Acquerello 1722 Sacramento St./Van Ness Ave., Russian Hill. Formerly a church, the romantic, intimate dining room of this upscale Italian gem features a rustic, pitched Moorish wood ceiling. It is the kind of place where the Mayor might be seated at the next table. Diners choose three to five courses or a chef’s seven-course tasting menu. Wine pairings are available. . Definitely not the usual, the delicious preparations are derived from a refined style of Italian cuisine known as cucina della nonna, or “grandmother’s cooking,” and feature complex reduced sauces achieved through slow, home-style cooking. An exquisite example is tortelloni stuffed with brandy-plumped figs and ground pork in a nut dough. The kitchen sends out occasional complimentary little treats--perhaps a tiny citrus appetizer cocktail or a plump, perfect scallop sitting on mashed potatoes splashed with truffle oil. Service is elegant and formal, with meals served on fine china and crystal enhanced by paper doilies.
Alborz 1245 Van Ness Ave./Sutter St., Pacific Heights, (415) 440-4321. This simple but comfortable spot offers a wall of windows looking onto the street. It has an exceptional Persian menu and starts diners off with a complimentary basket of delicious lavash flat bread and Feta cheese. Excellent appetizers include kasik bodemjan (roasted eggplant baked with onion, garlic, mint, and yogurt), mast-o-khiar (cucumber and mint mixed with delicious, rich, housemade yogurt), and salad shirazi (a mixture of diced tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions in a lemony dressing). For entrees, any of the juicy kabobs are excellent, but don’t overlook the more complex house specialties—the richly flavored fes enjoon consists of chicken breast cooked in a delicious thick, sweet walnut-pomegranate sauce. The perfect ending is, of course, baklava.
Ananda Fuara 1298 Market St./9th St., Civic Center. The translation of this cheery, all-vegetarian restaurant’s name is “Fountain of Supreme Bliss.” It is owned by the peace teacher and poet Sri Chinmoy and operated by his students. Female servers wear saris, and fresh flowers grace every table. The varied menu should please everyone, even vegans (who eat no dairy or eggs) and carnivores (we know what they eat!). Menu winners include appetizer vegan samosas filled with a potato-pea curry, a hearty soup of the day, and a house specialty “neatloaf” sandwich made with a baked mixture of grains and spices. A selection of salads, wraps, sandwiches, pizzas, baked potatoes, and entrees is also available. Drinks include a decaffeinated Indian-spiced hot Yogi Tea that is simply the best.
image courtesy of venue
Beach Chalet Brewery & Restaurant 1000 Great Highway/Ocean Beach, in Golden Gate Park. Designed in 1925 by San Francisco architect Willis Polk, this historic colonnaded Spanish stucco building with terra-cotta roof tiles is at the western end of Golden Gate Park, across the street from the Pacific Ocean. In the past it has served as a tea house and as an Army signal station, but now the upstairs is a wildly popular brewpub bistro with ocean views from every table. Target a visit for breakfast or lunch, when the menu is less pricey and the views can be enjoyed uninterrupted by sun-shielding shades. Don’t miss the sampler of house-brewed, English-style ales or the full-flavored, though essentially fizz-less, housemade root beer. Two standouts on the eclectic, bistro-style menu are a hamburger made with flavorful Niman Ranch ground chuck and an herb-crusted rotisserie-roasted chicken with garlic mashed potatoes. Sausage dishes are usually available, and the kitchen is famous for its achiote-spiced chicken wings. Desserts include the ultimate vertical dessert--the pastry chef’s signature Chocolate Sandcastle, whimsically composed of a flourless chocolate truffle cake placed vertically between two chocolate castle-shaped cookies. A nickel from each beer sold goes to charity, and live music is scheduled Tuesday through Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons.
The more informal Park Chalet cafe operates downstairs in the back and has a large outside area dotted with comfy oversize Adirondack chairs.
Downstairs in the front is the Beach Chalet visitor center.
Bill’s Place 2315 Clement St./25th Ave., Outer Richmond District. A variety of hamburgers named after celebrities star on the menu here along with hot dogs and sandwiches, and breakfast is available until 1 p.m. Choice shoulder chuck is ground in the kitchen daily for the tasty burgers. Sides include perfect french fries hand cut from fresh potatoes and made-from-scratch soup, potato salad, and coleslaw. Milkshakes are served in old-fashioned metal canisters. Seating is at tables or at a long counter with swivel stools, and a collection of Presidential china decorates the walls. In mild weather, a pleasant outdoor patio landscaped with a waterfall, koi pond, and Japanese garden is inviting.
Blowfish Sushi To Die For 2170 Bryant St./19th St., Mission Disctrict. A row of chefs is always busy here rolling out the sushi menu. The Ritsu, with two kinds of raw tuna, and the flash-fried Crunchy California are among the most popular versions. Tempura shrimp is exquisite, and sake is the best way to wash it all down. For dessert, try wasabe ice cream.
Cinderella Bakery & Cafe 436 Balboa St./5th Ave., Inner Richmond.
second Cliff House, 1896; image courtesy of venue
Cliff House 1090 Point Lobos Ave., Outer Richmond District. Perched solidly at the edge of the Pacific on Point Lobos bedrock, this historic treasure holds the only ocean-front restaurant in San Francisco. It has been around for quite some time, since 1863 to be exact, but in four different renditions--it twice burned to the ground and most recently went through a major update completed in 2004. More detailed history. Though all the changes the structure has always housed a restaurant, and it has been part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area since 1977.
Elegant Sutro’s is housed in a new 2-story wing with floor-to-ceiling windows and features an American seafood menu. You can’t go wrong with crab cakes and butterscotch pots de crème. Hard-wired remote control Venetian blinds control the glare.
The more casual Bistro serves a less expensive menu that includes omelettes, sandwiches, and fish and chips.
While here, visit the Camera Obscura. Leonardo daVinci’s 16th-century invention was probably a popular tourist attraction in the 1700s and 1800s. This reproduction was built here in 1946 and was once part of the now defunct Playland-at-the-Beach. It uses a 10-inch mirror and two opposing plano-convex lenses to focus a live image of the shoreline outside onto a 6-foot parabolic screen inside. Rotating slowly, it presents magnified views of Ocean Beach, Seal Rocks, and crashing Pacific waves. The personalized tour is both entertaining and educational. Fee.
Visible from shore, barking sea lions and brown pelicans share space out on historic Seal Rocks. They can be seen with just the naked eye or viewed through an antique telescope. However, there are now more birds than seals since the seals got smart and moved to Pier 39--where there are no sharks and more food.
Scenic trails leading to the Sutro Baths ruins—it was once the world’s largest indoor swimming pool complex--and to Land’s End begin on the bluffs above to the east, which now is home to a labyrinth.
Cordon Bleu Vietnamese Restaurant 1574 California St./Polk St., Nob Hill, (415) 673-5637. Cash only. One of the oldest Vietnamese restaurants in the city and under the same management since 1976, this petite venue has just a few counter seats and tiny tables. From the counter, diners can sip a complimentary mug of hot tea while watching their meal being prepared. Satisfying one-plate meals consist of a large scoop of rice topped with light tomato-based meat sauce and a choice of a deep-fried imperial roll, a tasty barbecued beef satay (listed on the menu as shish kebab), or barbecued five-spice chicken.
dim sum restaurants
District San Francisco 216 Townsend St./3rd St., near AT&T Park, SOMA/China Basin/South Beach.
El Mansour 3119 Clement St./32nd Ave., Outer Richmond District. Upon entering the double doors of this Moroccan restaurant, diners are encased in another world. Cloth is draped from the ceiling in the intimate dining room, giving occupants the illusion of being inside a sultan’s tent. Floors covered with plush oriental carpets and hassock seating at low tables of inlaid wood add to the sensuous feeling. After diners select an entree from the fixed-price menu, a waiter in a long caftan appears to perform a ritual hand washing. Hands are gathered over a large metal pot placed in the middle of the table, then splashed with warm water. When the first course arrives--a tasty lentil soup--diners drink it right from the bowl, since no eating utensils are provided unless requested. A housemade Moroccan bread accompanies it. The next course is a salad plate of spicy marinated rounds of carrots and cucumbers plus a delicious mixture of tomatoes and green peppers and eggplant puree meant to be scooped up with the bread. Then comes bastela--a fragrant pie containing a sweet chicken and almond mixture wrapped in flaky filo pastry and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Entree choices include seafood, rabbit, couscous, and shish kabob, as well as succulent roasted chicken and tender stewed lamb topped with almonds, honey, or prunes. Tangines (stews) are another option. Dessert is fried bananas with honey and a repeat of the hand-bathing ritual. And finally the waiter pours mint tea, skillfully and beautifully, from up high. Belly dancers perform nightly.