This place is in my neighborhood, and we hadn't been there in about a year. So, after we took the dogs for a good, long walk in hopes of pre-countering the affects of high-cholesterol foods, we stopped in for dinner.
We'd no reservations, so we went early. I think we arrived at 6:30 or perhaps slightly before.
At once we were struck by the average age of the diners at this time of the evening. I'm not saying it was filled with 50- and 60 something aging boomers and their older sibs looking cool and young-ish, no.... most of the diners appeared 75 or older. Two parties had wheelchairs at their tables. The waiters are no spring chickens either -- I've seen younger ones at Tadich Grill. It had a slightly eerie feeling of a private club. This is a fairly small restaurant, with the tables crammed together diagonally in the back dining area, once you pass the bar. White tablecloths topped with squares of glass. Memorabilia of old SF covers the walls.
The senior diners probably know a good thing, we thought, since the place was packed and we got the last open table. We were hoping for something good. It appeared there were a lot of regulars, calling waiters by name and having "the usual". We guessed they must be neighborhood people -- not all the people in the Marina are young! -- with maybe a few imports from nearby Pacific Heights. I only mention the fact of the high average age of the diners because I've NEVER walked into any restaurant, in this or another city, that had such a uniformly white senior clientele. We did indeed feel like we had crashed a party.
Some of the diners were decked out in their finest hats and formal suits. We felt slightly slobby in our jeans. We'd had burgers and beers in the bar before (the burgers are good), so we thought we'd try the dinner menu.
I shall now be calling this place the "House of Bearnaise" for the thick, artery-clogging sauce that covered everything. We'll get to that in a moment.
Service was punctual and efficient. We were seated and immediately brought a generous basket of polyester-napkin-around-a-paper-doily hot garlic bread. I'd never seen that combination before -- were you supposed to unwrap it and lay it on the table on the doily? -- but the amount was a lot for two people (8 slices) and the garlic bread was good. Not overly pungent, but also not overly greasy. Obviously house-made.
Our salads (3.25 additional for a caesar with any dinner entree, mixed green salad or soup du jour free with dinner entree) were a nice surpise. The plates were cold, a nice oval shape, and not too huge. The salads were obviously dressed and tossed in the proper way, and then arranged on the plates. I had the mixed green with a vinaigrette -- is that a bit of cress peeking out at me? -- and Mr. Smith, the Caesar. The anchovy fillets were on the side, and the dressing not to creamy or too sharp. They seem to like moderation here, we thought, at least so far.
Since I had had a burger here before and liked it (I think it was salt-ground, in the Zuni Cafe way), I selected the "Manchester Wellington". Mr. chose the Beef Tournedos ($17.95), which are somewhat of a favorite here. About half of the people we saw were eating these.
This is where the bearnaise sauce took over. We also noticed this on the plates of other diners having other meals -- bearnaise coating the veal chops, the boneless pork chops, the whole boneless chicken breast, you get the idea. The tournedos arrived as sunken islands in a sea of bearnaise, with virulent green (re-hydrated?) parsley covering all. Each tournedo was comically topped by a whole white button mushroom, like a little hat. I don't think the effect was meant to be comical, however.
The Manchester Wellington ($12.95)I had no intention of finishing when I ordered it -- still less when it arrived, mammoth, in front of me. It just sounded so intriguing that I had to order it. It was described as ground chuck wrapped in ham, then covered in pastry and baked. No duxelles involved like in Beef Wellington, but still worth a try. I'd never encountered a dish like this before.
It was a bit of a surpise, this huge mound (3/4 pound? more?) of ground beef wrapped in papery deli ham. The pastry was so oversaturated by the lake of bearnaise sauce that it had all but dissolved. Here and there in the sauce I'd find a sodden chunk of pastry, looking like it had once been puff pastry. Very strange. Why make it en croute if you're just going to drown it?
That said, the beef within was what I remembered from the burgers we'd had before. Juicy, well-cooked (medium rare), and fully seasoned with salt and what tastes like white pepper. After scraping off the sauce, the remnants of the pastry, and the chemical-tasting ham, the beef was good. The mixed vegetables were not overcooked (carrots, green beans, pea pods, yellow squash) but were absolutely coated in oil. The mashed potatoes were a nice texture and well seasoned, but arrived with a bright yellow pool of melted butter in the center depression. A bit of overkill in the richness department, considering the quantity of the bearnaise sauce. Now, I enjoy bearnaise as much as the next woman, but there was just way too much of it. Not only that, it had that slightly-congealed texture that comes from sitting too long. It made me think some cook made several gallons of bearnaise early in the day, and kept it warm on the stove ready for innundating dishes all night. If I ever dine here again, I will definitely ask for it on the side.
The tournedos were tender enough to be cut with a fork, but were otherwise undistinguished. At the next table we saw some breaded, deep-fried veal chops that looked interesting. The part that wasn't masked in sauce, that is.
I probably wouldn't have gone here if I didn't live nearby. It's not a bad place to drink or to have a burger -- the bar is dark, inviting, and convivial, and was full of considerably younger people than the dining section. However, I'd have to have a better reason to go back and actually have dinner. Better to take a long walk/hike/bikeride/rollerblade in the Presidio, come out the Lombard gate, turn right, and stop for something casual in the bar or the sidewalk (protected by temporary walls, with heatlamps) tables.
2942 Lyon St, San Francisco, CA 94123
Phone: (415) 921-6664