Wednesday, February 21, 2007
This Week's Restaurant Review: The Cliff House Bistro in SF
I like eating at landmarks and historic places. Just thinking about the history of a famous and inspiring spot makes me hungry, I guess. Restaurants with great views are also nice. The Cliff House Bistro at Point Lobos in San Francisco has both of those things going for it. It’s a historical landmark with a spectacular view, a combination not found everywhere. Their motto is “Where San Francisco Begins,” and the place is world renowned for a lot of reasons. I don’t really feel like giving you the whole story about the Cliff House, Playland, the Sutro Baths and their storied pasts right here, because that would take up this whole review. What I want to talk about is the Bistro. The Cliff House Bistro serves breakfast, lunch and dinner all the time, which is a big plus for me. I hate places that cut off breakfast or lunch at a certain time. Hey, the kitchen is open, right? If I feel like Eggs Benedict for dinner, why shouldn’t I be able to order it? Another thing I like is that you don’t have to make reservations at the Bistro. If you feel like going there on a whim, you can just stop by. My experience is that they move patrons in and out of the place pretty skillfully, so you should never have too long a wait. The Cliff House Bistro consists of two long rooms, all of which have a great view. The walls are covered with photos of all the famous celebrities who have dined there. They have some great signed photos of classic entertainers like Shirley Temple, Bing Crosby and W.C. Fields. But, guess whose picture we had to sit next to last time we were there? Nicholas Cage! Just my luck! I nearly lost my lunch. The food at the Bistro is what I could best describe as hearty. Don’t get me wrong – the ingredients are fresh and the chefs there obviously know what they’re doing. But, let’s just say that no one at this place is breaking any new culinary ground. The Bistro has some great breakfasts – like the Johnson Omelet ($16.95), with Dungeness Crab Meat, Avocado and Sour Cream; or the Thick Sliced Sourdough French Toast ($12.95), with Vermont Maple Syrup, Bacon and Apple Compote. Most compotes I’ve had in the past tasted more like compost, but this one was really flavorful. For lunch, first-timers should always try the famous Cliff House Chowder ($5.95 for a cup/$7.95 for a bowl). It’s amazing, with a lot of clams, herbs, fresh taters and carrots. The lunch specialties include things like a Broiled Portobello Mushroom Burger ($12.95); a Classic Cioppino ($22.00), a San Francisco Fish Stew with every type of shellfish imaginable; and a pretty decent Half Pound Beef Burger ($12.95). Dinner entrees of note include a wonderful Grilled Salmon with a light Mustard Glaze ($19.95); Steamed Mahi Mahi ($19.95) with a Green Onion Confit and Jasmin Rice; a Grilled 14-ounce Ribeye Steak ($26.95), and a Braised Lamb Shank ($19.95). The service is very professional at the Cliff House Bistro, but if you haven’t noticed yet, the place is pricey. But, hey – you’re paying for the view and the atmosphere, right? If I was eating this stuff facing a wall, I’d be upset, but dining in an environment like the one at the Cliff House means I’m very forgiving. The Cliff House Bistro is at 1090 Point Lobos in San Francisco. Believe it or not, there’s usually plenty of free parking along the wall there. Their phone number is: (415) 386-3330.