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Wistful lament for old San Francisco Favorites

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  • randy salenfriend Nov 5, 2001 08:25 PM
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Years ago prior to relocating to the Bay Area, I frequently used to travel to The City on business and then later for pleasure. As any tourist would do, I sought out resources to assist me in finding local recommendations, mostly food and wine related but also attractions, communities, hidden spots, you know.

One of the guide books on which I came to rely was Fodor's Guide to San Francisco. This little tome was as reliable as the sunrise when it came to helping me as I began to explore the Bay Area. Well, when doing some cleaning and reorganizing the other day, what do you think I found, that little book, looking old, tired and worn but still around, kinda like some people I know.

I got it out and read over it, longingly recalling with a certain melancholy how it felt to discover some of those now forgotten spots, Hoffman's on Market, The Washbag, La Pantera, Bardelli's etc. Then it occurred to me that my friends The Chowhounds must have similar laments. So how about it, what are some of your favorites that are now nothing but a distant memory and why were they significant?

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  1. Why waste time lamenting the past. Wouldn't it be wiser to find new and exciting places to replace those long lost favorites? Just a thought.

    10 Replies
    1. re: Jim

      Any reason why we can't do both? Just a thought.

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        Does anyone remember the old Jack Lirio Cooking School?How about that wonderful French inspired restaurant in San Rafael on the downtown corner run by the two guys, they had been in SF before. And remember that German restaurant run by the couple in North Beach and the wonderful German wines they had? Nothing will be the same. Audrey

        1. re: audrey

          The Green Valley Restaurant in North Beach. Curtain partitions between the large round tables, family style dining with soup, salad, pasta, entree items listed on the chalkboard and complimentary house wine. Chinatown hole in the wall, Jackson Cafe with its long counter for cheap rice plates and noodles.

          1. re: allen

            There were four or five places like the Green Valley...all serving mediocre but cheap food and the ubiquitous 7-up bottle with a cork, containing only the finest jug wine. Caruso'a, New Pisa, and I can't remember the name of my favorite. Jackson was the quintessential Chinese joint. At least once a week I would go for Jackson Chow Mein and steamed clams. After work I would go back and get an order of chow mein to go...next day for dinner we would have chow mein omlettes. Can't understand why no one has duplicated their chow mein. I always took out-of-towners to Jackson, and that was the highlight of thier trip to SF.

            1. re: allen

              The Jackson Cafe was my favorite cheap chow mein lunch place. Beef chow mein with black bean sauce is something I keep hoping to find somewhere here in Marin -- so far, no luck. I once pointed to what someone down the counter was eating and was told it was "sand dabs in fancy sauce" -- I had it and it was marvelous.

              Their American dishes were great too -- especially the roast duck and the roast pork. I noticed that the Chinese customers were more inclined to pick up a fork and order from that side of the menu while we Caucasians focussed on the Chinese offerings.

              1. re: Sharuf

                Try Young's on Kearny at Sacramento...not Jackson, but great beef and peppers black bean chow mein Hong Kong style. You can also get it pan fried.

          2. re: Ruth Lafler

            And besides, lamenting the lost treasures of the past is the quintessential San Francisco experience. ;-)

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              Sorry Ruth, I just don't see the purpose in lamenting the loss. It certainly won't bring it back. Since we eat in the present/future, doesn't it make sense to post about food presently available instead of some long gone restaurant? Just my humble opinion.

              1. re: Jim

                But since one doesn't preclude the other, I don't see why you need to be so adamant about your position.

                Besides, you never know when someone might have a suggestion about a restaurant that is similar to the dearly departed, or news about where the chef/owner/decor elements might have ended up.

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  I don't think I'm anymore adamant about my position than you are about yours. I'm not going to comment anymore regarding this as it just fills the board without contributing to the purpose which is to share information about food discoveries and critiques.

          3. z
            Zach Georgopoulos

            Randy, I miss all the same places you listed (except I never made it to Hoffman's, though my office building occupies the original location, and is two doors down from the later location). I would now add the House of Shields, which, despite efforts on the part of your's truly, is rapidly going the way of the do-do. Also the Temple Bar. Mostly, I miss genteel downtown drinking.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Zach Georgopoulos
              r
              randy salenfriend

              Hey Zach-

              Glad to hear House of Shields is still standing and that you are doing your part. It is tough duty but someone's gotta do it. Next time you're in there, have one more for me. In this small way, I will feel as if I am contributing by proxy!

              Randy

              1. re: randy salenfriend
                z
                Zach Georgopoulos

                It's actually closed now, but I've been working with the landlord to get some of my restaurant clients in there. The landlord really wants to preserve it, but the kitchen belongs to the Palace Hotel garage and they're talking about turning into parking spaces. Without a kitchen, it can only be a bar, and nobody seems to think it can make it that way (also, I think the Palace feels it would compete with their Pied Piper room). Sigh. Anybody out there want to open a bar?

                1. re: Zach Georgopoulos
                  m
                  Melanie Wong

                  I hope House of Shields can be preserved. But if not, please put in my first dibs on a couple of the old brass spitoons. (g)

            2. The cottage cheese-dill bread from the old Tassajara bakery (now Boulange de Cole). Flying Saucer, when it first opened--the dining room was smaller than my living room and the menu was projected on the wall with an overhead projector. The food was amazing and a real splurge back in my indigent just-out-of-college slacker days. New Dawn Cafe and Radio Valencia in the Mission--not because the food was so great, but because they filled a need for comfy places open when you needed them.

              1 Reply
              1. re: dixieday

                yeah, Radio Valencia was a great loss. I remember when those 2 firetrucks crashed into it and a year later it reopened and we were so excited. Only to close later. Bummer.

              2. c
                Christine Vallejo

                I don't know how old "New Joe's" on Geary was, but after I moved to the Bay Area in 1983, it became one of my favorites. When my daughter was young, we'd spend her birthday (12-23)in the City, Christmas shop, and go to New Joe's for dinner. The waiters were always great with her. If we were in a booth, she'd wander over to the counter to watch the exhibition cooking.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Christine Vallejo

                  Thanks for reminding me of the original New Joe's on Broadway: stayed open really late, as did Vanessi's, and one could "sober up" with a great Joe's burger on SF sourdough with Monterey Jack and sauteed onions.Maybe it's a romanticized memory, but I seem to recall their grinding their excellent beef if not to order at least often.(Cured me forever of American-style burgers!)

                  1. re: Fine
                    c
                    Christine Vallejo

                    Never got to the original New Joe's but also liked Little Joe's in North Beach. Is it still there? Have the cookbook and just made his minestrone this past weekend for my grateful husband...he loves the stuff.

                    1. re: Christine Vallejo
                      r
                      randy salenfriend

                      Little Joe's is still there Christine, although it has been about 4 years since I ate there. Always loved the linguine with prawns there. Must make a mental note to return one of these days.

                      Link: http://tracker.tmcs.net/customer/litt...

                2. Spinelli's Coffee

                  1. a
                    Alexandra Eisler

                    Christmas Eve brunch in the Garden Court at the Palace Hotel. And woe to those seated in the Rose Room (also known as Siberia).

                    Dinner with my grandparents in the Captain's Cabin at Trader Vic's.

                    Rack of lamb at Le Club...

                    1. k
                      Kathleen Mikulis

                      Petroushka - a Russian restaurant which was in Berkeley's Elmwood District. It was my very favorite restaurant when it closed.

                      I also miss Caribbean Zone which was in the most bizarre location ever before (under a highway overpass in the middle of an alley). I heard it'll reopen in Oakland but I haven't seen it yet.

                      1. Omar Kayaam's
                        Bernsteins
                        Paoli's
                        Blum's
                        The Shadows

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: Susan Blair

                          Ahhh ---The Shadows. When my handsome hearthrob and I weren't holding hands at Skipper Kent's, we were sitting in the romantic dark at The Shadows gazing at the sparkling Bay view. I have no recollection whatsoever of the food except that it was good.

                          1. re: Sharuf

                            I believe it was a German style menu. I have a nice memory of pork and sauerkraut....

                            1. re: susan blair

                              If I weren't lazy, I'd go hunt through my old menus. Probably have one from the Shadows.

                              Their potato pancakes were a revelation! I also seem to recall liking their duck a lot.

                          2. re: Susan Blair
                            m
                            Melanie Wong

                            Thanks for mentioning Blum's, Susan. My father was addicted to the coffee crunch and lemon crunch cakes. Whenever we'd make an excursion to the City, if I ended up with my dad instead of shopping with mom, I was guaranteed a seat at the Blum's counter. Dad knew every location in town and we'd managed to squeeze Blum's into our route. We did agree though that the one in the Fairmount Hotel gave the skinniest slices and was to be avoided except for emergencies. (g)

                            I never tried Omar Khayaam's, but I did enjoy Little Omar's lunch counter which was on Powell St. near the cable car turnaround and had the same kitchen staff. They disappeared for a few years until I found them in an office building on Van Ness. Gone again about 10 years ago...would love to know if they're out there cooking somewhere.

                            1. re: Susan Blair
                              i
                              Icono Clast at JPS Net

                              I think it was Omar Khayyam's. Great place. The site sat empty for many years. Now there's not a hint of it but I wouldn't be surprised if there are hints of it in the basement at the NorthEast corner of O'Farrell at Powell just as El Patio Ballroom is clearly seen in the auto repair shop on Market at South Van Ness Avenue; go up the wide stairway to see it.

                              Bernstein's is the site of one of my service stories about an outstanding waiter with an incredible memory. Many tourists lament its absence, as do I.

                              When I worked in the Niantic Building, Paoli's was my primary lunch spot.

                              Blum's was my mother's favorite and it's the focal point of one of my stories of my acquaintance with Katherine Dunham.

                              I never liked The Shadows. Didn't go there much.

                              1. re: Susan Blair

                                Was Paoli's in a former power company substation?

                              2. Years and years ago (I go way back) there was a Trader Joe's knockoff down at the foot of Columbus near Fisherman's Wharf called, I Believe, Skipper Kent's. It was an all-out South Seas effort, with a tropical fish aquarium, dark lighting, and various exotic objects adorning the walls. Yes, and speakers gaving us instrumental tributes to moonlit lagoons and swaying palms. I spent many an erotically-charged evening there with my then-current heartthrob.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: Sharuf

                                  Wasn't Skipper Kent's from way back in the 1940's?
                                  What was the address at the time? I remember my dad telling me he used to work there. Wasn't it somewhat of an Asian cuisine??

                                  1. re: AJ
                                    i
                                    Icono Clast at JPS Net

                                    Skipper Kent's was probably on the 1200-block of Columbus Avenue, across the street from the Bal Tabarin.

                                  2. re: Sharuf

                                    Skipper Kent was a Trader Vic lookalike or wannabe. I think they were both based on the wonderful, but long-departed, Don the Beachcomber at Waikiki. Don's was constructed of bamboo, thatch, and matting and was a block away from the surf and lagoon. They had a huge menu of tropical drink concoctions. One I remember was called the "vicious virgin" -- it had a cherry in the bottom.

                                    1. re: Sharuf

                                      A new Trader Vic's is supposed to open down on the Peninisula during the holidays. El Camino Real in Palo Alto.

                                    2. re: Sharuf

                                      I believe Skipper Kent's was a knock-off of Trader Vic's.

                                    3. Here's another one.

                                      China Station at the foot of University in Berkeley was the most perfect Chinese restaurant I have ever discovered. Earlier in the year I drove by and found to my horror that it was gone and something else was going in there.

                                      What was so great about it? It was quietly, comfortably classy without being ostentitious, and they totally eschewed the Chinese dragons and tassels kitsch thing. The ambience concept had lots of panache and character. The menu was mind-boggling, with just about anything you could imagine, and all at reasonable prices. They also had a fine cocktail lounge -- something you don't often find in Chinese restaurants.

                                      It was in a former train station, and the decor featured old photos of Chinese laborors from the last century, along with some explanatory text. The rambling spaces accommodated large and small parties in comfort.

                                      Whenever my family members came to town, we would try to find some excuse to be in the East Bay so we could have a meal at "that Chinese restaurant we went to last time that was so good."

                                      China Station had various wonderful ways of doing clams and crab. They had a unique dish of boneless chicken nuggets coated with crushed walnuts and deep fried, served with snow peas and straw mushrooms in a light brown sauce. They had duck broth yee fu wonton. You could order a chile-turbocharged beef chow mein with black bean sauce. I can't find any of this stuff here in Marin.

                                      I'd make a search in SF but driving and parking in Chinatown is not one of my favorite activities.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Sharuf
                                        s
                                        Shepherd B. Goode

                                        They were open till 3 in the morning. A big bowl of jook after a night of partying...

                                        The trains would go rumbling right past your window, about two feet from your table.

                                        In the bar, you could get a huge plate of garlic-boiled prawns in the shell.

                                        All the chefs and servers from the other Chinese places came there after work to relax.

                                        And now we have a $$$$ place whose menu is based on the "medicinal" qualities of the food. Feh.

                                      2. My husband first introduced me to Indian food at
                                        a place called Taj in SF. This was a wonderful dimly lit place where you'd walk down below street level, have a Pimms cup at a tiny bar, and then proceed back to a pillowed dining area for a sumptuous meal prepared by the owners mother.

                                        1. My first-ever Vietnamese meal was at a place on 24th St. (near York) called Cha Gio. Great food, more French-influenced (in my memory) than a lot of Vietnamese places I know. There was one waitress there who was silent and graceful, in a very formal kind of way; she was about all they had for ambience, but she was enough.

                                          1. How about these:
                                            Full course dinner at Oreste's for $7.95
                                            Free hors d'oerves at the Leopard on Friday eve after work
                                            Figaro
                                            The Old Ritz Poodle Dog (the old)
                                            Sam's Lane Club
                                            The Iron Horse
                                            The Cairo
                                            Solari's
                                            El Prado
                                            I could go on and on...sob
                                            and the ultimate...Garden Court or Green Goddess at the old Palace (not the Sheraton).

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Jim H.
                                              z
                                              Zach Georgopoulos

                                              Your post reminded me of the recent closure of the Iron Horse. What was up with that? Jeez, it was closed a month before anyone but me noticed -- I would walk by, see that it was closed, and yet friends of mine would deny the very possibiloity until I finally said "well, lets all meet there for a drink then." I found them all outside looking rather bemused, and we moved on to greener pastures. Sigh. Yet another downtown watering hole gone...

                                              1. re: Jim H.

                                                The Pied Piper bar at the Palace, when it was on the Market Street side of the hotel. In the early '80's when in San Francisco, we would end the workday drinking and scarfing free hors d'ourves in the Pied Piper, then go take a shower and go out to dinner.

                                              2. I kinda miss Zuni.

                                                heh.

                                                1. La Bourgogne from when it opened in '61 till the original chef moved away--late '60s early '70s.

                                                  This was pre-nouvelle cuisine, but the mostly haute cuisine was better than anything I'd had at the palaces of French cuisine in Manhattan and certainly better than anything I'd eaten in SF.

                                                  It was a revelation to me, mostly, I think, because the standards were so high and lapses so rare.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: Fine

                                                    Amen...I never understood why La Bourgogne (?) went belly-up. It was unique in classic French cuisine, without the trendy crap we get at the nouvelle places. Same with L'Etoile. I think they were TOO classic. I have never been to La Folie, but I understand it is close.

                                                  2. s
                                                    Shep aka 2 Cheap Hungry Guys

                                                    On the low end, some places I favored while working nights:

                                                    Seafood Circus on Third in Bayview--greatest gumbo around.

                                                    Sam Wo's second dining level--all about watching Mr. Fong abuse tourists and natives alike.

                                                    Clown Alley Hamburgers on Lombard--just because.

                                                    Mommy Fortuna's on Haight--my kind of people.

                                                    When I moved here in the 70s, a lot of my dining selections came from R.B. Read, the Underground Gourmet. Today's tourist traps are tomorrow's wistful memories.

                                                    1. CASA CHIQUITA was on Geary near Jones, a tiny place.

                                                      When I first started eating there, the highest price on the menu was 75¢ for the Combination Plate: Enchilada, Taco, shredded lettuce/cabbage, Frijoles Refritos, Arroz, and all the tortillas you could eat.

                                                      If you wanted Guacamole, you were sent across the street to the grocery store to get the ingredients; they'd make it for you.

                                                      Grandma did the cooking and it was excellent. When she retired, her son took over the kitchen and made some tiny improvements to the recipes (yummy!).

                                                      When he retired, his son took over and eventually sold the business. It immediately went to hell and closed shortly thereafter. The last time I ate there, the Combination Plate was $7.95 and included an Enchilada, Taco, shredded lettuce/cabbage, Frijoles Refritos OR Arroz and you had to beg for tortillas.

                                                      Through all those years, except after the sale, waitress Polly took care of us. And, year after year, I saw the same customers there. We'd probably still be going there were it as it was.

                                                      «¤-¤-¤-¤-¤-¤-¤-¤-¤-¤-¤-¤-¤ ¦ ¤-¤-¤-¤-¤-¤-¤-¤-¤-¤-¤-¤-¤»
                                                      ICONO CLAST: A San Franciscan in San Francisco - IClast at JPS Net

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: Icono Clast

                                                        El Sombrero, out Geary at about 21st was my favorite Cute Mexican Place. The basic architecture was lavishly embellished with arches and pillars and heavily encrusted with stucco curlicues and colorful tiles. There were several nicely meandering spaces offering a feeling of coziness, including a tucked-away bar area. Over in a corner a mamacita was patting out tortillas. The waitresses wore off-the-shoulder peasant blouses and colorful flounced skirts and great big earrings.

                                                        I suppose this kind of over-the-edge hokiness doesn't play so well anymore, but I enjoyed it. Oh, yes, the food and the prices were just fine, -- it was a great place to take out-of-town visitors.