When I was in college, my roommate introduced me to Kierkegaard's theory of the despair of infinitude. It was complicated in an existential sort of way, but over the years, I've adopted a variation on the term -- the despair of infinity -- to refer to the overwhelming sensation I feel when faced with too many choices. Trying to pickout an outfit for the first day of work after a big shopping spree? Despair of infinity. Time to whip up dinner and the fridge is full of food? Despair of infinity. Back from a year in Russia and sitting at a bar, perusing a beer list of 6 drafts and 20 bottles? Praise capitalism in all its glory -- but that's despair of infinity nonetheless.
The despair of infinity comes upon me almost anytime I have to decide where to take visitors to dinner. When I was new to San Francisco, it was easy. We simply went wherever I had not been and, especially if it was my folks, could not afford. Over the years, I've exhausted most of the San Francisco icons with repeat visitors, and moved on to personal neighborhood favorites.
Since Indian summer is the best time for visitors, I thought I'd share the places on my short list. Where do you like to take visiting family and friends out to eat?
Zuni Cafe A perrenial favorite. Who doesn't love the copper bar, the Caesar salad, and the roast chicken? 1658 Market Street, (415) 552-2522.
Slanted Door Some people complain that it's gotten too big for its britches since moving into the Ferry Building, but the shaking beef still rocks, and the Bay views can't be beat. 1 Ferry Building #3 at the Embarcadero, (415) 861-8032.
Boulevard This feel-good brasserie sticks to seasonal California classics, and it has an old-world elegance that's irresistable. 1 Mission Street, (415) 543-6084.
Vivande This was a weekly stop when I lived in Pacific Heights. The pasta is handmade, the sausage comes from a 150-year-old family recipe, and the lemon tart is worth the visit alone. 2125 Fillmore Street, (415) 346-4430.
1550 Hyde The philosophy here is to cook with the Bay Area's best sustainably raised produce and meats, like cult favorite Hoffman Gamebirds' chickens. I've never had a meal that was anything short of extraordinary. 1550 Hyde Street, (415) 775-1550.
Antica Trattoria Though the atmosphere isn't as convivial as it is at Ristorante Milano, another favorite haunt, the food is more rustic and the servers remember their regulars. 2400 Polk Street, (415) 928-5797.
The Current Favorites
Nua This relatively new addition to North Beach is fast becoming a destination. I crave the roasted cauliflower with capers and pine nuts on a regular basis. 550 Green Street, (415) 433-4000.
Terzo If I lived in the Marina, I'd come here all the time for small plates like succulent, spicy chicken spiedini and the addictive crispy fried onion rings. As it is, I'm on a first name basis with the hostess. 3011 Steiner Street, (415) 441-3200.
Bourbon & Branch -- This modern speakeasy may not serve a single bite of food, but it is the coolest bar in town. Okay, so the secret password is a bit hokey, but once you're inside, inventive cocktails and the 1920's-inspired atmosphere cast their spell. Visit bourbonandbranch.com for reservations.