe’s dessert chef, Bill Corbett, was named one of the Top Ten Pastry Chefs in America. So you know we’re excited when we read “Apple Pie Panna Cotta” as the second course on Absinthe’s DAT lunch menu! Remember, though, Absinthe’s Dine about Town lunch menu is only offered Tuesday through Friday.

Dinner

1. Roka Akor:  Others have said it and we agree, especially if Prime Beef Filet with Chili Ginger Sauce sounds amazing to you. Roka Akor’s menu is the best Dine About Town has to offer–you’ll save almost $30 on a meal here through DAT! Not only that, but we started drooling when we read “Warm Valrhona Chocolate Cake with Sightlgass Espresso Ice Cream.” Roka Akor opened only 6 months ago, is on the Eater heatmap, and we’ve been completely wowed by their food presentation–just check out these pictures! Just don’t take your vegetarian friends, because there won’t be much for them to eat.

2. Fog Harbor Fish House: Fog Harbor Fish House is a 100% sustainable seafood restaurant–they buy fish every single day and typically receive fish within 24 hours of it being caught, so you can expect some fresh seafood. While you eat, you’ll get some beautiful views from Fog Harbor’s Pier 39 location and as a bonus for Dine About Town guests–2 hours of free parking after 6pm in the Pier 39 garage! Depending on what you order, you’ll save between $8 and $16 on your meal–we hear the oysters and crab are both amazing. Don’t say we didn’t warn you though–it is a bit touristy looking as is anything in the Pier 39 area.

Vegetarian AND Omnivore-Friendly Options

We don’t recommend that you take your vegetarian friends to Roka Akor or Fog Harbor Fish House, but here are some equivalently excellent options that are great for vegetarians, too!

1. Chapeau!: Chapeau is one of the ONLY restaurants participating in Dine About Town that is rated more than 4 stars on Yelp (with over 1800 reviews, too!) Why do they even participate if they’re already so good? We think it’s probably because of their location in the less frequented Richmond district of San Francisco. People already rave about Chapeau’s Prix Fixe menu as being a great deal, but DAT makes it even more affordable (by $8). Furthermore, Chapeau takes its service seriously, which can often make or break a restaurant experience. Wendy and I went on a rainy day and they went out of their way to make sure we were able to stay dry on our way out — no wonder they got SFWeekly’s Best Service recognition in 2012.

2. Isa:  Unlike many other restaurants doing DAT, Isa decided it wanted to give you a four-course meal instead of just three. For two of these courses, you won’t even know what to choose, because you’ll be looking at 7+ options, each! We recommend the dungeness crab salad and the seared scallops. Vegetarians, the spaghetti with Himalayan truffles and truffle risotto are both delicious. Isa is great for big groups (even groups of 20) and has an adorable heated patio in the back. Try the wine list, too — Isa picks the most talented of winemakers to work with. Side tip: Dishes will come out as they are ready so tell your wait staff if you’d like them all to come out at the same time.

3. Dosa on Filmore (more so than Dosa on Valencia):  If you haven’t been to Dosa before, Dine About Town is a great way to try it.  Instead of making the third course of their DAT menu a little $7 dessert, Dosa decided to give patrons an EXTRA entree for the third course, so not only will you get to try many of Dosa’s signature dishes, but depending on what you order, you’ll save over $18 off their typical menu. Having been to Dosa, I can tell you that the portions are very generous and I’d guess that one DAT menu is probably enough to feed two. Putting the great value aside, Dosa does a wonderful job of serving, as ‘Check, Please!’ describes it, “innovative South Indian faire” without compromising authentic South Indian flavors. As an added bonus, Dosa uses natural, free-range & grass-fed lamb, cage-free eggs, antibiotic-free & hormone-free chicken, and sustainably-caught fish and non GMO oils. Feels like something out of Portlandia, eh?

For restaurants other than the ones listed above, Dine About Town is not the best way to dine. Four reasons why

  • Many of the best restaurants aren’t participating: We could make a ‘Simmr heatmap’ of all the hot restaurants in San Francisco that aren’t doing Dine About Town and it wouldn’t look too different from Eater’s 38 list….
  • Incentives aren’t aligned: The event overall caters to individuals who don’t normally eat out at $$ or $$$ establishments or who are traveling into San Francisco. Neither type of guest is likely to return again. Therefore, many restaurants aren’t incentivized to make much of an effort to leave guests happy. What restaurants expect:

  • Not a great value: Over a dozen of the 100 restaurants we looked at in our analysis actually leave you at a disadvantage for doing Dine About Town–charging you more through Dine About Town than you’d pay if you went in on a normal night and got the same dishes! Many others only amount to a $2 discount or at MOST a free dessert.
  • Nothing special about most menus: Many of the menus are offered on a day to day basis and few restaurants have made an effort to give you a great sampling of what’s spectacular on their menu.

So if you’ve tried all the above recommendations or if none of them tickle your fancy, you ought to

  1. Treat yourself to a nice meal at Mason Pacific, one of Simmr’s top picks for San Francisco and recent winner of a Michelin Bib Gourmand.
  2. Go try State Bird Provisions and notice every restaurant you’ve ever eaten at fade in your memory with each bite. We’ll be raffling off some spots in our group reservation on February 12th to Simmr members in a few weeks (sign up to be a member here).
  3. Get a truly special experience at Radio Africa and Kitchen, a completely underrated gem of a restaurant in the Bayview. We even have the hook ups to get you a personal kitchen tour, and sauce making class and a chance to meet Chef Eskender himself for only $10 more than the DAT dinner menu.

Let us know if we left off some stellar menus and tell us where you wind up going!

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