Date Night: Hayes Valley

Let big-name chefs steal the show on your next night out

"Dinner and a show" is a tried-and-true formula, but that doesn't mean it's stale.

Plan your next food-meets-culture outing in the ever-artsy Hayes Valley. Let the big-name chefs who've recently opened restaurants—Charles Phan and Corey Lee—do the conducting. All you and your date will have to do is sit back and enjoy the show.

The Opening Act

Warm up at Absinthe with a glass of organic bubbly or the namesake cocktail (absinthe makes the heart grow fonder, right?). If the earthquake weather of late holds up, grab a sidewalk table and snack on Parmesan-garlic popcorn ($4) or spicy fried chickpeas ($4)—but don't fill up.

The Headliner

The main event awaits down the street at SFJAZZ Center with Charles Phan's reengineered South, where former Zuni chef Rymee Trobaugh is cooking robust, authentic seasonal Mexican small plates. Get there early to enjoy a relaxing meal before catching some jazz (upcoming acts include Eliane Elias and Melissa Aldana) upstairs. Time to get up close and personal, seeing as the menu is designed for sharing; our favorites include clam ceviche with sour orange and habaneros ($13) and puerco con salsa verde ($20). If you need liquid courage, drinks are allowed inside the theater; you can finish nursing that second Oaxacan Firing Squad (tequila, mezcal, lime and bitters; $11) or Derby Cocktail Tropical (bourbon, pressed pineapple mint; $11) during the show.

The Encore

Once the curtain drops, hit a few high notes at Monsieur Benjamin, Corey Lee's casual late-night French bistro. Sink into a banquette for a tête-à-tête over a bottle of Muscadet and fruits de mer plateau ($65)—oysters, shrimp and crab—along with a slice of gateau marjolaine for a sweet finale.

Alors, this is San Francisco, not the Fifth arrondissement, so you'll have to wait until you and your date are back at chez vous to light up that cigarette. If you made it that far, we're guessing you already have reason to do so.