How to get a reservation to some of San Francisco’s most raved about restaurants
Living in the food mecca that is San Francisco is a double-edged sword. Sure we could pay the mortgage on a small French Polynesian island for less than what we pay in rent, but for the consummate foodie that I am, I feel like that’s a steal for access to the constant barrage of what I like to call ‘mouth orgasms.’ But however awesome it is to be in such close proximity to all of San Francisco’s wondrous culinary artistry there is one catch…. it’s nearly impossible to get a restaurant reservation!
These days some new fantastic restaurant de la journée is popping up almost weekly. The brainchild of some rising star culinary genius, or the spin-off of some SF staple that people can’t seem to get enough of. It’s exhausting just trying to keep track of them all, let alone get your name on their reservation lists.
At first they’re testing out their menus and ironing out the operational kinks and only open for dinner. Since they occupy only a few hundred square feet of space, enough for about 40-55 people, they’ll only take reservations for four or less, allowing walk-ins the chance to eat standing at the edge of the kitchen or seated in the packed from elbow to elbow entrance/bar. If by chance you do call 60 days out (to the day) and there’s a still a table left, then take it! Because these days, it’s seems almost easier getting a seat at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry (I’ll be posting about that experience soon) than some of the trendiest neighborhood spots in San Francisco’s micro-neighborhoods. .
But don’t lose hope and be patient, because there are a few tricks to increase your chances of getting in to the most IN places in town.
5 Restaurant Reservation Tips for some of San Francisco’s Hottest Eateries:
- Take it online: Remember, we’re in San Francisco, home of the phone app for anything, especially restaurant reservations in real time. Check online reservation sites like OpenTable and Golden Spoon well in advance. Even the most desirable restaurants will allow one or two of their tables to be booked through an online site, because it’s an easy way to get rid of those “less desirable” seatings at 5:30pm or 10pm. for their less desirable seatings.
- Make your reservation in person: Walk into the restaurant you want to make a reservation at when you happen to be in the area or passing by. It’s a lot harder for a host or hostess to reject you in person than to just delete one of hundreds of voice mails they get. It’s also much easier to see what they do have available when their appointment book is there in front of you.
- Stay up late: A lot of restaurants use an online reservation service or check voice mails in the order they’re received. Check the online booking tool or leave a voice message when the day changes at 12:01am when most people aren’t making a reservation for that day 60 days in advance.
- Be Flexible: Around 10am or 11am someone on staff will check the voice messages, answer the phones, and review the email reservations that have come through since the prior evening and that morning. There’s a good chance that one or two of those messages will be a cancelation for that evening. Sure there might be a wait list, but by then, wait-listers have other plans. So by calling in the morning the day of, you could very well get a reservation for that same evening.
- Make a follow up reservation: Assuming you’ve got your ass in a seat and the meal is all that it was cracked up to be, then take advantage of the moment when the waiter asks you if there’s anything else they can get you and ask them to get you a reservation for a few weeks out. In many cases, they’ll go let the host know or they’re look at the books and give you some dates that will work. They’ll earn a bigger tip if they can hook it up, right?
Now, back to the food. Over a year ago, the nearly impossible restaurant to get into was Bar Jules in Hayes Valley. The place is tiny, and their menu is determined by what looks freshest at the farmers market that morning. Jonathan and I were able to get two seats at the bar one night. It was awesome getting to see the chefs prepare everything as they danced harmoniously around each other from the cutting board to the stove and back again. The food was fantastic, but what I remember most was the carrot and fennel salad in yogurt cumin vinaigrette. Super simple and a really unique taste emphasizing the freshness of the fennel and carrots with hints of cilantro and cumin. Since it can be a challenge to get a reservation there, I figured the best chance I’d have at enjoying those blanched carrots and delicate fennel again soon is to recreate the dish myself. So here goes…
Fennel Carrot and Cumin Salad inspired by Bar Jules
- 1 medium fennel bulb
- 3 large radishes
- 8-10 small carrots
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro
- 1 tsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tbslp non-fat plain Greek yogurt
- ¼ tsp ground cumin
- ¼ tsp grated lemon zest
- 1 tsp olive oil
- ¼ tsp agave nectar
In a medium or large saucepot on high heat, bring 1-2 quarts of water to a boil and season with a heavy pinch of salt.
Peel the carrots and slice the larger pieces into 3-4 inch spears (IE: cutting them in half with a diagonal slice). If you’re using organic carrots there’s a good chance they’ll be small and thin so use your judgment on what the best size for you is. Blanch the carrots for 3-4 mins in the salted boiling water and then remove them quickly and shock them in an ice bath. Once chilled completely, place them in a large mixing bowl and set aside.
Using a mandolin (unless you’ve got samurai knife skills) slice the fennel and radishes into paper-thin slices and add them to the bowl with the carrots. Add the chopped cilantro to the bowl as well.
In a small mixing bowl whisk the vinegar, yogurt, cumin, lemon zest, olive oil, agave, salt and pepper to taste. Just before plating and serving the salad, pour the yogurt mixture over the vegetable mixture and gently toss everything together.
We ended up serving this salad with some chicken thighs in a Quatre Espices dry rub that we cooked in a cast iron skillet with a little bit of vegetable oil.
- You can use orange zest instead of lemon if you’d prefer.
- Instead of agave nectar you can use a sugar substitute like Spelnda or Sweet’N Low.
- As a delicious garnish, you can add some crispy crumbled croutons for a crunchy texture.
- If you want to add another texture to this dish add some toasted pumpkin seeds.