niki rothman | Feb 12, 200709:08 AM     34

Westlake Joe's - what a great place for a big family party. It's still got excellent chops, metaphorically (excellent service) and carnivorously (excellent meat at very fair prices) - in my opinion, and in the opinions of the 30 or so San Franciscan family members who met in the large, side, semi-private room there yesterday. The event was the wake for our Auntie Evie Krasow, an 86 year old native of SF, proud Girl's High grad who, as family fondly remembered yesterday, had over most of the last century enjoyed so many happy family celebrations there.

Yesterday was no exception. The food at Westlake Joe's is by no means in the "fine dining" category. It's a large, warm, cozy, old-school landmark San Franciscan restaurant. And the patrons are mostly old San Franciscans often eating family style with their children and grandchildren - the whole "meshpucha" (extended family) as it's fondly called in yiddish. Or business people enjoying the classic "Joe's Special" - the REAL San Franciscan treat - a huge scramble of hamburger, mushrooms, onions, and spinach with the eggs. The servings are large, the prices very fair, the service quick, warm and professional.

When I want the best hamburger I've had in SF within memory, I'll be going back to Westlake Joe's to get it. "Man, that is one GREAT cheeseburger!" I must have said half a dozen times while eating the half of it that was plenty for my lunch. Meat was perfecto - flame grilled, charred and smoky crusted to a perfect medium juicy rareness as requested. So beautifully beefy tasting - the meat could not have been tastier. A clean quality to the taste of the beef too - the taste that oh, so rarely you encounter that makes you want to eat some steak tartare if you could. Texture is dense, but not dry - by the time my half a burger that came home with me was reopened later the juice had soaked through the french roll - that's how nice and juicy it was. This I attribute to a kernal of information that was accidentally shared by the waiter in the course of my requesting grilled onions on the burger. He asked me if I was sure I wanted more onions because finely ground onion is incorporated into the meat itself during the grinding process. Great idea! It helps - so tasty! The burgers are served on a chewy, crusty, dense, toasted sourdough roll. Several people in our party also ordered the burgers and everybody loved them. My husband has a big appetite, and even he brought home half his meal for dinner.

The fries are the long rectangular flatish steakhouse type - I asked for mine to be cooked a bit longer and they arrived sizzling hot, and appropriately golden and crispy. Good fries - above average.

I ordered the sauteed spinach with extra garlic as one poster here recommended, and it was the bomb. Really deliciously garlicky (tons of garlic) and a HUGE portion which I shared with 4 people and still had enough to take home for a good portion with my leftover burger. (I mixed in several pats of butter to bring the dish up to my own self-indulgent standards before passing it around - I hope nobody had a heart attack last night - oh boy! A chance for another delicious wake at Joe's - er...sorry, just kidding! I kid! I kid!). The spinach is a "must have" if you're getting a meat entree.

My standard operating procedure when sizing up the general lay of the land in a busy restaurant when I want to reconnoiter is to slowly stroll around, hopefully inconspicuously rubbernecking what everyone's plates look like. Luckily, a lot of people in this crowd were old friends and relatives so I had no qualms about asking questions. What a great research sample I had! We were about 30 people literally from 8 to 80-something. Jewish people, if you'll excuse the stereotyping, are not shy to find fault (if fault exists) in their food. Everybody's a food critic. Everybody loved what they ordered.

There was only one meal that I saw that I would have been disappointed to receive myself. It was a seafood louis. It was so tiny! Served on the smallest sized white oval dish - on which most restaurants would bring a side order of pickles perhaps - Perhaps 7 inches by 5. Uniquely small. Maybe somebody under sixty years of age in the kitchen management at Joe's has gotten a hold of the obviously confusing newish phrase "small plates" and took it literally in this weird context. Admittedly, this louis was shellfish heavy and light on the vegetal matter, but still. It looked like something someone would order because thay were on a diet and then feel secretly jealous and resentful of everybody around yelling about how great their juicy big burgers tasted.

The grilled filet of sole I saw was huge, golden and lovely looking. The veal scallopine was also a huge portion. Spag. bol. with meatballs, or any of the Italian pasta offerings, looked as if they remain as I well remember them - like something left over from a spaghetti feed fund-raiser somewhere in the Midwest. Shameful in San Francisco. The liver and onions got thumbs up from someone who claims it's the best liver around but who is still pining for the chicken livers Joe's USED to feature, which were, apparently, heavenly. The description of which was accompanied by hand, I should say arm, gestures indicating a huge steaming mound of wonderfulness.

Having this wake, the Rabbi called it "the meal of consolation" (what a perfect appellation for what it was) at Joe's Westlake was an inspiration. I'm going to add on to the document I keep here in my desk that, loyal adopted San Franciscan and chowhound that I am now, I want my own wake to be held, hopefully many-many years from now...at Westlake Joe's. Toasts were made to the dearly departed auntie, and tastefully short speeches given in her honor, and a fine time, and some mostly fine food, was had by all despite the sadness that united us.

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