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“So many San Francisco restaurants that do the quirky, opinionated, idiosyncratic faux-casual thing better”
Review of Al’s Place

Al’s Place
Reserve a Table
Mon, 10/14
8:00 PM
Ranked #613 of 6,516 Restaurants in San Francisco
Neighborhood: Transmission/La Lengua
Restaurant details
Neighborhood: Transmission/La Lengua
Reviewed 3 weeks ago

If you were to draw-up a list of the saddest fashions, affectations, ill-placed culinary passions, and grande cooking mistakes of the last few years, I think Al’s Place would solidly tick Every. Single. Box. This place is a living, breathing, performative satire of what fine dining should be.

First the place has no air conditioning and a single, beleaguered bathroom. I stood in line waiting to wash my hands, sweating from the warm San Francisco evening, and swapped places with a pregnant woman behind me who was certainly in more dire straits.

Clearly someone has pretenses of being a DJ, since they blare music so loudly that I could not hear anyone at my table a couple feet away. This was the recurring leitmotif of our dinner, and the main reason every one of us was hurrying through our mains and skipping dessert to just get out. Our first server was replaced by someone manager-ish, but they nonetheless misheard part of our order and just straight-up missed one of our wine requests. Each time we caught the attention of a new server, food runner, or host, we adulted and asked that the music be turned down. Call me crazy, but sometimes I go to a restaurant to get to know my companions better, as well as eat some neckbeard / topknot’s confusion cuisine. One of the servers eventually said the loud music was just the “vibe” of the restaurant, and we literally laughed out loud. At one point the woman at the table next to me leaned over, closely, to commiserate about the music. Most of the people in my row of table seats were physically leaning forward to yell. The place was so loud that when we asked for bowls for our shared soup, we were told they had heard us say we did not want them. And so on. The music itself? The usual quirky and dated garbage from the 90s, with a whiff of the post-ironic.

Their menu is a complete mess. First of all, they are too lazy to time the meal correctly and plate their dishes. Al’s Place calls this “family-style” or something, but its just cynical. Compounding this, neither of our two servers could actually tell us how much food to order for our party size, because there was no relationship between the section of the menu and the amount of food that ends up in front of you. There was some myth-making about “chef” wanting to treat proteins as a side, because they think this a comment on steak houses. But note that a real steak house can serve a plate of hot food umm, hot. Eventually we were able to map which lines on the menu were tastes, starters, mains, and sides, but to get this done meant literally taking out a piece of paper and a pen. I wish I was kidding: While negotiating with our servers about Lana Del Lame in background, we wrote our own translation of the Al’s Place menu, from hipsteraunt to English. After delivering an incorrect item with no explanation of what it was, they told us we should not have taken a bite before telling them it was wrong. How else were we supposed to find out what it was?!

The food is… fine. Their french fries were undercooked and soggy, but boy were they salty! Or should I say “brined.” The smoky mayonnaise alongside was too sweet and tasted like a dessert. Marlowe’s fries were better a decade ago. The Al’s Place lettuces were meant to be eaten by hand — see my queuing up for the bathroom sink, above — and for some reason had a bland avocado mousse streaked underneath. Can we please stop putting sauces under the food, to trick wraithy Instagrammers from LA into actually eating a sauce? The Progress does the reversed-salad-thing better. The chickpeas and harissa had some refrigerator burn to the legumes. The cold chickpea salad at Hey Day is better. The Al’s Place bean soup was overseasoned and was bad seasonal choice to have on the menu during hot weather. But hey, they’ll put kimchee in it so you can think it’s exotic. Or something. The minestrone at any one of a dozen Italian joints in North Beach is better. The Al’s smoked brisket needed to have its fat better trimmed, and ended up tasting more lukewarm St. Patrick’s Day-corned-beef than cozy passover seder. And so on.

We only passed on one of our tastes of wine, so an actual professional was involved in their wine list at some point. They had no beers on draught, which is weak in a drinking town like SF. Also there is no hard liquor license, so your cocktails will be those sweet sherry & vermouth-heavy shims instead of a before-dinner classic like a Manhattan.

Al’s Place joins Hakkasan and The Progress as the two dinners that have me doubting the Michelin guide’s star ratings. The Michelin guide used to be insulated from silly trends and dopey culinary tricks, but they are clearly lowering their standards to appeal to teh youths. Al’s Place is also in that rarified competition of least bang for the buck, alongside the stunningly overrated and overpriced Hashiri.

Avoid Al’s Place like the plague.

Date of visit: September 2019
    • Value
    • Service
    • Food
Thank beng148
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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3 - 7 of 178 reviews

Reviewed August 9, 2019 via mobile

Many of the reviews of Al’s Place hit the nail on the head and how well you like it will depend on your individual preferences.

I went there solo and had the chef’s menu with the wine pairings and the food was very good. The vadouvan almonds and chawanmushi were “to die for”. And I’ve never enjoyed grits more. The presentation, textures, taste, and the pairings were almost uniformly excellent (the exception being the hanger steak which was nothing special).

The service was also uniformly excellent.

Now for the downsides. As mentioned, the place is somewhat small (not too much so in my opinion) and it was very noisy (music loud, acoustic design, etc.). The food also seemed “rushed” (several items brought at the same time). I would have liked more time to savor some of the items. (I also heard them tell one table that they wouldn’t have time for desert since they were expected to leave at a certain time.) They also served too much of certain dishes. I was stuffed when I left.

Overall, highly recommended. But do go knowing the pluses and minuses. Michelin star well deserved based on the food. But I’ve been to other places where the overall experience better (e.g., Alma in Lisbon).

Date of visit: August 2019
Thank TS1362015
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed July 17, 2019

Al’s place: Well, if you want to go for dinner, be able to play footsy with the strangers in the table next to you or even sit on their lap, spend time reading a menu that can only be described as pompous and arrogant, have food that is mediocre at best and avoid speaking with your dinner companions because the music is so loud you can hardly hear yourself think, then: by all means go to Al’s place and pay through the nose for the above described experience. Indeed, it may be that you want to go because bar all the above they do have a Michelin star which you can boast to colleagues and friends later. Never mind that the Michelin star downgrades the whole concept of Michelin stars. If you, on the other hand, want a nice evening, with nice food, and nice service which is not so arrogant and a menu that might give you, even a vague idea of what you might get… well, pick anywhere else, basically (0 change you might go wrong). After countless dining experiences in restaurants across all continents ranging from gourmet (haut) cuisine to street food, Al’place wins a spot amongst my top 5 worst dining experiences of all times.
Also note that once we arrived, we realized that the place was so loud the evening would not be at all what we had hoped for or expected, we asked if they had people waiting for a table and if so, could we cede ours to them. We were told that yes, there were people waiting, but that we would be charged 25 USD per head if we left. I think fair to say customer satisfaction /enjoyable evening is not in their vocabulary. Therefore we ordered, ate as quickly as possible, and left never to return.

Date of visit: July 2019
    • Value
    • Service
    • Food
1  Thank ASM36
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed July 4, 2019

If you want high end Michelin Star food in a relaxed informal and not too pricey restaurant then Al’s Place is ideal. We did the family taster with wine pairings (if you do this get a taxi ;-) and each course was more inventive than the last, with seemingly simple ingredients but all perfectly and inventively matched and prepared.

Date of visit: June 2019
    • Value
    • Service
    • Food
Thank RebeccaHJ87
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed June 14, 2019 via mobile

Down to earth but sharp and warm service delivers incredibly tasty and beautifully presented meals. We had chef’s table reservations and had a great view of this lovely kitchen from a bar. The vibe is like an upbeat bar, the food is Michelin rated, and the service is personal and flawless. Loved the meal!

Date of visit: June 2019
Thank AmanJunkieBoston
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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