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Hasn't been posted about in 5 years, great place to eat in 2007! Hotel Majestic Cafe Review

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It appears to have been many change-overs since the last post in 2002 about the restaurant inside Hotel Majestic at Sutter and Gough. I am pleased to report that we had a phenomenal meal and experience there on NYE.

The Hotel Majestic is a circa 1902 Victorian that was originally built as a private residence and became a hotel in 1904. In 1906, the fires from the earthquake stopped at Van Ness Avenue- two blocks down- saving the building and making it San Francisco's oldest continually-operating hotel. The building is also reportedly haunted, and is a stop on all the Haunted San Francisco and Vampire Tours. According to lore, one room on the four floor seems to be the most supernaturally active, with a bathtub that mysteriously fills with water. The website does not indicate whether this mysterious filling happens when the faucet is turned on and the drain stopped.

The hotel recently went through a restoration, with Cafe Majestic re-opening about three months ago.

While desperately searching for New Year’s Eve dinner reservations at about 7PM on New Year’s Eve itself, my companion and I were on the phone checking Open Table for any scribble or scrap of a reservation we could find. He says, “Café Majestic again, why does that keep on coming up?” As he was surfing around, apparently, he kept on seeing it. It took me a while to figure out that Café Majestic was in the Hotel Majestic, two blocks from my house, that I had always wanted to go check out because it’s a gorgeous building and had heard was haunted. Anyhoo... I search online. Can’t find any reviews of the restaurant. Rob looks at the website and realizes he’d been to the hotel before... (Spooky? No, he went on the Ghost Tour.) A dearth of suitable options elsewhere and a good bit of curiosity led us to make a reservation. I’m on the phone as he’s making the online ressy, he says, “Note for the maitre d’? Say. Hi. To. (Smurf.)”

So, we arrive at the Hotel at about 7:45 for our 8PM reservation. The hotel is gorgeous. Small lobby, original charm. We enter the bar and are greeted by exactly the kind of fellow you expect to see in a circa-1902 hotel bar. Only a little less gruff. I order a brandy Alexander. My companion gets some sort of a gin and tonic, but seemed impressed at the selection. We ogle the butterfly collection that adorns the walls. Apparently, the collection is some sort of a local biggest-best. It is indeed impressive. My brandy Alexander was perfection, even though it was shaken. The drink was perfectly iced and frothy, the balance of the brandy, cream and cacao was spot-on. He said his drink was a good pour. I could have done without the modern intrusion of a plasma TV on the wall, but that was the only concession to “keeping up with the times” I noticed.

We decided to get seated immediately; the restaurant was nearly empty. They asked for the name the reservation was under. My companion tells them and the maitre d’ immediately says, “And you must be (Smurf)? Hello, (Smurf)!” I hadn’t known he really wrote that in the reservation, but what fantastic attention to detail! Throughout the night every time interacted with the staff, they called me by name. Creepy, but classy. Definitely added to my impression.

We are seated at a lovely table. The maitre d’ helps me with my coat and chair. We are given the menu- It’s a special NYE pris fixe option, which we hadn’t known before we got there, but the selections were phenomenal so we didn’t mind a bit. One starter, one main, two sides, a dessert and glass of champagne. Unfortunately, they had to replace the brussel sprouts with broccoliflower, but our waiter, Bob, and I had a good laugh about how brussel sprout people either are or aren’t brussel sprout people. There is no in between. We both were.

Starter choices were: Crab and Lobster Bisque with roasted corn and crab relish, Some sort of a fennel and shallot salad (possibly with prosciuto?), Poached pears with endive, dandelion greens, gorgonzola in a sherry-lemon vinaigrette, and mushroom risotto with truffle oil. I got the poached pears. Deliciously poached in mulled red wine. The gorgonzolla was just enough and really well-separated, the dressing was well balanced. We agreed that it was a perfect course as a starter. Just vinegary enough to get your juices flowing for the rest of the meal. He got the risotto. It was the kind of thing you would see proudly served as a main at an Italian restaurant. Perfectly cooked, creamy, not too heavy, with a perfectly appropriate douse of truffle oil. I thought it strange that it was on a starters menu, but it was great.

Main Choices were: (I might not get these all right, since I knew what I wanted as soon as I saw it on the menu) Sirloin Steak, Surf and turf (Lobster tail, seared diver scallop, filet mignon with truffle butter), Roasted Chicken with a wild mushroom ragout, Halibut with something... and I think there was another choice. I got the surf and turf. He got the steak, ordered Pittsburgh style. I had never heard of this before, nor had the waiter, but it is basically seared on the outside and nearly raw inside. As Rob put it, “cut off its horns, wipe its ass, and walk it through a warm kitchen.” His steak was delicious. Being prepped in this manner, you really got to taste the quality of the meat. Phenomenal. (As an aside, I noticed others who ordered the steak had theirs cut for plating. His wasn’t. I think because the kitchen must have wondered if that’s really what he wanted.) My surf and turf was great. The filet was cooked fantastically well, nice truffle taste on the outside. Everything was perfectly salted. It’s something we both commented on. The scallop was cooked perfectly- my knife pretty well glided weightlessly through it. Nice sear. The lobster tail was maybe a wee bit overcooked and tough to get out of the shell, but tasty none the less.

For sides, we got mashed potatoes, broccoliflower, roasted potatoes and mixed veggies (trying all the selections.) The mashed potatoes were good if not a little bland (understandable considering the chef didn’t know the pairing.) The roasted potatoes were small-cut and a bit overdone.

Dessert choices: Assorted Chocolate-dipped fruit with whipped cream, Triple-layer chocolate cake, banana crème pie. I got the chocolate-dipped fruit, oh yeah! They brought me iced cream instead of whipped, though. Bummer. The only nit I could pick her is that the strawberries weren’t fantastic. Understandable given the season, but not the luscious, juicy burst of strawberry I was after. The chocolate was nicely dark. The triple layer chocolate cake was also tasty. I’m not a superhuge chocolate person, so all I can tell you that it was really chocolatey and Rob ate 3⁄4 of the massive slice.

The champagne was also above-par. My companion is a wine person and very picky in that area. He said it was better than most “free glass of champagne” offerings. Also, it is worth noting that the by-the-bottle costs for the small-but-selective wine list were minimal.
It was a $65 pris fixe (I hadn’t seen another restaurant in SF with a less-than $100 pris fixe option for New Year’s eve), and worth every penny.

As a local, I am very pleased to have found this place, and will definitely be back. (Most likely with my mom next week.)

One thing to note, though, is that Bob tells us they are getting a new chef in two weeks. Bob says the new chef is better than the old, but I suppose it’s a bit of a questionmark. It seems, though, like the establishment has impeccable standards, so I expect the new chef will perform to the standards of the surroundings and the existing staff.

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  1. Thank you for sharing your experience at the Majestic...
    I remember going when Stanley Eichelbaum was the proprietor, and my memory was of one of the most beautiful classically elegant, and authentic Victorian rooms in the City...it was nice to be reminded of this and to be put on notice that Cafe Majestic may once again find itself on the Culinary Map!

    1. Thanks for the report. I've read a couple of good things about the bar, but no food reports until yours.

      Wasn't that the hotel where Lehr's Greenhouse was located?