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San Francisco has never looked more Golden

To honor the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge the city adopted the slogan "San Francisco has never looked more golden" – a fitting description for a glamorous and happening urban center. Although the populace numbers about 800,000, the attractions seem to equal or perhaps outweigh some of the other U.S . tourist magnets like Los Angeles, New York, Orlando and Las Vegas. Each time I visit, which is often, I find new things to explore. That experience will continue as the city has an ambitious program for future developments. A few highlights are hosting the 34th America’s Cup, the opening of a Jazz Center and redeveloping Treasure Island.

On my last sojourn in the city three of the activities in which I participated were so pleasurable that I hope to repeat them again.

Hornblower Cruises

Hornblower Cruises

Hornblower Cruises entertains guests on its yachts as it sails the bay. Of the three themed cruises—dinner dance, supper club and champagne brunch--we chose the latter as it best suited a three-generational family. The boats leave from the wharf next to the downtown Ferry Building. When it comes to scenery on a city-based sailing, I never met a cruise didn’t like. The food? That’s another story. While perusing the menu on the Hornblower website, I was a bit skeptical about the fare. The list of dishes seemed too lengthy to offer much merit.

The dining room was on the second level and each party had their own private table. The deck was spacious and the buffet was set in the middle of it. I quickly took a look-see and was completely surprised by the quality. Everything not only appeared fresh, attractively prepared and delicious, it truly turned out to be an excellent brunch. So here’s the list--fabulous fruits: pineapple, strawberries, papaya, melon, raspberries, cantaloupe, lichees; mesclun, shrimp, Caesar, noodle, quinoa, cabbage, asparagus and goat cheese salads; hot foods including fish, potatoes, bacon, sausage, poached and scrambled eggs. There was also a carving station (beef and ham), smoked salmon, quiche, Belgian waffles, French toast, and many desserts.

The service was attentive, used plates were quickly removed.

Many sea gulls seemed to be guiding us on the beautiful, sunny day as we sailed under the Golden Bay Bridge and out into the Pacific Ocean. Our official M.C., Billy Philadelphia, pointed out landmarks on the shore. He played the piano for our entertainment and for those who wished to dance.

It truly was a champagne brunch for we had started out with a glass of bubbly and ended up the two-hour sailing feeling quite effervescent.


The Walt Disney Family Museum

Housed within three historic buildings situated inside the Presidio of San Francisco, the Walt Disney Family Museum opened its doors on October 1, 2009. The 400,000-square foot space is really a remarkable edifice. San Francisco, you might ask? Isn’t Disney associated with Hollywood? Yes, but Walt’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller, co-founder of the museum, lives in the "City by the Bay." It was important that someone who knew Walt Disney intimately play a major part in curating the material on display and helping to select the content. Diane was very close to her father and said, "We are committed to telling the story of Walt Disney’s life in his own words." The stories of Disney’s life, creativity, and family and the processes and innovations he brought to his art are told though state-of-the-art exhibits in ten interactive galleries. The visitor moves through permanent displays arranged in chronological order. Disney’s biography, a history of his personal life and career, are retold using many of the mediums that he employed in his work—drawings, cartoons, storyboards, film clips, musical scores and more.

Walt Disney Family Museum, Disneyland Model

The lobby is filled with cabinets showcasing the hundreds of awards that were bestowed on Disney including 26 Oscars. He also received accolades from all over the world for his service and devotion to others. In Gallery 1 (Beginnings) one can glimpse what life was like for Disney during his childhood, teenage years and young adulthood. It doesn’t take long until we find Disney in Hollywood where he achieves great success with the creation of Mickey Mouse, a figure that will become a fixture in American culture.

Gallery 3 (New Horizons) focuses on the expansion of the Walt Disney Studios and the growth of animated films. In the next sequence (4) we learn about full-length films and the production of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." And so it goes from gallery to gallery until we reach the end of Walt Disney ‘s monumental life. What would the museum be without the inclusion of Disneyland? Towards the end of the tour we are treated a very large scale 3-D model of the theme park.

If ever there was a journey in nostalgia a walk through the museum provides it. But that’s not all. Temporary exhibits are mounted. Movie screenings, discussions and classes take place. The boutique is a treasure trove of imaginative merchandise that you won’t find elsewhere. It’s a great place to shop.


The Mystic Hotel and Burritt Room + Tavern

Charlie Palmer ‘s expanding restaurant and hospitality empire has opened its doors in downtown San Francisco with two new entries. The Mystic Hotel by Charlie Palmer, located on Stockton Street off Sutter, started accepting guests this year in a building that once housed the Crystal Hotel. It’s been revamped into boutique-style lodgings with a distinctly contemporary vibe. Transforming the old, original building into an up-to-date lodging was no mean feat. The hotel was redone in black and white with a shock of red. New furnishings and sleek bathrooms complete the transformation. The top reasons for booking accommodations here are four-fold. The center of high-end shopping, Union Square, just one block north, and its surrounding streets is a short walk away, as is Chinatown and the Financial District.

Burritt Room

Room rates are high in this desirable section of the city. Since the competition (there are a multitude of hotels in the area) tends to be more expensive, the cost of a junior or standard room or a suite at The Mystic is a comparatively good value.

A bountiful breakfast is included at no extra charge. It’s pegged as "Continental," but except for the serve yourself-aspect, it’s close to a full American morning meal. A boon for the early starter (service begins at 7 a.m.) on the well-stocked table one finds O.J., fresh oranges, yogurt, granola, hard-cooked eggs, bagels, assorted pastries, coffee, milk and tea.

Lastly, but most important, the entire second floor is given over to the Burritt Room + Tavern. It’s Charlie Palmer at his best, but then when isn’t this chef, as well as his lieutenants, at top form? Overseeing the kitchen, Ashley Weaver seems to have cloned the boss by producing the same imaginative and delicious fresh, seasonal food, arranged on plates with an artist’s hand that make all the presentations a joy to look at and to dine on. Enter through a long hallway and you first approach the Tavern. A live jazz trio plays five nights a week -- Friday and Saturday from 7:30 and Tuesday through Thursday from 5:30 on. A young hip crowd sits at the bar sipping designer-crafted cocktails with fanciful names like Apple Jack Hot Toddy and Strawberry Macaroon.

The Dining Room beyond is dark and spacious and the tables are placed at a good distance from each other. Black and white photos of old San Francisco adorn the walls, one is a picture of this very spot, which escaped the 1906 earthquake. Private, curtained booths line one side of the room and that is where we chose to sit.

Fortunately, there were four of us and we each chose different starters and mains. Because there was lots of sharing, we each of us sampled a smorgasbord of some very special dishes. I had not seen sweetbreads on a menu, or as a matter of fact at the butcher’s counter, in a long time. Ordering them was a must. They were crispy and dressed with corn mousse, pickled bing cherries and thyme foam. Ahi tuna sashimi was a riff on the usual Japanese version. The fish was draped over green tea soba noodles tossed with sesame seeds and soy vinaigrette and accompanied by grilled caramelized watermelon. A plate of Bora prosciutto included apricot mostarda, frisee and candied pistachios. The greens in the watercress and arugula salad must have come straight from the garden. Two fish and two meat entrees were outstanding. The house special , 36 hour lamb shoulder was like long-simmered brisket. It was not in the least bit fatty and was plated with creamy goat cheese polenta, spicy mint pesto and garnished with crispy baby carrot strips. Seared wild pacific salmon was cooked pink and came with sides of corn puree and melted leeks. California rock fish, a species akin to sea bass, and bathed in grapefruit butter sauce combined well with fungi chanterelle risotto. Three steaks were on the menu. One of our party decided on pan-seared teres major (rare, of course) with shallot confit and potatoes, and napped with bone marrow butter and bourbon peppercorn sauce. All agreed it was a flavorful and tender cut of beef.

Warm Italian garlic bread and a bottle of rich full-bodied Arrocal 2010 Ribera del Duero were pleasant additions to this very special meal.

Despite feeling too full for dessert, we indulged anyway with two complex sweets, a dark chocolate mousse and a fig and raspberry parfait.

The service was exemplary, but not hovering. When the waiter announced the specials he stated the price of each one, something that doesn’t happen often enough.

Mystic Hotel by Charlie Palmer, 417 Stockton Street, San Francisco, CA 94108.
Burritt Room + Tavern, Open for lunch and dinner, 415-400-0561, http://www.mystichotel.com

Fall, 2012

A Grandparents Visit to San Francisco

Family Oriented Itinerary

Before 17 month-old Lila Rose, who lives in San Francisco, joyously entered our lives and later began to walk, many activities during visits to her parents were spontaneous. But, on this trip to the City by the Bay we had to seriously consider whether the places we chose to stay, dine, and play would satisfy a toddler’s needs.


Fairmont Heritage Place Hotel

From the brochure and website the Fairmont Heritage Place hotel appeared to suit our requirements. Opened in August, 2008, this total suite property houses one to three-bedroom units. Poshly decorated and oh so comfortable, it won approval from all three generations. Lila delighted in the child-proof terrace spanning the length of the combination kitchen/living and dining rooms as well as the sleeping quarters. From the second floor she could look out through the glass panels to lively Ghirardelli Square and to the water in the distance. Her mother relished preparing dinner in a well-stocked and very sleek kitchen fitted with high-end appliances by Sub-Zero and Paykel and Fisher stashed in pull-out drawers, and a Wolf convertible oven. Grandparents savored the sweeping space and the ingenuity involved in creating the design.

A not-quite-gut renovation transformed this former Ghirardelli chocolate factory into a distinctive contemporary building. Interior brick walls, salvaged pipes, and signs pointing to the chocolate, cocoa, mustard, woolen mill, and clock tower wings speak to the earlier uses of the premises. Carpets, artwork, and furnishings in the public areas reflect a muted Asian influence

With advance notice, groceries may be purchased through the concierge. K.P? Hey, we were on vacation and housekeeping took care of that chore. The ebony-colored cabinetry and wide-planked floors, and the neutral fabrics said “home” just a bit more than “hotel.” Other touches we appreciated were two large flat screen TVs in the surround sound entertainment systems, the concealed in-a-closet Bosch washer and dryer, a pot filler faucet, an automatic gas-lit fireplace, and a closet with a light that turned on when you approached it. The shower only in our one-bedroom suite was disappointing, especially since the bathing area is large enough to include a tub.

Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop

Check-in is at 4:00 and check out at 11:00. Personnel at the front desk obligingly let us rest in another room when we arrived early. However, on the first evening the timing was awkward since we missed what looked to be a very spirited wine and cheese hour (4:00 to 5:00) hosted by the staff each day. The continental breakfast is complimentary (7:00 to 11:00). On two mornings we unhurriedly shared a plentiful assortment of bagels, pastries, yogurt and fresh fruit with friends in the pleasantly appointed lounge.

Management seems to enjoy partying with and feeding its guests. On the night of March 28 to commemorate Earth Hour, a world-wide event that calls attention to global warming, a chocolate fondue social took place around the fire pit on the Mustard Terrace.

A branch of Willow Stream The Spas at the Fairmont will debut in Summer, 2009. Their treatments and products, which are similar at all of the chain’s hotels and resorts, are first rate.


Although the Ghirardelli’s production facilities relocated in 1967, two retail combination stores and cafes offering chocolates and other sweets anchor the Square, an official city landmark. Trinkets and t-shirt shops have been replaced by classier emporiums—two wine boutiques, a bakery devoted exclusively to cupcakes, a tea salon, and more. Gary Danko, considered by many to be the city’s finest chef, has announced that he will open an American bistro in the complex.

A short stroll down the hill brought us to a narrow strip of beach fronting the bay. Lila had fun wiggling her feet in the sand and in the water, too.



Beach Chalet Dining Room

On an early Sunday night the Beach Chalet atop the Park Chalet and adjacent to the Pacific Ocean was crowded and noisy. Every table was filled with families, couples, and singles. Several mothers held infants. Patrons lined up to be seated. No doubt about it, this sprawling restaurant is the place to dine when accompanied by a child. Amid the din who would mind or even notice if a youngster shouted or misbehaved. Oddly, all the kids seemed to be enjoying themselves. Perhaps the bustle kept them happy. No one, including our Lila, had a “melt down.” In this friendly and casual setting, another guest felt relaxed enough to approach us to say that her English grandchild looks exactly like our little one.

The speedy wait staff works in roller skate mode. As soon as Lila was placed in her high chair, the hostess brought a coloring book/menu and boxes of non-toxic crayons. Orders were taken posthaste and the food arrived quickly. The kitchen is essentially cooking for discerning grown-ups. Most dishes feature imaginative ingredients that combine beautifully. There was one exception--the clam chowder that Grandpa ordered, which he liked, but I found too briny. Even the mac ‘n cheese from the choices for kids won my hearty approval. Here’s the remainder of the list of delicious appetizers and entrees that passed muster: beets, arugula, candied walnuts, and blue cheese salad; crabcake, fennel, mandarin oranges, and Hollandaise sauce; mussels steamed with white wine and garlic; Chilean sea bass with Yukon gold potato cake, garlic, olives and olive oil; and linguine with seafood tossed with butter, tomato sauce, and red pepper flakes. The family member who selected the pasta did not give it as high marks as I did. However, he cleaned the plate.

The Golden Gate Visitor’s Center is located on the ground floor of the Park and Beach Chalets. Adorned with murals, mosaics, and wood carvings, the artifacts were installed in 1936 by a federal works project. The murals depict San Francisco landmarks—The Embarcadaro, Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Golden Gate Park –circa the depression.



One glorious morning, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to explore Sausalito and its waterfront. After touring the quaint town, we wandered out onto a pier jutting into Richardson’s Wharf. The pier had several interesting boats, but we most enjoyed the replica of an 18th-century historic ship that had been used in the movie, "Pirates of the Caribbean." After ambling along the waterfront, we drove a few more miles to Fort Baker, a former military base at the foot of the Bridge with stellar views of San Francisco and the Bay.

Penguins at the Steinhart Aquarium

The Army installation has been turned into a children's museum and a $100 million eco-resort, the Inn at Cavallo Point, with a spa, cooking school, and Michelin-starred restaurant. Naturally, we headed to the children's attraction, the Bay Area Discovery Museum, which, like the Inn, is housed in renovated white clapboard and red roofed military buildings. Not that the toddlers and preschoolers romping inside and out noticed the lovely historic structures. They were too busy with the many engaging activities, ranging from art studios, to music workshops to environmental education spots, such as the Wave Workshop, which teaches about the habitat under the Golden Gate Bridge.

The 2.5-acre interactive outdoor play area called Lookout Cove engaged Lila for an hour. She ran through the cave, over the "sunken" pirate ship, around the maze woven from tree branches and splashed in the water and sand.


Lookout Cove at the Bay Area Discovery Museum

On another afternoon, we ventured to the California Academy of Sciences, a museum in the heart of Golden Gate Park, which reopened in September, 2008 after a $480 million refurbishment. The museum highlights include a rolling "green" roof with phenomenal views of the park, the Morrison Planetarium, Steinhart Aquarium and Kimball Natural History Museum. After a visit to the roof, we strolled through the verdant, bird- and butterfly-filled four-story rainforest and then watched the albino alligator in the swamp exhibit. Next, we went to the subterranean aquarium, which has several floor-to-ceiling tanks filled with exotic fish, sharks, and anemones. A giant sea bass and hands-on-star fish exhibit are also aquarium highlights.

Our final stop in the museum was at the penguin perch in the Africa Hall, where the birds that swam, shook, and waddled amused Lila. For a lovely lunch or snack, stop by the Academy Cafe or the Moss Room, a more formal restaurant, run by famed chef Loretta Keller, which is also open for dinner.


Spring, 2009


Holiday Time in a Favorite City

On the Saturday before Christmas, the busiest shopping day of the year, San Francisco’s retail district, anchored by Union Square, was overrun with customers. The temperature was moderate and the sun brightened the sidewalks. The merchants hosted a party for both buyers and browsers. Harry and David offered velvety chocolate truffles. Gump’s served crunchy meringues and miniature cocktail biscuits in three flavors. Williams Sonoma poured cups of hot spiced apple juice. And Christofle treated its visitors to champagne in gold-rimmed crystal flutes.

In Chinatown, where prices are subject to discussion, we found just what we were looking for. However, a salesperson at Canton Bazaar, sensing our fancy for some tables and knowing that at holiday time people tend to spend more generously, marked up the cost.

Also, during the holiday season, Cirque du Soleil performed its newest production "Varekai" in a tent on the grounds of Pac Bell, the baseball field. The sold-out ferries shuttled tourists across the bay to Alcatraz. And the Winslow Homer exhibit at The California Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum was disappointing. The focus, paintings of fish, was narrow and none of the artist’s outstanding canvases was on display.

The San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau has compiled a long list of quotations from notables, each a paean to this special city. Perhaps Dylan Thomas explained best why tourists return repeatedly, "You wouldn’t think such a place could exist. The wonderful sunlight there, the hills, the great bridges, the Pacific at your shoes. Beautiful Chinatown. Every race in the world. The sardine fleets sailing out. The little cable-cars whizzing down the city hills."

Wherever there are tourists, even if a city is small, there will, of course, be an abundance of hotel rooms and restaurant seats. We discovered new lodging and dining facilities during a recent trip.


Kensington Park Hotel lobby

From our corner room on the 11th floor of the Kensington Park, we looked down on Christmas lights and a tree lighting up Union Square. A small hotel, it is one of five in the Personality group of boutique accommodations located in the same neighborhood. The landmark Kensington Park was originally built in the mid-1920s as an Elks Club Lodge. Of Spanish-Gothic design, the construction materials and furnishings were, nevertheless, made in the U.S. since the Elks is an American organization. Complimentary afternoon tea and sherry are served in the dramatic lobby. Guests sometimes tinkle on the keys of the ebony grand piano. Oriental rugs, a handsome chandelier, palm plants, a carved and gilded mirror and arrangements of sofas, chairs and tables complete the décor. However, the tendency while enjoying the surroundings is to look up. Overhead are wood beams flecked with gold and painted with designs and historic figures. An open balcony on the mezzanine adds to the Iberian look.

Bedrooms and baths have been modernized and old-fashioned travertine and brass accoutrements have been spruced up.

Kensington Park, 450 Post Street, San Francisco, CA 94102. Tel. 800-553-1900. Room rates start at $125. Complimentary continental breakfast is included. www.kensingtonparkhotel.com


A young San Franciscan told us that MoMo’s is very hip. Indeed, it seemed that way on the night we were there. Located opposite PacBell Park, the San Francisco Giants’ stadium, the restaurant is full even when the team is not playing. The 20 and 30ish staff waits on other young adults. And with crisp, attentive service they get you out on time for the game or in our case for a performance by Cirque du Soleil. There are 120 seats on the patio and 240 persons can be accommodated in several dining spaces indoors. Nevertheless, you can carry on a conversation, but you can also see what your neighbor is eating. The menu is appropriate for before the game eating. Choose from onion strings or soup, ribs, mussels, chicken quesadillas, a variety of main dish salads, hot sandwiches, burgers, calzone, individual pizzas and more.

Appetizers of baby greens and butter lettuce salads were sprightly and large enough for sharing. Roasted lamb sirloin served with polenta, and braised Brussel sprouts with thick-cut bacon were reminiscent of good old-fashioned home cooking. New York strip steak was fork tender and its cracked pepper brandy sauce enhanced the juicy cut. Blackened swordfish accompanied by andouille jambalaya was equal to any proffered in New Orleans. Sea bass was good enough, but its sides of mashed potatoes and spinach were too mundane. How about something with more oomph?

For dessert, the chocolate banana bread pudding with pecan rum raisin sauce and the just out of the oven chocolate chip cookies hit the spot.

MoMo’s furniture is mission-style. With its wood, leather, old mirrors, antique prints and black and white vintage photographs of the city, it evokes San Francisco of another era.

MoMo’s, 760 Second Street, San Francisco, CA 94107. Tel. 415-227-8660. Open for lunch, Monday to Friday; brunch, Saturday and Sunday; saloon menu, Saturday & Sunday afternoons; dinner, 7 days. Moderate. www.eatatmomos.com.

Winter 2002-03

San Francisco

West Coast Magnet

San Francisco is a sculpture of tiered hills wrapped by a commanding bay. It is fog, a famous red-gold bridge— Golden Gate—and a city of surprises and secrets. It is a cacophony of sounds: the gong of a cable car, the clatter of pigeon wings in Union Square and the sea breeze rustling at the Pacific’s edge. It is a blend of exhilarating smells: freshly baked sourdough bread, salt-scrubbed air and the vapors of espresso escaping from hissing machines.

Always a magnet for foreign visitors and American tourists, too, it draws the creative and restless young. Half of San Francisco’s population is under 35, most of them migrants seeking to carve out new lives. The youthquake has given the city an energetic boost with added hotels, restaurants, shops and attractions.

Cable Car, San Francisco
(credit: Mark Snyder)

But the city has not lost its familiarity and the old sites bear revisiting, especially on foot. If you want to cover a great deal of ground in one day, walk the Barberry Coast Trail using the map and guide published by the San Francisco Bay Historical Society (415-775-1111). It covers 3.8 miles of almost entirely flat or gently sloping streets. The official guide for this tour includes historical data and places to stop along the way. The San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau (415-391-2000) distributes a brochure of four neighborhood walks—Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach, Chinatown and Union Square—encompassing from 17 to 35 blocks.


Unfortunately, there is only one outpost of the luxury Japanese-managed Nikko chain here in the United States, but it most belongs in San Francisco with its large Asian presence. Recently renovated to the tune of $8 million, the 13-year old hotel maintains its East-West flavor. The soaring new lobby bursts with drama. Water cascades over white marble; tall orange glass lamps open like flowers. Wall coverings, textiles and art reflect softer tones. Rooms are decorated in earth colors, plush fabrics and sycamore and maple woods from around the world.

The top five floors where the suites and deluxe rooms have been located are designated Nikko floors and have panoramic views of the city skyline and the Bay. Nikko floor guests have exclusive use of a lounge with internet access where breakfast, afternoon snacks and a light cocktail buffet are served along with wine and beer.

The health club features a 48-foot atrium enclosed pool and an outdoor terrace. You can enjoy a true Japanese experience here in the Kamaburo relaxation room where the temperature is 100 degrees. Guests unwind by lying on wooden palettes that are set on heated rocks.

The hotel offers the use of complimentary Visors operating the Palm system and including information about transportation, dining, entertainment and shopping, which can be updated daily by the concierge. You can also program in your own schedule.

Hotel Nikko San Francisco, 222 Mason Street, San Francisco 94102. Tel. 415-394-1111, 415-394-1159. Rates begin at $395 on the Nikko floor. www.hotelnikkosf.com


Offering both sushi and sashimi and “steakhouse” beef in a quality restaurant seems like risky business. At Anzu in the Hotel Nikko, they marry perfectly. Two chefs, one Swiss born and the other from Tokyo, are responsible for separate parts of the menu. Selections from the Japanese kitchen are meant to be ordered as starters. When you have a hankering for sushi and your companions turn up their noses at raw fish, Anzu is the perfect compromise. There’s even a maki roll for the uninitiated; it’s filled with cooked duck and lamb. The halibut and tuna sushi are terrific.

Some of the pristine fish come from Japan while top-notch prime Midwestern steak—filet mignon, ribeye, strip and porterhouse—is shipped from Chicago. Choose from among seven sauces like Bernaise, lime-curry and hoisin barbecue. A signature potato puff melts in your mouth and is tremendously satisfying. But the best accompaniment of all is an extraordinary custardy mushroom pudding made with brioche. The warm and oozy bittersweet chocolate cake makes a fine finale.

In keeping with the latest fad Anzu serves 55 cocktails created in-house.

The simple décor is a melange of quiet colors—taupe and beige—with spare accents in jade and malachite green.

Anzu, Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason Street, San Francisco, CA 94102. Tel. 415-394-1100. Expensive. www.restaurantanzu.com

When a chef trains and works in many countries, the menu he designs for his restaurant is bound to be eclectic international. Joel Guillon, executive chef at Café Fifth Three, The Argent’s four-star dining room, and Maitre Cuisinaire de France, a distinction he shares with only 300 other chefs worldwide, runs a kitchen that turns out dishes that are not overly contrived. He prepares an appropriate number of choices so that ordering does not become an impossible decision. For appetizers the lively Watsonville beetroot salad made with three kinds of beets is given some umph with a tangy dressing and goat cheese. Grilled asparagus are firm; sharpness and crunch are added with feta cheese and roasted hazelnuts.

Chicken breast filled with spinach, ricotta and pine nuts sitting on grilled polenta and topped with Marsala sauce and preserved artichokes is dependably savory. Veal scaloppini and basil fettucine with port mushroom sauce is prepared with distinction.

To match the look of the hotel, Café Fifty-Three has a nouveau-European design. It is divided into three distinct areas so that diners do not feel overwhelmed in a cavernous room. They will also appreciate the well-spaced tables.

Café Fifth Three, The Argent Hotel, 50 Third Street, San Francisco, CA. Tel. 415-974-6400. Moderate.

In a recent Travel & Leisure reader’s poll San Francisco was the winner as the most desirable city in the United States and Ana Mandara was named as its table of choice. No surprise. If you can’t get a reservation, go for a drink and some wonderful nibbles in the upstairs lounge. Among the house cocktails is a light and pleasant gin-based drink, the Ana Mandara. The modern Vietnamese food is innovative and extraordinarily delicious. Dungeness crab baked in bamboo leaves and stuffed rice flour crepes topped with crispy noodles remind you of how delicate this cooking is.

You know that the chef is a perfectionist when he imports fish, Mekong Basa, which is specially farm-raised for his use. A cross between sea bass and catfish, it is served with spicy lemon sauce. Quail grilled over charcoal sit on a pile of heavenly sticky rice. No meal here is complete without fragrant jasmine rice studded with bits of vegetables and ham and steamed in pandanus leaves. Unlike some Asian menus, Ana Mandara’s desserts are not predictable. Perhaps they are not authentic either, but they are adventurous. Basil blends beautifully with lime sorbet. Rich caramel sauce complements banana flambé in filo with chocolate mousse and crème anglais.

The restaurant whose large second story windows overlook Fisherman’s Wharf combines many elements from Vietnamese architecture. Built on two levels, you can see the beauty of two pagodas and their exquisite interiors as you look down upon them from upstairs. Khmer sculptures, hmong art, cement lanterns, bamboo shades and large palm plants are reminders of this gentle culture. Specially created uniforms, tableware and linens enhance the Vietnamese experience.

Ana Mandara, 891 Beach Street, San Francisco, CA 94109. Tel. 415-771-6800. Moderate. www.anamandara.com

When you find a formula that works, stick with it and educate your customers’palates. Fusion cooking was an unproven concept in 1985, the year Tommy Toy’s Cuisine Chinoise first opened its doors. But diners soon realized that French and Chinese do mix. As proof, the signature dinner hasn’t changed and regulars order it repeatedly. Tackling six courses involves a lot of eating, but the dishes offer a contrast in textures and tastes and the service is unhurried.

The meal begins with traditional dim sum, crisp lettuce folded around minced squab, and is followed by a fresh coconut filled with seafood and bisque and sealed with puff pastry. In this setting it seems more Asian than Gallic. The first entrée is a whole shelled lobster and angel hair noodles napped with peppercorn sauce. The second is sublime Peking duck served with lotus buns rather than the usual pancakes. The buns taste like white bread and are the only disappointment. Charred beef with herbs on a base of four-flavored fried rice is comparable to the very best quality porterhouse. The meal ends with peach mousse. No fortune cookies here!

The dining room, copied from the Ching Dynasty Empress Dowager’s Reading Room in the Forbidden City in Beijing, is filled with Oriental art, antiques and fine furnishings.

Tommy Toy’s Cuisine Chinoise, 655 Montogomery Street. San Francisco, CA 94111. Tel. 415-397-4888. Reasonable. Signature dinner is $55. www.tommytoys.com

On a Thursday evening at 6:30 would-be patrons were turned away from Farallon. The restaurant has garnered many kudos in its three-year existence, including best seafood eatery in town. But the menu does not list fish exclusively and the chef refers to his cooking as coastal cuisine. Iced shellfish indulgence, a mountain of oysters, shrimp, cockles, crayfish, periwinkles, crab claws and clams with a tangy dipping sauce is meant to be shared.

Squab confit tortellini with corn salad and fig compote are sublime. Roasted sablefish, an unusual fish that is rarely served, is juicy and full of flavor. The kitchen produces stellar grilled squab, which are moist and tender.

Desserts are completely original and the unusual pairings of ingredients work well. Mixed berry hazelnut financier with corn ice cream and spiced compote is a winner. Other surprising ingredients that are used in the sweets to enhance flavor are black pepper and balsamic vinegar.

To match the food, the restaurant’s design is a fantasy of underwater whimsy. Jellyfish-shaped frosted glass fixtures with colorful tentacles are suspended overhead. Portholes, paintings of the wharf, starfish and marble-tiled fish set in the floor also add to the amusing ambiance.

Farallon, 450 Post Street, San Francisco, CA 94102. Tel. 415-956-6969. Moderately expensive. www.farallonrestaurant.com

If the Greek gods Artemis, Demeter and Dionysos were meetingfor a business lunch, they might have chosen a divine spot like Kokkari. An upscale Greek taverna in Jackson Square, it represents the hunt and harvest, as well as wine and revelry much like the deities do.

Chef Jean Alberti fuses Aegean cuisine and California fare with flair and novelty, focusing mainly on game and seafood. Kokkari’s two large earthy rooms defined by exposed wooden beams, a long hopping bar, and a roaring stone fireplace charm with rustic tradition. With its solicitous service and warm ambiance Kokkari manages to be both down-to-earth and heavenly, recalling ancient Mediterranean banquets that lasted well into the night.

We began our meal with black rice dolmathes wrapped in cabbage leaves that are salty and hearty, but fortunately lacking in the usual excess of oil. Next we enjoyed a classic Greek salad with cucumber, pepper, tomato and onion lovingly arranged with tangy dressing and smooth goat-milk feta cheese. The heirloom tomatoes in a salad are refreshing, firm and flavorful. Tossed with basil and honey dressing and topped with mild, melted Manouri cheese, the dressing is a bit too sweet and the cheese, although sinfully creamy, lacks complex flavor.

Our entrees included traditional moussaka with eggplant, lamb, potato and yogurt béchamel served in a brown clay pot. The moussaka is rich and heavy without being mushy. All the layers keep their distinctive tastes; the lamb is lean and the eggplant smooth rather than acidic. A whole striped bass with braised greens in lemon-oregano vinaigrette is a light and simple main course, delicate white flesh glowing on the plate. Paired with salty and well-seasoned chard, this dish could have fed two people.

We also sampled spicy braised rabbit with okra and pearl onions that is perhaps the weakest item on the menu. The texture of the rabbit is mealy and the sauce overpowers it. A Herculean-sized grilled lamb chop is too fatty, but the side of oregano-laced potatoes that comes with it is delicious.

The red wine from Naxos that our server recommended is also excellent. With dessert we enjoyed Greek coffee that is warmed in a copper pot over volcanic sand from the Aegean islands. A choice dessert is nectarine semolina custard wrapped in filo and served with lemon thyme ice cream. It is sweet and airy, a fruity cloud of citrus on the tongue.

Even when you are tucked away in a cozy booth, the restaurant is noisy. However, in response to our request, management did turn down the music. The friendly service is flawless.

Kokkari is named after a small fishing village on the island of Samos where Orion supposedly fell in love with the daughter of the King of Chios. To honor this passion, Orion hunted for wild game and seafood to serve at ceremonial banquets. The restaurant tries to serve food fit for the gods that would rival Orion’s legendary feasts. With its attractive atmosphere and highly rated fare, Kokkari almost succeeds.

Kokkari, 200 Jackson Street, San Francisco, CA 94111. Tel. 415-981-0983. www.kokkari.com

Spring 2001