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Restaurants & Bars 11

House of Prime Rib -- oh my!

Millicent | Jul 10, 200307:28 PM

On the spur of the moment Scott and I accepted our friends' gracious invitation to share a meal at SF's famous House of Prime Rib. Well, the place was *packed* at 7:30 when we arrived, and there were all kinds of people there: big family groups celebrating, couples, groups of friends, all ages, races, locals and tourists -- quite a scene. We were shown into a rear room about 20 minutes later and seated in front of a gas fireplace that, fortunately, threw off no heat, as the room was very warm already.

The menu is short and to the point: prime rib and side dishes. You choose the thickness and doneness of your cut, specify baked or mashed potato, and sit back to await the feast. First to arrive is the bread: a hot, round loaf of sourdough that comes on a cutting board with a knife and butter. A bit gummy in the middle, but we all scarfed it up.

Then came the salad, and quite a production it was. The waiter sets down a tray next to the table, on which is a large bowl of ice, within which is a slightly smaller bowl of salad greens (mostly iceberg), beet julienne, and chopped egg. With a flick of the wrist the waiter sends the "floating" bowl of greens spinning clockwise at a rapid speed. The waiter then takes the special House of Prime Rib seasoned salt(salt, spices, msg) from the center of the table and shakes it from well above the bowl; pepper from a mill--and also from a great height--followed by the dressing, poured from a gravy boat as the waiter's arm swoops up and down above the spinning bowl. We were then offered chilled forks from a plate proffered by the waiter (NB: I've only seen chilled salad forks once before, and they've always been my ultimate example of ridiculous restaurant affectation.), and then we received the salad. Which was really good, I thought, but David didn't finish his.

Soon after we'd finished our salads, a huge Airstream trailer full of beef wheeled up to our table. A man dressed in full, old-school chef regalia (hat, kerchief,whites) sliced and plated the meat and side dishes. Scott and Janet selected garnishes for their baked potatoes from a tray of bacon bits, sour cream, butter, and chives. Mashed potatoes come with gravy, and horseradish for the beef comes in regular and spicy versions. We also got creamed spinach and Yorkshire pudding. The spinach was good, but a bit oversalted; the pudding was not the puffy delight of my childhood, rather flat and almost crisp (but tasty -- and we did get seconds).

The prime rib was cooked to everyone's specifications. David ordered the thickest cut, the King Henry VIII, which he pronounced "a sundae of meat." It was truly massive. I, the lone beef noneater, had salmon, which was fine. We ate an astonishing amount of food, and after he'd cleared our plates, the waiter asked if we wanted more of anything. Undaunted, we had more Yorkshire pudding as a palate cleanser before dessert.

We were slowing down a bit, but felt that in the spirit of the place we all had to order desserts from a menu David described as a "dessert museum." Scott and David had big wedges of chocolate things, Janet had peach melba, and I had bread pudding. I think Scott was the only one happy with his choice -- the rest of us ate about half of our portions and gave up.

And we staggered out at 10, full, exhausted, happy and barely able to walk upright. For those who might be thinking of trying this, it's best to clear a 36 hour block of time for the HofPR - 12 hours prior to fast and 24 hours post to recover.

The address is 1906 Van Ness Avenue, 415/885-4605.

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