Whatever side of the equation you happen to be on, if a large group comes into a restaurant that's not prepared to accommodate them, it's a nightmare for everyone.
For other diners expecting a quiet, intimate setting, there's nothing more upsetting than the entrance of a big crowd. And if the restaurant itself is not set up for large groups, it only makes matters worse. Chairs and tables have to be dragged together, multiple food orders can easily be mishandled or forgotten altogether, and what was once a restaurant is now a three-ring circus.
And for the large group, it might be the most disappointing. If you're traveling with many people, you already have the stress and complexity of trying to juggle multiple expectations and plans. If a group that is already stressed-out gets mean stares from other diners, not to mention getting even hungrier from incompetent service, well, a trip can really start to unravel.
That's why we've put together a list of restaurants that specialize in large groups. If your group is interested in the cutting edge of California cuisine, Nopa is an excellent choice. If it's a fog-less San Francisco day or night and your group wants to eat outside, the Foreign Cinema has a wonderful outside dining area.
Whatever your preference, pick one of the restaurants on our list and keep your group - and everyone else at the restaurant - happy.
Absinthe Brasserie and Bar
Absinthe recalls the days of Dorothy Parker and her circle of witty, sardonic critics. Along with dicing celebrities, they took great pleasure in good food and drink. Plenty of both can be found here, and weekend brunch is especially delightful. Champagne and wines balance the cuisine, which includes cold seafood platters, imported French cheeses, and coq au vin. A tasty caesar salad and a risotto with fava beans, basil, and parmesan are also great options. To sum up – absolutely faultless! If you can't make it for brunch, its' definitely worth visiting at night, where the bar serves some of the most inventive cocktails in the city. (415-551-1590)
DOSA on Valencia
Dosa provides some of the finest authentic Indian Cuisine in San Francisco. The restaurant derives its name from its specialty dish, the dosa, which is similar to a crepe, it is made from rice & lentils (no wheat) and served with a variety of fillings. The excellent Indian cuisine is mixed with a casual yet refined atmosphere, making Dosa the perfect venue for a night out with a little bit of international flair. And DOSA was popular even before the recent surge of new restaurants opening up and down all of Valencia Street, so they're more tried and true than some of the more recent arrivals. (4156423672)
If romance is the reason you've come to The City by the Bay, Boulevard is the picturesque place to dine. Located in an historic waterfront building, this eatery's intimate Belle Epoque aesthetic and sumptuous food hit all the right notes. The menu showcases regional flavors and French style with dishes like Sonoma Foie Gras and California Sea Bass a la Plancha. A sommelier and 500-item wine list ensure the perfect pairing. Surrounded by Pat Kuleto's timeless Belle Epoque inspired design, Chef Oakes wonderful expression of American regional flavors with a French influenced style has made Boulevard a culinary landmark on San Francisco's revived Embarcadero waterfront. (415-543-6084, 215.)
While Foreign Cinema's misleading moniker may seem a better fit for a movie theater than an oyster bar, this restaurant's real attraction is their Mediterranean-inspired menu and outstanding oysters. They do, in fact, offer film showings in the adjoining courtyard, an added perk for those savoring tasty shellfish like the Hog Island Sweet, Marin Gem, Chatham and Steamboat oysters. The dinner menu changes regularly, and brunch is served on weekends. In addition to oysters, Foreign Cinema describes their overall cuisine as "a California/Mediterranean-inspired menu in an industrial chic setting located in the heart of the bustling Mission district." DJs often accompany the lively, after-hours crowd. (415-648-7600)
Known for its innovative yet traditional Chinese dishes, R&G Lounge is a relative newcomer to the Chinatown restaurant scene, having opened its doors in 1985. While nearly thirty years of experience might seem a long time, in Chinatown, where traditions in cooking run thousands of years deep, it's just a passing second. But R&G's popularity can't be denied, having expanded from one to three floors in that time. Most patrons credit the success on R&G's ability to follow the traditions of Chinese cooking (namely balancing the elements of Wood, Water, Earth and Fire) but adding their own innovations. The simple but sumptuous Chicken Salad appetizer is a great example. (415-982-7877)
If you want to experience the cutting edge of California cuisine with your steak, Lolinda is the best place to capture that avant-garde spirit. Situated in the red-hot Mission district, where new and inventive restaurants seem to pop open overnight, Lolinda combines the rich history of Argentinean steak with the new-wave foodie fanaticism that has grabbed this town by its collar-tucked napkin. That means you can start your meal off with traditional pequeno, an appetizer that can be cold like ceviche or hot like croquetas, and finish with an inventive peanut butter mousse. In between you can delight yourself with tira (crosscut short ribs), matambra (flank steak), or ojo de bife (ribeye steak). (415-550-6970)
The six thousand square feet Asian-inspired lounge (executed by Hong Kong's hottest designer, Kinney Chan) encompasses a private North Lounge, semiprivate VIP Room, fully equipped dance floor (with world-class DJs Tues-Sat), and an impressive Main Lounge. Make no mistake: this is the place for big, big groups ready for some big, loud fun. The Lounge, however, does some provide a more intimate and subdued experience. Infusion Lounge is a rare and vivid experience, combining ultra-modern cocktails and a full menu of globally inspired small plates, exceptional service, and a truly exquisite ambiance. If you want your San Francisco group night out to take place in one space, choose Infusion Lounge. (4154218700)
Marked only by the image of a firefly, this neighborhood restaurant features a fabric-draped ceiling and impeccable seasonal cuisine. Local, organic ingredients play a major role in the menu, especially in favorites like shrimp and scallop potstickers and scrumptious fried chicken. Richly creative dishes also include roasted duck breast with chestnut bread pudding, slow braised beef short ribs, and cornmeal-crusted rock cod with bacon-braised cabbage. A three-course, prix fixe option is available for $35 Sunday through Thursday and is a great deal. Wonderfully unpretentious and casual. Although the restaurant's founders, Brad Levy and Veva Edelson, are not around as much, their playful spirits still rule the magical atmosphere of Firefly. (415-821-7652)
With all the fuss about the French and the Italians and their romantic ways, we shouldn't forget that the Greeks have been in the business of pairing food and love since ancient times. One of the most enchanting dinner destinations in the city, Kokkari Estiatorio offers a refined yet cozy ambiance that sets the mood for a perfectly picturesque evening. Fresh, seasonal ingredients are carefully combined to create Mediterranean delights like moussaka, zucchini cakes and grilled lamb chops. There are plenty of suitable wine pairings, as well, no matter what menu item you choose. The traditional walnut and honey baklava is a must for dessert. (415-981-0983)
Nopa defies categorization as either old or new because it has some of both. Although it's only been around since 2006, chef Laurence Jossel worked at several traditional and popular restaurants before Nopa and brings professionalism and expertise to every dish. But tradition bends to experimentation, and that wonderful blend creates some of Nopa's most famous dishes, such as Moroccan vegetable tangine and wood-roasted king salmon. Nopa describes its cuisine as "urban rustic food," but it really has to be experienced to be understood. What's more, as one of the more popular restaurants in the city, Nopa makes a concerted effort to be a friendly, active, and concerned neighbor. (415-864-8643)
About Tom Molanphy
The only thing that Tom Molanphy loves more than the food, art, music, and culture of San Francisco is sharing it with others. San Francisco never gets old for Tom.
Tom has lived in the San Francisco Bay area since 2000. His journalism has appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, SF Weekly, and 7x7. He teaches writing, journalism and literature at the Academy of Art University in downtown San Francisco. His latest book, Loud Memories Of A Quiet Life, is available through Outpost19.
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