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SF Restaurants (Mostly) Suck

I grew up with restaurants and in restaurants and luxuriated in the romance of restaurants in New York, London, Mexico City and elsewhere. My lawyer father had clients who owned restaurants and so we ate for free. When I arrived in San Francisco at the end of the pandemic I didn’t know any restaurants, except the ones that had folded like Ton Kiang which served excellent dim sum and congee, a rice porridge, and bok choy stir fried in a wok. Mostly after I arrived, I shopped in an organic worker owned and operated grocery and cooked and ate at home. Then, about two months ago I began to eat in restaurants with a reputation and on the lists of restaurant reviewers. I’m about ready to go back to home cooked meals, save money and use the machine to wash dishes which I ordinarily washed by hand.

This piece is not a restaurant review and I’m not here to suggest where or where not to eat, though I will mention the names of some restaurants not to boast but as a way to offer my credentials. Find your own restaurants , explore and experiment. I think that many San Franciscans, myself included, go to restaurants so that they’re not eating at home, but with friends, family members and even strangers, who can offer cold company and kindness. There is good restaurant food in San Francisco, though it doesn’t leap out and say “Eat Here.” You have to hunt for good food, and try it, and even then you might go home disappointed although stuffed.

Two nights ago I ate in a huge restaurant with a gigantic bar on Mission Street near the Ferry Building, The kitchen served an eight course meal that started with ceviche, and ended with Mexican churros, and with duck, beef, fish, vegetables, rice and beans in between the first and last plates. The dinner, which cost $90 including tip, also offered tequila cocktails with grapefruit juice, four different tequilas to sip and swag to take home. The $90 included the tip. The kitchen couldn’t keep up with the three hundred or so folks who sat at long tables and ate and drank and talked and flirted. I drank more than usual and went home on the street car buzzed. I would not go back. Not worth it. Service was too slow. Room too noisy. The same sauce disguised the taste of the duck and the beef.

I would go back to the small Chinese restaurant on Folsom not far from Civic Center where I had an early supper with my pal J. who knows where to eat and can eat far more than I can eat. He’ll eat everything on his plate and everything I haven’t eaten on my plate. We met one another at a French café in the Financial District that makes tasty pastries, savory pates and croissants with smoked salmon. At the café, the piece de resistance that night was Beef Wellington. J sat alone at a table. I invited him to join me, which he did. Later that month we ate authentic Moroccan food (at Aziza) and delicious Italian food (at Delfina) and fresh sushi at Ebisu. Mostly, though, I ate at home. I’ll never be able to eat in every restaurant in San Francisco; there are dozens of them on Irving, Clement, Valencia, Ninth Avenue and elsewhere. I wouldn’t want to eat in every one., though eating in restaurants gives me ideas for food to make at home. So does The New York Times.

I was a restaurant reviewer for years and learned that much of restaurant reviewing is as corrupt as any other kind of reviewing. Reviewers aren't always honest. Stars, my favorite SF restaurant, is long gone.

Many of the articles in The San Francisco Chronicle are about food, restaurants, their closures and openings and chefs. To judge from The Chronicle, San Franciscans want news about food more than they want news about Gaza. At the huge restaurant near the Ferry Building, which is co-owned by Stephan Curry’s wife, the crowd seemed to thrive on the ambiance alone. I watched folks eat and thought of the Romans before the barbarians came down from the North and sacked the imperial city. Perhaps food and eating provide a distraction from the wars that are raging globally and the folks without homes on the streets of cities like San Francisco where the campers go hungry or eat stuff in tin cans left by the philanthropic.

I have had the privilege of eating in restaurants that might be called gourmet but restaurants are not my favorite institutions. Owners exploit workers at the front of the house and the back of the house, patrons abuse wait people, dishes often have too much salt and are cooked in too much fat. The one thing that takes me out of my house again and again is pizza, usually from Arizmendi, which has no indoor seating. I buy a slice and eat it outdoors or take half a partially baked pie home and bake it in the oven for 10 minutes. Open six days a week, Arizmendi offers a different pie on every one of those days. If you’re planning to come to the city, and want to eat, then walk up and down Ninth Ave, between Irving and Judah, look inside the Japanese, Italian, Chinese, Thai and Indian restaurants clustered next to one another, go inside, read the menu, talk to a server and try something you haven’t tried before. I can’t live with most restaurants as they are currently configured and as prices go, and I can’t live without them either, because they offer spectacle, adventures in dining and cultural rewards.

One Comment

  1. Kat Schaaf July 3, 2024

    You are So exquisitely Funny, Thank you for your insight!

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