Gary Danko named No. 1 S.F. eatery, again 

Fifth year in a row famed restaurant is named The City’s best by Zagat guide

SAN FRANCISCO — Restaurant owner Gary Danko said he doesn’t think fine dining is about place settings.

"I think people will forgive me for a crooked fork," said Danko, whose eponymous restaurant earned top honors in this year’s Zagat survey in the categories of food and service, as well as being named most popular.

This is the fifth year in a row that Danko’s Asian-influenced American eatery near Ghirardelli Square has won the best food award — a reminder that Bay Area diners love, above all else, good food.

They also love going out to eat. Despite The City having the fifth-highest per-meal cost of the top 25 cities ranked by Zagat in the United States, and despite concerns about service — the top restaurant irritant, according to Bay Area diners — those who live near San Francisco eat out more than residents of many other cities worldwide, including Paris, London, Washington, D.C., and Chicago.

The Zagat Survey is based upon the opinions of local restaurant fans who become Zagat surveyors, voting on such restaurant elements as food, décor and service. The red handbooks, filled with quoted phrases from its surveyors, aim to offer practical guidance on local restaurants.

Tourists, it seems, flock to San Francisco for the food. According to the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau, restaurants are the No. 2 reason — after "atmosphere and ambiance" — for visiting The City by the Bay.

"San Francisco is one of the great culinary destinations, not just in the United States, but in the world," said Tim Zagat, co-founder of the Zagat Survey.

Daniel Scherotter, vice president of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association and the owner of the Italian restaurant Palio in the Financial District, said San Franciscans — including city leaders — sometimes take the economic as well as gastronomical benefits of restaurants for granted.

Restaurants are often driven out of San Francisco due to the cost of doing business in The City, he said. And if a restaurant does manage to stay in business, San Francisco’s high rents and high labor costs result in higher restaurant prices, he said.

New local legislation requiring restaurants to pay for health care for their part-time staff, and a proposed law headed to the November ballot that would require restaurants and other businesses to offer all employees paid sick days, will only make the situation worse, he said.

Scherotter said the innovative technique and style city chefs bring to food, along with fresh ingredients grown locally and the neighboring wine industry, all contribute to San Francisco’s reputation as a haven for food lovers.

Despite the local love for restaurants, there are fewer of them than there used to be. San Francisco had 3,382 sit-down restaurants as of June 2005, down 176 restaurants from 2001, according to the Department of Public Health.

"San Franciscans love new restaurants, but 99 percent of the time, they’re opening in a place where another restaurant had been before," Scherotter said.

beslinger@examiner.com

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