Do a search of the places you should try, must try, need to experience before you die, in San Francisco, and one particular anachronism from a by-gone era will surely appear. Like the stubborn soul of the city itself, this once pinnacle of dining indulgence soldiers on into this, and the next, uncertain generation of fads and identity crises. Surely if anything is American, if anything holds true, this menu would be one.
Opened in 1949, this restaurant does essentially one thing and does it exceptionally well: prime rib. The menu offers a full page of different cuts of said prime rib and way down at the bottom of the page, the second offering, fish, unspecified. The meal comes with the perfect accompaniments: a house salad, a potato either mashed or baked, a vegetable either creamed corn or creamed spinach, and Yorkshire pudding, which isn’t really a pudding, it’s an eggy, crusty, bready thing with a baked custard sort of texture.
Package this whole thing up in an old dark wood upscale bar environment with jacketed waiters and chefs with tall paper hats and then make everything a table-side show, and you’ve got yourself a memorable evening. The drink of the house is the martini and I had several.
Start the evening off right with a classic two olive martini shaken table-side with enough gin for two glasses and left in the shaker for your refill.
First up is the house salad, prepared table-side with flair. The mixing bowl is placed on ice and spun rapidly to which the dressing is swirled, pepper, then vigorously mixed and portioned out onto plates. Our enthusiastic waiter put this together with the showmanship of a circus plate spinner. The salad itself was the perfect 50’s house salad with iceberg lettuce, eggs, red peppers, and beets and a zesty dressing. Nothing fancy, just good.
Follow this with the potato station. Each of the toppings arrive in a spinning carrier, the potatoes are opened, and the ingredients assembled with a theatrical gusto. Bacon, then sour cream, then other toppings, then more bacon. They don’t skimp.
Next, the big show, what everyone is waiting for. The shiny metal zeppelin of meaty goodness demanding respect as it putters from table to table, opening up to an orgy of tender meat. This thing looks like what a 40’s World’s Fair would have come up with as the luxury meat delivery device of the future complete with aerodynamic wheel covers and built in lighting and manned by the biggest and toughest looking guys on the crew in chef whites and ridiculously tall paper hats. Each table gets their turn having the cart wheeled over and each rib roast cut to order. I choose the house cut, about an inch-thick-plus of tender pink meat. Yes that’s supposed to sound dirty because it sure feels that way when it gets slapped down on your plate. Bam! Eat this motherfucker! This is a film-worthy girth of dripping salty beef. Lubricated in its own juices. You start to question if you’re man enough. But you’re going to give it go. Even if it hurts.
Next a spinning selection of horseradish sauces in varying degrees of heat (I go with the kind that yanks out your nose hairs and makes you cry).
Then a pan of Yorkshire pudding is divided around the table to round out the plate. The corn is served in its own bowl. Solid. But I kind of regret not ordering the creamed spinach to completely nail the old-school combo.
And course, I have to order another round of martinis. It’s only right.
After plowing through and finishing that gargantuan mountain of wet meat, my family shames me into declining the free extra 3oz slice on the grounds that they feared for my health and safety. But I’m sure I could have done it.
Desert is optional but we’ve come this far. I order the tiramisu. I’m not sure how traditional that is for the 50s but honestly by this point I don’t care. It’s served on a layer of condensed milk with classic white whipped cream and I get an espresso to ward off the food coma that’s lurking just around the corner.
No detail is left to waste. Even the doggie bag becomes a table-side show as each plate is swept up, boxed, and bagged with theatrical precision.
A glance back as we head off to grab a cable car back to the hotel.