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Zeitgeist burgers; Tadich dullness

  • p

Last friday after critical mass my roomie Alan and I went to Zeitgeist, a biker/bicyclist bar at Valencia and Duboce. I was expecting beer, ample bike parking, and a nice outdoor seating area with lots of other sweaty, euphoric post-mass bicyclists.

I got that, in heaps. What I didn't expect was a roaring barbecue area that was filling the air with beautiful smoke. Turns out Zeitgeist has food, and good food too! I ordered a cheeseburger with "spuds." They take your order, grill it on a big oil-drum grill, and holler your name through a paper megaphone when it's ready.

The burger was HUGE. Came with the works, and a big SLAB of cheddar kinda half-melted on it. Now, it wasn't gourmet, it wasn't Niman Ranch (well, hell, it coulda been), but golly, it was GOOD! Cooked to a nice medium, good loose meat, fresh toppings. "Spuds" turned out to be very homey home fries. The whole thing was six bucks. An absurdly good deal for a very hungry bike activist. They also have a wide array of beers on tap, a full bar, and a great buzz of energy.

Next day we went to Tadich with Holly's mom. The server was professional but very fast and not very interested in us, though his patter tried to make us believe otherwise. Their clam chowder was pretty good, nice and rich and peppery. Some of the vegetable sides were all right. Crab cakes dull and shapeless. I had a huge veal cutlet that was tough and tasteless.

Maybe if I walked in wearing a $500 silk t-shirt instead of a $20 sweatshirt I would have been treated less like a tourist, but the veal still woulda been tough. Holly's mom wanted an expensive FiDi meal, and she got one, but I won't be going back there on my own volition. Then again, look who's talking.

eat hearty,

Patrick

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  1. r
    Rochelle McCune

    Yes, their burgers are good.

    Guess you don't read Gourmet magazine. Zeigeist was in the "Things We Love about San Francisco" edition (April 2002?). I laughed my @ss off when I saw it. What is the world coming to when Zeitgeist is in Gourmet?

    I don't think they serve food every day but they definitely fire up the grill on Sundays.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Rochelle McCune

      wow. no, i don't read gourmet, or i'd know already! This was a Friday night so maybe they run the grill all weekend.

      1. re: patrick

        And to think, back when I was a bike messenger and in cooking school, we used to hang out at Zeigeist all the time!

        1. re: Erik
          r
          Rochelle McCune

          Remember Zeitgeist before the '89 earthquake?

          I think it was the Oak Street on ramp but their patio was always dark and sad because it was in the shadow of a freeway structure. After the '89 earthquake, it was one of the freeway bits that was taken down. And now Zeitgeist patio gets sun.

          See, now I've revealed how long ago my Zeitgeist days were.

          1. re: Rochelle McCune

            in fact, a nice guy who I met at zeitgeist that night was telling me about the same thing...how one day he came to zeitgeist and their backyard had increased in size and loveliness. Now they have corn growing in the back of an old rusting truck.

            I feel lucky to have moved here after the destruction and reconstruction of the embarcadero.

    2. s
      Stanley Stephan

      Thank you. I was beginning to feel I was the only one who thought Tadich was dull and overpriced. The service is supposed to be bad, by the way. It is supposed to be part of the charm, giving the place extra character.

      My opinion of Tadich is that you could get the same food on Fisherman's Wharf, and at least you would have a view.

      I thougbt that hounds would chew up Tadich and spit it out. However, I've only seen favorable reviews.

      If you really want WONDERFUL service and excellent food in the FIDI, try Silks in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. The treat EVERYONE like they walked in wearing a $500 silk t-shirt

      3 Replies
      1. re: Stanley Stephan

        How interesting that such different experiences can happen at the same restaurant! Well, that's food service, I guess!

        I've never had a bad meal at Tadich -- but I think it's one of those "it really matters what you order" type places. I think Patrick was wise in ordering the chowder, but I wouldn't have touched veal at Tadich. Though it serves other things, Tadich is a fish place -- and, specifically, an old-fashioned, heavy-on-the-cream-and-butter-type-fish place. The salads aren't gonna be excellent -- I would have expected the veal to be not-so-good (though I admit tough is taking it a bit to far, shame on Tadich) -- but the lobster thermidor? Cioppino? Lobster bisque? Oh yeah. Tadich isn't what I'd call a good choice for all-round dining, but I've never been unhappy with the classics there. Or the service -- of course I could just have been lucky (and, btw, no 500$ silk t-shirt here either!:)

        Stanley -- did you have a bad experience with these old classics? I'm really sorry to hear that, if you have. I haven't been there in 6 months, and I'm hoping it hasn't gone downhill.

        1. re: Mrs. Smith
          s
          Stanley Stephan

          It's probably still the same. Last time I was there was last August.

          To be totally fair, Tadich's was one of the first places I ate after moving here from Boston. I was still mourning the loss of New England seafood. I had the sand dabs, of course.

          I've been there on and off over the years when someone from out of town visits and wants to eat there. Perhaps I was just never able to get over the first visit. You know what they say about first impressions. To me it seems no better than the better fisherman's wharf restaurants. Just no sparks for me.

          1. re: Stanley Stephan

            Well, restaurants, like love, are all about the chemistry. Also, agreed, first impressions are a big deal (like my one bad experience at Aqua, and I will not be dragged back no matter how much others plead with me!)

      2. m
        Melanie Wong

        Aw, Patrick, I'm very sorry to hear of your disappointing time at Tadich, since I'm the one who sent you there. Coincidentally, I was in the Financial District Wednesday morning and with so many workers taking a long holiday weekend, it was a good time to pop into Tadich for lunch. Good call, as I was able to walk right in and get a seat at the bar, one in from the front cash register. I had cioppino with garlic bread, which attracted the attention of several tourists/first-timers waiting for tables who asked me for recommendations. I imagine I sold at least 4 orders of cioppino! I also pitched my favorites: pan-fried sand dabs, mesquite broiled petrale sole, oysters rockefeller, seafood ala monza, clam chowder, and when in season, dungeness crab louie salad. That's all I've ever eaten here. It's too bad I didn't think to give you the same direction for what to order.

        I hadn't been to Tadich for nearly two years. I still love it and have a few thoughts on what the appeal is. This is a working man's bar, one of the few places left in SF where blue collar workers and bankers have historically intermingled. The suits and regulars have to wait with the rest of the plebes – no reservations. I like the hooks under the bar to hang my purse, I like the dark wood paneling, I like the energy of patrons standing four deep at the bar having a drink.

        It's a union shop with long-time professional waiters who keep up with the high turnover, hustle-bustle setting. I've never thought of the service as bad or rude - to me, it's very efficient, no-nonsense, and brusque. My lunch server swooped in to refill my ice tea two times without my asking, made eye contact with me from further down the counter to see if I was done (not yet) twice, and brought my bill promptly when asked. I felt well-taken care of. When they tell you the wait for a table is 15 minutes or an hour, they're always right.

        The food stays the same and you know what to expect. Tadich isn't trendy. The menu is still printed daily with whatever seafood is freshly caught. The simpler the preparation, the better, and nothing's better than the broiled petrale with Tadich tartar sauce (love that stuff!). After reading Stanley's link about the ban on bottom fishing, I think I'll need to go back soon for a fix of sand dabs and/or petrale. The "Tadich Bake" sourdough bread is always the same kind of sour with a medium-brown chewy crust. I noticed the decidedly non-modern cooking style in the long-stewed and dried herb flavors of the tomato base of my cioppino. [also the crab meat was frozen and dried out - best to wait until in season] I've become accustomed to a fresher, lighter style than this, but hey, this is Tadich, they're not changing, and that's ok with me. Very enjoyable, though, to dunk with the light crispy garlic toast that was buttered, seasoned and griddled on both sides. There's an occasional flight of fancy on the daily menu, but I just ignore it. I'd go next door to Aqua if I wanted something like that.

        It's a great value for the dollar. There aren't many places downtown with white table cloths and real cotton napkins where you can find entrees for less than $14. The chicken dinner at Merritt Bakery in Oakland is 20% more than the half chicken at Tadich! Fishermans Wharf prices are 20-50% or more higher. Of course, if you order the wrong thing and don't like your food, it's no value at all.

        At Tadich the customers still drink like old time San Franciscans. SF has the highest per capita alcohol consumption in the US. Today our numbers are inflated by tourists - it used to be driven by hard-drinking natives! When I first came to the City and started working in the Financial District 18 years ago, the senior partners still kept up the martini(s) at lunch tradition. Looking down the counter on Wednesday, nearly every customer had a glass of beer or wine with lunch. You won't see that in other places. This is a bar with food.

        Tadich has dice cups to shake to decide who picks up the tab. This is a long time San Francisco tradition that seems to be dying out. You don't hear the "ka-thunk" of leather hitting wood any more when you walk past a bar. The website where I clipped the photo has this quote: "If there's no sourdough bread on the table and no dice at the bar, you might as well be in Kansas, Toto", Gil Jacobs, circa 1999.

        What else can I say? The food isn't going to wow you. If you order one of the classics, it will be well-prepared, a solid effort, and not expensive. There are more tourists now and fewer longshoremen, but all are welcome at Tadich Grill for the flavor, sound and look of San Francisco's more colorful past. You can count on that.

        Link: http://www.kerrymenu.com/Tadich-Grill...

        Image: http://www.dice-games.com/images/cups...

        8 Replies
        1. re: Melanie Wong
          v
          Vital Information

          Melanie writes, "What else can I say? The food isn't going to wow you." Oh, I long to be so wowed here in Chicago!

          Let me say, first, thanks for the post, it was vicarious at its best--and the linked menu, god I was making meals in my head, should I have the oyster stew with milk or with half and half?

          Second, I adore Taddich even if it's been years since I have been. The fact that if I went tomorrow and could have about the same experience as last time, is that not one of the great things in life? Snapper charcol broiled with that thick tarter sauce thank you very much.

          The other day I was in Springfield, IL. Downtown, is a place, Maldeners, that dates to 1884. You want to know how old this place is, my 1955 Duncan Hines guide calls it a bit old fashioned, but now, the menu is totally modern and it is so dissapointing. Tadich is such a relief. Keens, Galatoires, Locke-Ober, Joe's Stone Crab, are there any others left?

          Rob

          1. re: Melanie Wong
            s
            Stanley Stephan

            Melanie,

            If there is an afterlife, I'm sure you put a smile on Herb Caen's face.

            Thank you for taking the time to write such a wonderful review. Probably in my top ten list so far. Definately needs to be in this week's Chow News.

            It also game me insight about why Tadich's gets such favorable reviews on Chowhound. I was thinking for a while that everone had lost their minds. It wasn't just you that gave it the thumbs up, but quite a few hounds who write such excellent reviews.

            Also, I am all for restaurants that are unionized.

            I think your review will make be look at Tadich through new eyes next time I go. It is probably time to give that initial impression a rest. I was suffering culture shock and had not yet developed an appreciation for the wonderful food the west coast has to offer.

            I'm going to need to get my fill of sand dabs and snapper before the fishing ban goes into effect for the next century.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Wonderful review, Melanie -- you identified why Tadich is a classic. It's not cutting edge or trendy in the style of the food, the atmosphere and the service. It is what it is and always has been: a place where you can good a good solid piece of seafood without a lot of fuss.

              I had been about to post that I think Patrick was incorrect in assuming a well-dressed businessman would get "better" service. Service at Tadich is professional but it does come across as brusque -- again, a more traditional, old-style kind of service, before the days of "Hi, I'm Steve and I'm going to be your server." If I saw someone getting more friendly service, I would assume it's because they're a regular, not because of they way they're dressed.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                We were in there on Saturday for lunch. At one thirty, the place was still full.

                You're not kidding about the hard drinking types at Tadich. The gentleman next to us at the bar seemed to think that it was martinis that were soon to be banned, rather than bottom feeders. Fifteen minutes later, he was joined by his friend who appeared to be making a valiant attemt to catch up.

                I had the cioppino as well. Suited me just fine, although I would have preferred a few more prawns. I found the service to be good, but I suppose it usually is when you're sitting right at the counter.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Just to echo Melanie's ode to the Tadich...
                  I've gone in from SFO just for the sand dabs!

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    So pleased to see your review on this restaurant! Living close to Lake Tahoe, Ca we can go to San Francisco often. How did I miss this place????? How fun it will be to go for the atmosthere along with good fresh seafood. It was recomended to us by a friend as well. Going down next month. Can't wait for lunch at the Tadich!
                    I promise my review then!
                    Crickette

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      Thank you for this post. I was lucky enough to be in SF today for business and enjoyed a splendid lunch based on your rec. Crab Louie and sole. Divine. And a wee glass of wine.

                      [hee hee- Having a glass of wine at a weekday lunch always makes the lunch feel naughty and holiday-ish.]

                      1. re: JudiAU

                        So you went "native"! Glad you enjoyed it. I haven't been back since I posted that...should go during crab season.