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Aug 8, 2008 08:22 AM

Rubicon in SF Closing Sat Aug 9 2008 - Dang

See the SF Chronicle's food critic Michael Bauer's blog today:

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  1. Soooo sad. I wonder why.

    Amazing to see on Baur's blog the staff that came from Rubicon ... Traci Des Jardins, (Jardiniere), Dennis Leary (Canteen), Richard Reddington (owner of Redd) Chris Cosentino (Incanto); Robbie Lewis (Bacar) Jeremy Fox (Ubuntu); Paul Arenstam (Americano), Elizabeth Falkner (Orson and Citizen Cake), Larry Stone (manager of Rubicon Estates winery), Raj Parr,(Michael Mina) and others.

    I wonder if the taco truck tommorrow is just for the staff.

    10 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      I think there was too much competition and not enough "buzz" -- I don't think the Bay Area can really sustain as many restaurants at that price point as there are, especially in a down economy. When people only eat out at a restaurant like that a few times a year (or less), their interest is going to be captured by places that are newer, seen as more cutting edge (like Coi).

      I was thinking about some of the good restaurants in town that are rarely discussed on this board, except in passing when someone throws them into a mix of recommended restaurants, that like Rubicon, we take for granted. Masa's, Jardiniere, Acquerello, La Folie, come to mind. Gary Danko gets asked about by visitors, but locals don't seem that interested any more. Even if people are going there, they aren't bothering to report back on the board, because there's nothing much new to report.

      Someone mentioned Maverick the other day, and I realized that for the first year it was open it was talked about all the time (along with Range, I can never seem to keep the two straight), and now, barely a whisper. Same with O'Reilly's Holy Grail. Perhaps a more interesting question would be how some well-established restaurants -- like Boulevard -- manage to avoid that fate, and how some newer restaurants (like Nopa) manage to keep their buzz.

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        Boulevard and Jardiniere are part of the Pat Kuleto group which has about 150 restaurants in the web now including Mina, Aqua, Fifth Floor, Waterbar, Roast Haus, Fog City Diner, etc, etc, etc.

        They have the bucks and clout to keep these places in the public eye and in business ... which might explain why Fog City continues to thrive.

        I kind of resent these restaurants. I imagine some marketing team sitting around tables thinking up what is going to appeal to the masses in terms of upscale dining. When someone was asking in another post about whether to choose Mina or Aqua, someone called Mina "formula fine dining". A perfect description of all these joints, That might just be what is wrong and a little off about Boulevard. I'm starting to feel fond of Gary Danko at this point.

        La Foile is in that rarified stratus of top restaurants, so manages to distinguish itself that way. Same with Danko ... though it is sort of on the border of upscale and top dining. You know, it just be time to revisit Danko ... once I get to COI.

        1. re: rworange

          RW, I cringe to disagree because I usually love (and laugh when they are funny) at your posts. And it is a minor quibble but Pat Kuleto does not own Fog City, he was the designer. The Fog City Diner has always belonged to Real Restaurants. Although they are also a group, I think their restaurants (Buckeye, Bix, Picco etc.) maintain a high level of quality, unique preperations and attention to high standards. I might feel the same way about the Kuleto group but I can't afford to eat there, or at least am not interested enough in carving the funds out of my budget when there are such great choices elsewhere and everywhere for less money. I don't think marketing is wrong for those that can afford to pay the fees; at least is shows a desire to want to provide what their target customers might prefer. Roland Folie is a big part of the Left Bank group, (generally an underachiever despite marketing) but does that make La Folie less special? Not when I want foie gras!

          1. re: tomatoaday

            Ah, thanks for the info. I don't want to make anyone cringe. I like different opinions a lot.

          2. re: rworange

            Where did you get 150? According to their website they have seven: Boulevard, Jardiniere, Farallon, Epic Roast Haus, Waterbar, Martini House and Nick's Cove. Fifth Floor is owned by Kimpton Hotels. The Michael Mina Restaurant owns more restaurants than the Kuleto Group. Maybe you're conflating restaurants that are part of the Pat Kuleto group with restaurants he's worked on as a restaurant designer.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              Maybe I'm confusing ownership with design. He was on some show recently and it sounded like the group had ownership. On the Boulevard website it says "Pat has helped craft over 170 restaurants "

          3. re: Ruth Lafler

            Masa's has, based upon my last meal there, gone downhill. Jardinere is not my favorite, for a variety of reasons. Acquerello . . .

            Well, let's just say that -- out of those you mentioned -- Gary Danko is the only one I regularly go to.

            At some point, one becomes iconic. French Laundry, Chez Panisse, La Folie, Gary Danko . . . all have achieved that status. Rubicon, clearly, had not.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              Maverick and Range get plenty of mention on other boards that I'm on. Maverick is easier to get into, but still gets a fairly good amount of diners. Range is usually mobbed--very, very popular. Along the same lines (same type of food/same neighborhood), no one ever talks about Universal Cafe, and they don't seem to be suffering at all, for lunch or dinner.

            2. re: rworange

              Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro are part-owners. If the owners and ex-staff all show-up it'll be a red carpet event !!!!

              1. re: rworange

                I don't wonder why at all . . . I haven't eaten there in years.

                This is NOT to suggest that my dining there (or rather, my not dining there) makes any sort of difference. Rather, to echo Ruth, there are just simply TOO MANY restaurants in the city, and the Bay Area as a whole -- too many places to go, to many meals to eat. Rubicon has been around long enough to be one of the "old standards" -- and that alone generally means its days are numbered. Just how many numbers you hold is anyone's guess, but in order to extend your life, you need to "recapture" the buzz.

                One cannot underestimate the need for "buzz" in a town like San Francisco, and by extension the entire SF Bay Area. This is a place when "what's new, what's hot" often seems like a way of life. Lose your buzz, and you drop off the radar screen . . .

                Just my 2ยข, and probably worth far less, but I've seen it happen time and time again. Great restaurants don't always survive, and they don't always have to go downhill to fail . . . .


              2. Hmm. Per Bauer's blog, "Rubicon will serve its final dinner tomorrow night after a healthy 14-year run." And the blog indicates that the owner already has six restaurants in New York. A "healthy 14-year run" means the place has to close? My (admittedly uninformed) guess is that this is just another example of corporate downsizing, which can occur whether or not the establishment in question is actually making a profit.

                I would guess that in the highly competitive restaurant climate that is San Francisco, Rubicon might have suffered from its location. As I recall, it was in some back alley in the Financial District. Not the sort of place tourists would stumble upon. So you'd need to know about it.

                I enjoy reading vintage cookbooks for many reasons. I have a number of ones that are of the "recipes from great restaurants" flavor. Two within easy reach mention the Blue Fox on Merchant Street. I hadn't heard of it, even though after googling it I found out it was here while I was here. It was here for 60 years or so, closing in 1993. And now it's gone. There are hosts of others mentioned in these books that are now gone. This might be its own thread. But Rubicon is in good company.

                2 Replies
                1. re: weem

                  Rubicon is on Sacramento, no back alley. What really is tucked away on a back alley, very hard to find, is Bix and it is one place that can put a lie to the statement, "location, location, location." I've talked to people who ate at Rubicon and they didn't like it enough for a return visit but the wine list was a big draw for those who love wine. I still see people waiting in line to get into House of Nanking and I really don't get that; I'll never go there again.

                  1. re: weem

                    Fourteen years is an amazingly long time in the restaurant business. The vast majority come-and-go within five . . .

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Either to the buyer of the restaurant, or Nieporent has "other plans" for it in mind, but it will not be auctioned off, according to this article.

                    2. Drew Nieporent on Rubicon's operating finances: "The rent was $60,000 more than any of our places in New York," said Nieporent. "The payroll in San Francisco was $100,000 more than New York. And San Francisco's health insurance requirements were killing us. The restaurant was doing well, but we just couldn't make money."

                      This is why we don't get nice things here.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: junesix

                        But also, "Wine costs about the same on both coasts, but he couldn't mark bottles up as much as in New York ..."

                        On the differences between SF and NYC: "No. 1 is that people go to restaurants in San Francisco for the food, not the mood. ... They seem to be more interested in the rituals of dining rather than just going out to say they've gone to the latest place."