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Jan 15, 2009 09:03 PM

Apocalypse Now: Sutro’s at the Cliff House – a real DAT deal, good food … and a view

It must be a sign of the coming of the end of the world at Land’s End. The impossible happened.

For the first time since I moved to the Bay Area decades ago I had an really good meal at the Cliff House … a meal worthy of the Cliff House location … a meal that can match SF’s best.

Then to compound the miracle the DAT deal ... actually was. My $22 DAT lunch would have cost $47.had it been ordered off the menu. For the most part, the DAT meal is about the same price as the entrée.

It was a painless way to check out the kitchen since chef George Morrone took over this month

Here’s what I chose with regular menu prices

Cream of Broccoli Soup Cheddar Cheese Profiterole 11
Steak Frites Truffled Fries, Bordelaise, Red Wine Onion Compote 26
White Chocolate-Banana Walnut Bread Pudding Bourbon-Caramel Sauce 10

First of all, all portions were generous. I still am full from lunch.

While I liked the soup, the salad might be the better option. It was on another table and looked so good.

A nice crusty, warm, house-made pan d’epi with butter started the meall

The soup had lots of broccoli flavor, a squiggle of black … something, a thin shaving of cheese, a profiterole and a whole broccoli floret. It was a big bowl of soup.

The real star was the skirt steak which was buttery, tender, juicy, nicely grilled and the perfect pink … just on the edge of losing its color and not bloody. There were three LARGE pieces of steak. The rich sweet onions in a wine reduction topped the steak and upped the deliciousness.

The frites were very nice. I can’t detect the taste of truffles at all, even if I chewed on a whole truffle, so you are on your own there. The large bowl of fries, with the frites about the size of a McDonald’s fry, were crispy outside, creamy inside and coated nicely with sea salt and herbs.

I liked the rich moist bread pudding. It wasn’t too … anything … very nicely balanced. The sauce wasn’t overly boozy, just a nice complement. A dab of either whipped cream or crème fraiche was on the side and really brought this dish together.

Service was very good, pleasant without being stuffy.

From my understanding this was the first day the Cliff House was serving an entirely new menu by Marrone. There were some minor glitches given that but not enough to mention.

I think the Cliff House may have finally hit on the correct formula. You can take your unadventurous out of town relatives and still please your own inner chowhound.

The wine list could use some work. It is better than the days when Crane Lake was the house wine. While there are a few interesting bottles and the prices aren’t horrid, it still leans heavily to wines you’d find at you local Safeway. It is a little touristy too with endless paragraphs about the wine.

Also, they need to have a list of non alcoholic beverages. I have no clue what coffee and tea was served or how much it cost. It wasn’t on the menu anywhere. I’ve been bitten like this before where there’s no price and suddenly there’s a $$$ cup of coffee on your bill.

While the bread was good … and I KNOW this doesn’t fit the tone of the restaurant … I wish they would bring back the popovers … or give a choice of popovers or other bread. I hate going to the awful café just to get those popovers.

And I still say they could use valet parking.

Also, for lunch … they need to have some sort of prix-fixe or less pricey dishes. As it was the mix in the dining room was the same as always … tourists, older diners and the ladies who lunch.

It was difficult to resist some of the other items on the menu. The salads looked great and were huge. The portion of crab cakes another table ordered was similarly large.

It isn't greatness yet ... too soon ... but I think Sutro's is worth keeping an eye on. This is a very promising start. I'll be back ... with or without visitors in tow.

On this sunny warm day, sitting in Sutro’s watching the waves break over the rocks, the sea birds riding the breeze and the occasional ship making its way through the golden date … well, it could not have been more pleasant afternoon.

Sutro's at The Cliff House
1090 Point Lobos Ave., San Francisco, CA 94121

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  1. They get their bread from Acme...

    1 Reply
    1. re: donbonus

      Thanks. I actually asked if it was Acme, but the waiter hesitated for a minute and said he thought they were now making it in house. Maybe it is one of those deals where they get the bread unbaked and finish it in-house?

    2. My mother and I had a lovely DAT lunch at Sutro’s today. It’s less than 15 minutes from St. Mary’s med center and sure beat the cheap dim sum we usually have on Clement.

      Here’s Sutro’s Dine About Town listing with menu info.
      The additional lunch entrée choice was the vegetarian fettucine shown as a dinner first course. We ordered the Caesar, soup, mussels, and steak frites. I had a glass of 2005 Havens Carneros Merlot, $12, and Mom had coffee (Peerless).

      I’ve had the Brentwood corn soup during Morrone’s stint at Fish & Farm. The version here has been dressed up for fine dining and was quite special with the surprising texture and flavor elements lurking under the bi-colored surface. Tart, spicy, sweet, crunchy, nutty . . . all delicious.

      Service was first-class. A server silently brought another folded napkin placing it next to me. Mom said, “did you ask for that?” “Nope”, I said, “he just noticed that I dropped mine on the floor 10 seconds ago.”

      The people-watching and interior were as entertaining as the ocean views. Two of San Francisco’s finest in police uniform, a Nora Desmond-type in big sunglasses and a very short dress escorted by two drop-dead gorgeous younger men in coordinated pastel pullovers, society ladies who lunch, Japanese tourists. The servers handle them all with grace and charm snapping group photos and bringing out birthday candled butterscotch pot de crème for celebrants. An advantage of the tourist orientation here is that the excellent Acme epines are served hot, and our waiter didn’t bat an eyelash when my mom asked for her coffee along with her meal.

      Photo slideshow with captions -

      3 Replies
      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Thanks rworange and Melanie. I just had ocean view drinks overlooking the downstairs bar and restaurant last week and wondered what was up with the food these days. Haven't eaten there since I lived in the city 20+ years ago, but will definitely give it a try.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          great photos, Melanie! the food looks very appetizing. we walked by there a few weeks ago and liked the look of the place. good to know that the food is also good.

          1. re: gordon wing

            If the kitchen can continue to execute like this, it's safe to eat here now. The DAT lunch was a great deal. Most of the patrons ordered ala carte, so I got to see the same dishes served solo and our DAT servings were full size. The Caesar salad and the crab cakes seemed to be the tourist's order of choice. I will mention that the Caesar was very heavily dressed, especially considering the delicacy of the little gems lettuce, which might be another concession to the non-locals. But that dressing is so delectable, i didn't mind. I probably wouldn't order the chocolate mousse again, especially at $9 on the regular menu, as it was a little grainy.

        2. Hmm, I remember suggesting Sutro's for DAT and getting a not so positive response. Glad that it was better than expected.

          12 Replies
          1. re: tvham

            Not really negative. However, since I gave such a positive report in January, I just wanted people to be aware that Michael Bauer wasn't so thrilled. Glad the DAT menu is still good.

            1. re: tvham

              Hope you can get in there before the promotion is over. While the food isn't cutting edge, the kitchen team is executing these dishes quite well now. And i was pleased with the service. The only thing that I had to ask for was a refill of my mom's coffee, just by catching our waiter's eye and pointing to the cup. Everything else was anticipated and taken care of.

              I made our res via opentable. I'm glad that we had the 11:30am time, right when it opened, as we could walk around the empty room and check out everything. I did need to ask our hostess for the DAT menu when she seated us. I noticed that some tables were offered the menu and others did not.

              Ran across this interview with Morrone, published this week.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Argh! What horrible writing!

                "Which is why Morrone shocked many when he decided to step down to see if he could bring his culinary mojo to the Cliff House. See, Morrone took over as chef de cuisine at Sutro’s at the Cliff House, the tourist-trap dining space at the edge of the city, complete with jarring views of the Pacific."

                The view is jarring?????? I'm not even sure what she meant to say.

                "...transforming one of the city’s best loved, notoriously bad restaurants ..."

                The Cliff House is one of the city's best-loved restaurant? By whom?

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  >>> best-loved restaurant? By whom?

                  Tourists. Marrone was dead on though about the sucky management at Sutro's. Now if they could only do something about that cafe ... and buffet.

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    For most of its history the Cliff House was a more impressive venue capping the sprawling, ornate Sutro Baths complex, a public bathing facility on a Roman scale (link below cites Cliff House). The bath complex was commonly called "Sutro's." When I was a child I think the baths weren't operating, but the ring of ancient arcade machines around the upper gallery were a delight; some are still in the Cliff House. After the baths burned down in the 1960s they left little sign of their 70 years as a massive ornate landmark. Clif House's reputation is from those days.


                    1. re: eatzalot

                      Yes, I knew that -- my family has lived in the Bay Area for over 100 years. However, the history of the Cliff House has very little to do with whether the *restaurant* is "loved."

                      1. re: eatzalot

                        I meant Cliff House as "restaurant" (and assumed the interviewer did too) -- always its main purpose, despite changes in facilities -- further link below. 40 years ago my own longtime local relatives expressed a sense of traditional cachet about the place, and also said it was, in the 1960s, a poor value, frequented by tourists. From that, best-loved and notoriously bad sounded like an odd but reasonable phrasing. Actually in 1998, not long after an earlier makeover, a spur-of-the-moment dinner (dining room at street entrance) was not half bad. Highly garlicked chicken. Forthright standard fine dining even if not "worth a journey."


                        1. re: eatzalot

                          I loved looking at the old menus posted there. 1943 Chateau d'Yquem for $4.50, or there abouts.

                        2. re: eatzalot

                          The Sutro Baths were in operation for only around 60 of the 146 years the Cliff House has been around.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Hi Robert -- they lasted 70 years (opened 1896, burned 1966, per earlier link) but thanks for pointing out my error. What I meant was that Cliff House and "Sutro's" (the baths) were closely associated for 70 of the past 113 years -- that is, for the life of the now-vanished Sutro's complex.

                            Along with Playland (the former amusement park), those landmarks defined the look of that neighborhood for many years.

                            1. re: eatzalot

                              The last pool was converted to an ice rink in 1955. I remember the Cliff House and Playland well from when I was a kid in the early 60s, but I don't think I heard of Sutro's or the baths until I was an adult.

                              The complex hasn't entirely vanished, there are still interesting ruins.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Brings back memories! Yes, "Sutro's" stopped being a bath house before I encountered it in the early 60s. The antique arcade games were in an upper gallery around the inside, overlooking the ice. I hope you had a chance to try them! A kid's delight. Some remain in the Cliff House I think. Maybe lack of baths was why I always heard the building called "Sutro's" in early 60s, or maybe that was always its informal name. But above I used "Sutro's" as I always heard it, for the big building long adjacent the Cliff House.

                  2. George Morrone is an amazing chef with a huge culinary talent and passion to match it. Any restaurant is lucky to have him! His perfectionist drive encompasses service in the dining room and the wine cellar, which does not make him easy to work with but is the best possible kitchen in which to learn and re-define standards of excellence. He inspires huge loyalty in his cooks, and front of house staff, and is never too busy in the kitchen to come out and say "Hello." One word = Heart, and you can taste it in his food.

                    4 Replies
                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        I've dined there twice, most recently in March. I had their steak both times--really good! My husband, I think, ordered either the lamb or fish. We started with soup--that Crab Soup they do so well with the BIG piece of crab in it. It was my husband's birthday and the kitchen sent out an extra course after the soup, but I don't remember what it was, only that everything was yummy. It was a Monday, so George wasn't there (traditional chef's night off, plus Monday night sports on tv) but I had asked for the same waiter (Michael Anderson) we had on our previous visit, and he did everything in his power to make our special evening a success. When we first dined there, it was with three friends, two of whom live in Phoenix and have very bland palates. They thought George's food was overall was too strongly flavored. I, on the other hand, really like that about his food--really punchy flavors, a great mouth-feel, and he puts enough on the plate. Even at the Fifth Floor, one always left feeling full.
                        I saved my receipts from those meals, meaning to write something for Chowhound, but in the last clean-up, they disappeared. I felt that the weak items were the desserts, but my favorite desserts are always heavily ice cream-related. Jake Godby (Humphrey Slocumbe) was George's pastry chef at the late lamented Tartare, and I really enjoyed his desserts, especially the "Bourbon & Coke Float." I'm sorry I'm not good at the food porn descriptions, but believe me, Sutro's is excellent these days. The room is "Miami modern" with amazing views up the coast. That's fun too.

                        1. re: plainfood

                          Maria, intrigued by your personal krautburger recipe, any chance of you sharing? (I know, Home Cooking Board). Also where in the Bay area do you find that Manhattan with the orange peel AND brandied sour cherry? I rarely drink brown alcohol, but that sounds damn fine. TIA



                          1. re: PolarBear

                            Dave, that excellent drink is what you get when you order a simple Manhattan with Maker's Mark at Absinthe. Ooo-la-la! Little things can make all the difference. Maria

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        George was "laid off," but the online menu shows they've kept his recipes. You can see his touch in the "two ways for ___" dishes. When my birthday was coming up, I checked the website--no mention of George, called to make sure and went to Fifth Floor. Really good, but not like George. Alas, Sutro's! Great view in "Miami Modern" room, but no more for me without George.