S AN F RANCISCO
FAR EAST CAFÉ
Whether you have a power lunch in mind
or a relaxing dinner, San Francisco is home
to some of the world’s finest restaurants.
Here we review five venerable establishments—
collectively offering several centuries of
dining pleasure—where you can imbibe the
atmosphere of old San Francisco as well as
your favorite libations and dishes. We hope
Reviewed by Sayre Happich Ribera
s a child who grew up watching reruns of the Helping to decrease your
Lawrence Welk Show—and I’m not embarrassed to inhibition levels and in-
admit that I loved every minute—it is only natural crease your participation at
that I enjoy dining out at a joint that boasts some of the Schroeder’s is what I com-
most offbeat bands west of Minnesota, including one of my monly refer to as “das
favorites, Big Lou’s Polka Casserole Band. Polka in San boot.” Das boot is leg-
Francisco you ask? Oh yes, Schroeder’s Restaurant is the endary among my family
oldest (established in 1893, it celebrates its 115th anniver- and friends, a challenge to
sary in September) and largest German restaurant on the our livers in the form of a
West Coast, and one Friday a month it hosts polka bands two-liter glass boot that is
and traditional German dancers to entertain the filled with some of Ger-
packed crowds. many’s finest beer. The
boots are kind of looked
upon in awe at Schroeder’s.
A mere sighting of the boot
is enough to get restaurant
patrons, mouths agape in
admiration, to turn their “Das boot”
heads and follow its path to the daring recipient. The chal-
lenge is not just to finish the boot but to finish it before it
Dancing up a storm at Schroeder’s polka night
Schroeder’s is not one of those typical stuffy financial dis-
Photos by Sayre Happich Ribera
trict kind of places, where you just kind of sit back and
enjoy your dinner and fine wine; here you actually partici-
pate in your restaurant experience. Some of those dining
experiences at Schroeder’s include beer-drinking contests
for the ladies—my sister and I have participated in this, and
she even won once. A beer-stein holding contest—my hus-
band has participated but sadly only came in second. It was
a proud night for my family. On the one Friday a month Enjoying “das boot,” from left: Matahi Ribera, Paul Johnson, and Fred Happich
when the restaurant has the polka bands, hired dancers pull
people from tables along with the regulars (I see the same Since this is indeed a restaurant review, I suppose I should
people every time I go) and dance up a storm. The place is mention the food. Although I am someone who does not
very family friendly as well. take risks with what I eat—I always order the German
50 SUMMER 2008
meatloaf—everyone else I go to Schroeder’s with orders a Schroeder’s Web site calendar (www.schroederssf.com)
variety of things, such as the Wiener schnitzel (breaded veal, and finding out when the next Friday night polka band
served with German roasted potatoes, steamed vegetables, is playing.
and red cabbage) and the traditional sauerbraten (beef mar-
inated in Burgundy and spices and topped with vegetables). If you can’t make it to Germany for Oktoberfest,
Most of the dinners are served with red cabbage and sauer- Schroeder’s at any time of year just might be the next
kraut on the side. Even though the food is really great—so best thing.
incredibly hearty and filling—it’s really the atmosphere I
Sayre Happich Ribera is BASF’s assistant director of communi-
keep going back for. I highly recommend visiting
cations and public relations.
FAR EAST CAFÉ
Reviewed by Rachel Patience Ragni
ar East Café is located at 631 Grant Avenue, right We visited the café on a
past the gates of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Saturday night at 8:30,
Located on one of the busiest, most tourist-traveled and there was ample
streets, Far East itself is an oasis, with twenty-foot-tall ceil- seating available. The
ings and traditional Chinese décor, complete with hostess explained that
vibrant shades of red everywhere. The café has cafeteria- Far East is a definite
style tables, with private enclosed wooden booths along “lunch hot spot” and
the left wall. Due to the acoustics in Far East, a private that the staff is really
booth is the best seating choice if you want to carry on good at turning tables
a private conversation. quickly for the lunch
crowd. The café itself is
only a few blocks from
San Francisco’s financial
district, so it definitely
receives the majority of
its business during that
time. Upstairs are large The Far East Café is the only restaurant in
Chinatown that offers private dining booths.
banquet facilities, com-
Photos by Lorraine Lee Nelsen
plete with separate banquet and buffet menus, perfect for
a large lunch or dinner meeting.
The mammoth menu contains nearly one hundred op-
tions, Here, even the pickiest palates can find something
that suits their taste, with entrées ranging from $9 to $35.
In addition to all of the traditional Chinese standards, Far
The enchanted dragon gateway entrance to the Far East Café, decorated with East carries more exotic delicacies, including the contro-
antique palace chandeliers that light up painted murals and carved screens versial shark fin soup, which is listed as one of the house
THE BAR ASSOCIATION OF SAN FRANCISCO SAN FRANCISCO ATTORNEY 51
specialties. We tried a mix of both traditional (beef chow however, offer exotic drinks that would pair nicely with its
mein and General Chau’s chicken) and more expensive large food selection—piña coladas, mai tais, margaritas, and
dishes (steamed oysters with a wonderful black bean sauce chi chis.
and the house specialty—deep-fried crab). The portions
were large and the food was smooth and flavorful, my Our experience was delightful, largely due to the quality of
favorite being the oysters. These dishes can be heavy, the food. If you find yourself with an hour to spare for
but the chow mein and chicken were much lighter lunch, I would recommend the Far East Café, conveniently
than expected. Overall, the meal was good, exotic, hearty, located at the downtown end of San Francisco’s Chinatown.
Rachel Patience Ragni is the chair of the Barristers Club’s Busi-
Even though the café has a full bar, the wine list is sparse, ness, Commercial, and Bankruptcy Section and an associate at
with minimal selection. To the extent you desire a refined Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP.
bottle, we suggest bringing your own wine. The café does,
LE CENTRAL BISTRO
Reviewed by Douglas Melton and Russell Roeca
suspect that the lawyers and other power-lunchers who
e Central Bistro, often referred to as San Francisco’s
oldest brasserie, has long been known as a lawyer helped cement Le Central’s reputation in the 1970s per-
hangout. Le Central attained mitted themselves rather longer and
notoriety in the early 1970s when more indulgent lunches (with wine
Herb Caen, Willie Brown, and no doubt) than are manageable given
Wilkes Bashford became power- today’s packed schedules and ex-
lunch regulars. Brown and Bashford panded billable hours expectations.
still routinely grace the place with
their presence, although neither was Le Central does not seem to have
there on the two recent occasions changed much from the ’70s. Com-
when we dropped in to take the cur- pared to the more self-conscious
rent pulse of the storied Le Central. décor of its more recently arrived
French brethren, Le Central has a
“lived in” look that appears to be the
Photo by Sayre Happich Ribera
Much has changed in San Francisco
since Le Central opened its doors. product of a blasé “if it ain’t broke,
The brasserie used to be a lone out- don’t fix it” approach. Le Central’s in-
post for good simple French bistro terior, with its brick walls and slightly
food in the financial district. Now, beat-up fixtures, conveys a self-confi-
those hungry for such fare have sev- dence in its place in the local French
eral options—less than a block away. restaurant pecking order. It seems to
On nearby Belden Alley there are say, “We’ve been here a long time and
Café Bastille and Plouf. On even this is how we look; if you don’t like
nearer Claude Lane there is the appropriately named Café it, go elsewhere.” This strikes us as very French, and we ap-
Claude. And, while this may be mere wistful nostalgia, we prove. One senses belonging to a club. It is a destination.
52 SUMMER 2008
The service at Le Central likewise conveys a certain confi- We also had a good confit of duck salad at Le Central, al-
dent je ne sais quoi. There is nothing obsequious about the though the greens and tomatoes that accompanied the duck
waiters, who are gruffly friendly but don’t seem oppressed were not up to current San Francisco standards. Along the
by an overzealous will to please. This, too, strikes us as very same lines, we had an haricot vert salad that seemed to have
French, and, again, we approve. been made with green beans from a questionable source.
Le Central does not seem to have felt compelled to adopt
And the food? Not surprisingly, the food at Le Central is the Alice Waters approach to produce. Perhaps it was just
much like the décor and service: unpretentious, untrendy, that day.
confident, and good. The best dishes are the bistro stan-
dards: the onion soup, the steak with pomme frites, and Le Central has a solid wine list featuring a range of moder-
the roast chicken, and yes, the escargot. You can’t go wrong ately priced French wines. We wish we could report our
when you order these stalwarts. personal experience exploring this list, but we are products
of the present moment and were not able to turn back the
It can be hard to find good French onion soup on the clock to the days when wine was a regular feature of the
menus of the trendier French places, which is a shame. Few San Francisco lawyer’s lunch experience. We encourage you
dishes are more appropriate for a chilly San Francisco day to be more self-indulgent as you perpetuate Le Central’s
than a rich deep beefy crock of onion soup suffocating lawyer hangout power-lunch tradition. We also encourage
under a thick layer of melted Gruyère. Rest assured that you, like Brown and Bashford, to dress the part.
such a crock is waiting for you at Le Central right now—
only a few minutes walk from your financial district office. Douglas Melton is a partner with Long & Levit LLP focusing
And, while a good steak with fries (maybe with bordelaise on employment litigation and counseling, general commercial
sauce!), or crispy roast chicken, is by no means on the en- litigation and professional liability litigation. Russell Roeca
dangered menu-item list, you will be hard pressed to find is president-elect of BASF and a partner with Roeca Haas
better examples of these rightly popular dishes than at Le Hager LLP.
Central (although Zuni’s roast chicken remains in a class
by itself ).
Reviewed by Connie Dunning, Barbara Fanning and Carol Woods
that usually forms outside
San Francisco landmark
if ever there was one, the door.
Tadich Grill, “the origi-
The white linens, formally
nal cold day restaurant,” is still
attired waiters, tiled floors,
thriving. Even at 11:40 a.m. on a
and private booths, as well
recent windy day, most tables
as much of the menu, evoke
Photo by Sayre Happich Ribera
were filled as we were ushered to
a time gone by. Tadich’s, or
a cozy table near the rear of the
some version with another
restaurant. Tadich’s does not take
name, has been in continu-
reservations, so plan to arrive
ous operation and under
early, or quite late, unless you
Croatian ownership since it
prefer to mingle with the crowd
began as a coffee stand in
THE BAR ASSOCIATION OF SAN FRANCISCO SAN FRANCISCO ATTORNEY 53
1849, during the California Gold Rush. Customers can and regularly appears on the menu. The sea bass special
learn how it came to be known as the original cold day came with a seafood ceviche, and although the bass came to
restaurant by reading the intriguing history of the estab- the table undercooked, our waiter corrected it quickly and
lishment on the cover of the menu (we don’t want to give without any interruption to the table. The result was very
away the whole story of the infamous San Francisco county good. The monkfish lived up to its reputation as the “poor
assessor responsible for the designation). man’s lobster” and was very rich.
The crusty sourdough bread and butter arrive quickly, and As we were on assignment, we dutifully ordered dessert: a
we sampled that as we investigated the menu. Our waiter, chocolate mousse with just the right density, and a rarity,
Marion, did not introduce himself (we asked for his name rice pudding. Marion thoughtfully served each of us with
before we left); instead, he welcomed us with just the right a plate including both sweets.
blend of formality and friendliness and offered some sug-
gestions for our consideration. Tadich’s menu is expansive, It was a very enjoyable lunch and a good reminder that the
with much of the seafood offered in a variety of prepara- old places remain among the best the city has to offer and
tions, including charcoal-broiled, pan-fried, sautéed, should be visited again and again.
deep-fried, and baked. In addition to its many standard
dishes, there are daily specials that reflect more contempo- Connie Dunning is the director of Alternative Dispute Resolu-
rary combinations. tion (ADR), Barbara Fanning is the director of Continuing
Legal Education (CLE) and the liaison to the Board of Direc-
We shared our entrée selections and agreed that Tadich’s re- tors, and Carol Woods is the director of the Lawyer Referral
mains an excellent place for seafood, as well as its signature and Information Service (LRIS).
creamed spinach. The calamari steak is always a good choice
Reviewed by Joan Haratani and Dan Dean
ndividual butter bowls—do we really need to say more? Franciscan establishment. The bar is festive and loud,
We would give Sam’s a great review just for giving each crowded with people laughing and sipping highballs as they
diner an individual butter bowl. But there are even wait for their tables. The no-nonsense waiters look as if they
more great touches that make Sam’s an old-time favorite would have fit right in when the place opened. An old cash
that has people coming back again and again and again. register—one of those beauties with a million buttons—
sits on the bar. Some of the regulars have been dining
Sam’s sits on the corner of Bush Street and Belden Lane. It here weekly or monthly for more years than we (or they)
started out as an oyster stall at the open-air market on Cal- can count.
ifornia Street in 1867. Yes, 1867—that fact alone tells you
that Sam’s does things right. From the moment you walk in- Although the place is always jam-packed, the staff does a
side, you get the feeling that things rarely change at Sam’s— great job of handling the crowds. Tables turn over quickly
and that is good. You realize that this place looks and feels so the wait to be seated is never long, the food and drinks
exactly the same as it did throughout its many decades. arrive without delay, and your waiter is always nearby if you
You immediately know that you are in an authentic San need something.
54 SUMMER 2008
There are private curtained booths favorite! We took his advice and now
for parties of six or more. The booths completely understand. Every but-
are great if you want to have a private tery bite was delicious.
lunch meeting. They also work well
if you want to get a little boisterous The bay shrimp Louie and crab
without bothering other diners. Louie are always great. You get tons
of shrimp and tons of crab. The fish
Because there are so many choices of is succulent and the meal is filling.
salads, appetizers, entrées, and side
dishes on the menu, all diners will find The clam chowder was good, but it
something they like, no matter their could have been hotter and spicier.
taste, diet, restrictions, and so on. You If you order the Caesar salad, make
will like this place even if you are not sure you get prawns, bay shrimp,
a big fish eater—there is so much else or crab on top—otherwise it is
to choose from, like pasta and steak. pretty plain.
And the waiters are always willing to
let you special order if need be. The wine selection is impressive and
large. The coffee and desserts are
The old-fashioned sourdough bread great—we especially loved our
is excellent—some think the best in chocolate mousse!
the city. There are no bread plates, so
don’t be shy—just let the crumbs fall The prices are moderate to high.
Photo by Sayre Happich Ribera
where they will. And have we men-
Sam’s is the kind of place that you
tioned the individual butter bowls?
will enjoy every time with friends,
There are also bowls of lemon slices
old and new, or all on your lone-
and tartar sauce at your table—every-
some. You’ll have a really great meal
thing you need to further jazz up
and a true San Franciscan experi-
ence. After all, it hasn’t been around
But the butter doesn’t stop there! The for 141 years for nothing.
boned rex sole à la Sam’s comes on a
Joan Haratani is a partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP
plate filled to the brim with sizzling hot butter. It contin-
and the 2006 president of BASF. Dan Dean is a partner at
ues to sizzle and splash about as you eat. We met a regular
Taylor Gutierrez Marca LLP and a member of the BASF
who has been eating this dish for fifty years—he wants to
Board of Directors.
order other things, but cannot bring himself to pass up this
OUR PICKS FOR OLD-TIME SAN FRANCISCO DINING PLEASURES
Schroeder’s Le Central Bistro Sam’s Grill
240 Front Street 453 Bush Street 374 Bush Street
415.421.4778 415.391.2233 415.421.0594
Far East Café Tadich Grill
631 Grant Avenue 240 California Street
THE BAR ASSOCIATION OF SAN FRANCISCO SAN FRANCISCO ATTORNEY 55