On The Road: Bay City Banquet – Dining in San Francisco is an exquisite treat for the senses.


It’s no accident that many of the commercials I’ve shot were done in and around San Francisco. I’m not embarrassed to admit that the proximity of great restaurants to a location was high up in my decision-making process. Hey, you gotta shoot somewhere.

At one time, this city had the most overrated eating reputation in the country. You’d go with great expectations to some highly touted place with a local, and after the meal, you’d have to say, in your best client-pleasing voice, ‘Mmm. That was uh … very nice.’ Well, the Gold Rush of the 1840s couldn’t compare to the Food Rush of the 1980s. San Francisco was transformed. I had more to be grateful for than the Dead.

It all began with Alice Waters and Chez Panisse. Then came Jeremiah Tower with Stars and Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio. Everybody knows these ‘have to go to’ places, plus the Zuni Cafe and the very strange LSD-induced design of the Cypress Club. (It won’t come as any surprise, then,

if I tell you that this was the scene of one of my oddest client dinners ever, with the exception of the Barbie doll discussion dinner in St. Louis a number of years ago. I was immature then.)

For now, I’m going to concentrate on neighborhood restaurants. The kind of places locals go when they don’t care what they wear or who sees them. I had a lot of help from my sister’s favorite son, Russell the architect, and Curtis Smith, brother of the director, Lee, from the famous food-loving Smith family.

On both men’s lists is Aperto in SoMa on Potero Hill. The restaurant is Northern Italo-Californian with an open kitchen. This place allows you to go crazy with the smells of roasting chicken, sauteed garlic and fresh tomatoes. Eliza’s, also in SoMa, is Chinese with a flair. The Sungs have taken every recipe you’re familiar with, thrown the ingredients up in the air and created something different and delicious. Sunflower beef in a satay sauce with scallions and prawns with toasted pine nuts in a ginger sauce.

Mangiafuoco, in the Mission District, is down-home

Italian cooking in a Bohemian-styled storefront. Fantastic risotto, light gnocchi and mangiafuoco, which is fettuccine coated with tomato sauce baked in parchment paper filled with various seafood.

The Universal Cafe, also in the Mission District, is one of those architectural affairs with a lot of cast aluminum. But it boasts terrific sandwiches on focaccia, like grilled tenderloin with gorgonzola.

Albona, in North Beach, is an Istrian restaurant. (When’s the last time anyone told you, ‘I’ve got this incredible craving for Istrian food.’) Istria is a peninsula below Trieste.

The cuisine is a flavorful mix of Central European and goulash, with spices like almonds, honey, cumin and paprika. Try the ravioli filled with three cheeses, pine nuts and raisins, or just let Bruno, the host and owner, order for you.

I believe some tourist places are indeed tourist places because they’ve been good and stayed good. So don’t be concerned that you’re in line with a lot of out-of-towners. I’m reasonably sure you won’t look like one.

Now, for breakfast. Sears Fine Food. The eatery offers great eggs and French toast. Waitresses here waitress for a living and like it. You can see it in their smiles. The Fog City Diner. Bring your Visa card. They don’t take American Express. Instead of a big main course, order lots of tasting plates. It’s better for you. Great wine list, too. This is the first place I had Peter Michael Chardonnay. The Tadich Grill. This fish place opened with the Gold Rush, and if you think grilling over mesquite is a new phenomenon, they started it in 1920.

And last, stay at The Clift. Why? Because I said so, and the Redwood Bar is one of the greatest-looking barrooms in the world. It’s dark and sultry and gives you the feeling anything is possible. Have a martini and pretend you are William Powell in The Thin Man waiting for Myrna Loy.

With apologies to Tony Bennett, I left my stomach in San Francisco. My heart, assuming that a person who has been in advertising as long as I have has one, is elsewhere.

Copyright ASM Communications, Inc. (1997) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED