Wednesday, December 31, 2014

No Denny's for Old Men


... and stay out of my yard!
Here's the thing: Like all of us I'm getting older. Like some of us, (I'm looking at you, Doc Gus), I'm an aging hipster, and the thought of spending my golden years eating Grand Slams at Denny's ... well, no. I'll never be ready for Moons Over My Hammy. Ever. Eating at Denny's shows a lack of imagination. Even the pricy one in NYC with its $300 Grand Cru Slam bullshit. Nothing over my hammy. Ever.

Since coming to terms with my advancing decrepitude I've realized that, in a way, I've always been a bit of an old fogey when it comes to restaurants. I like Old School places. Leather booths? Quiet, knowledgeable service? Music, (if any), that doesn't bug me? Yeah. I don't need to keep saying it. You know of what I speak. Old School Rules.

Here's a list of places, in no particular order, that I will gladly haunt as I wither and shrivel.

1) Harris Ranch Restaurant 24505 West Dorris Drive, Coalinga, CA 93210: I *heart* Harris Ranch Restaurant. From its quirky "old west relics meets Texas Chainsaw Family" decor, (chairs made from bull horns), to its meaty menu, (but they haven't forgotten those who don't eat meat), this is a great old-man-type joint. They have a great variety of steaks, and if you're feeling a little less hungry the shaved-ribeye  French dip sandwich is a treat. The food is always prepared perfectly to order, it's clean, and and the service has always been fast and friendly. I've been eating at Harris Ranch for years. It's a "must-stop" whenever traveling the "Congress Created Dust Bowl" run on the I-5. Attention Tesla drivers: They have a charging station.


Leatherface Would Love It!

Old Man-biance!


Mmmm, Sweetbreads on a Stick



2) Le Central Bistro 453 Bush Street, San Francisco, CA 94108: Le Central is an old school, "old man" classic. Yes, it's the spot near Union Square where the cassoulet has been cooking for thousands of consecutive days, and the taste is worth every minute. Steak frites, rack of lamb persillé, steak tartare, escargots de Bourgogne, a great wine list, bartenders who know their way around a cocktail ... if I have to go, may it be face first into a bowl of onion soup gratinée in Herb Caen's booth.

3) Frank Fat's 806 L Street, Sacramento, CA 95814: There are foods that haunt you. They pull at you when you are far from them. When you are hungry it is these foods that come back to you again and again. I don't know what is in Frank Fat's' Salt and Pepper Shrimp (beyond the obvious) or its Fat's Style New York Steak, but they haunt me. Maybe its just sitting at the bar having a snack and a cocktail from one of their excellent bartenders with that giant budha looming overhead, but I love this place. At any time of day you can hear California politics bouncing off of the walls. When deals are made in Sacramento, they're made at Fat's. Old school? You bet. It's not just any joint that wins the James Beard Foundation's America's Classic Award, and deservedly so.

4) North Beach Restaurant 1512 Stockton, San Francisco, CA 94133: First let me say that I intend to drink wine throughout my golden years. That North Beach Restaurant's cellar features Wine Spectator's "Top 100 Wines" goes a long way toward it's placement here. The food is solidly Americanized Italian, but I mean SOLID. They get it right every time, even the ever-tricky risotto.

I'd like to pause here and remind the reader that these are Old School spots. While some are my favorite in their regional cuisine classification, they are not all necessarily my favorite, they just happen to fit the theme for this post. For Italian fare, for example, I much prefer:

4a) Ristorante Milano, 1448 Pacific, San Francisco, CA: Aldo and his staff always deliver. Fresh, hand made pasta, a great wine list, and spot-on, friendly service have made this my number one choice for Italian in SF for years.

or

4b) Biba, 2801 Capitol Avenue, Sacramento, CA, 95816. Italian regional creations in a beautiful setting. TV chef, author, and teacher Biba Caggiano has held the line against overly-Americanized Italian cooking at Biba and the beautiful setting and top-notch service make Biba a treat.

and while I have two steak houses on the list already, I should mention another Old School favorite that didn't make the list because the crowd is younger:

Market Street Steak House, 1777 Market Street, Redding, CA. Full disclosure: A friend of mine is co-owner and another friend bartends (I could tell you stories but I won't) at this oasis of quality in an otherwise dreary Redding restaurant scene. If you're ever in Redding, give 'em a hello from me, but before you go give me a shout and I'll steer you to a nice B&B and some sightseeing options.

That said, on with the list.

5) Marin Joe's 1585 Casa Buena Drive, Corte Madera, CA 94925: I couldn't tell you the story of the various "Joe's" restaurants and their ownership without making a flow chart, but they are SF Bay Area classics. While I like the new Original Joe's very much indeed, my stomach will always belong to the sweetbreads at Marin Joe's. Plus, a piano bar where the classics are played. Done.

6) Petit Robert, 480 Columbus Avenue, Boston, MA (South End), 02118: Lovely French bistro standards like duck confit and coq au vin done right. Seriously, I could eat this every day and since we were so close on our last trip to Boston, I practically did eat it every day. It has a few locations in Boston, but I can only speak for the South End spot, which is delightful.

7) The Firehouse Restaurant, 1112 Second Street, Sacramento, CA 95814: If this old man ends up near Old Sac, then I'll be splitting my time between Frank Fat's and The Firehouse. Executive Chef Deneb Williams does a great job with classic tastes. The menu changes frequently, which could rattle old nerves, but what hits the plate is always a treat. From dungeoness crab cakes with spice-roasted pepitas, pickled fennel salad, and carrot-kohlrabi purée to duck with huckleberries and gingered ricotta and yam gratinee, you won't go wrong in this beautiful dining location in historic Old Sac. You can't smoke cigars in the courtyard anymore, unless you're a Governator, but The Firehouse is still kicking it Old School. Did I mention that it's near the train museum? Trains!

8) The Sardine Factory 701 Wave Street, Monterey, CA 93940: You have to see this place to believe it, but see it you must. This Cannery Row institution is Old School food in an amazing setting. Would you like your palate cleanser served in an ice swan the size of a cow's head? Done. Oyster's Rockefeller? Porcini Ravioli? 55 day dry-aged New York steak? A great wine list? Done. Done. Done, and done.

9) Eddie's Cafe, 800 Divisidero Street, San Francisco, CA 94117 : What's an Old School/Old Man list without a diner? An old friend of mine and I would meet at Eddie's on "Diviz" any time he was in town. He couldn't get enough of their liver and onions with collard greens, and neither could I. It's the best diner fare I've ever eaten and I've tried plenty. It's comfort food defined and done right, and the family that own and operate Eddie's treat you right.

10) Harris' Restaurant, 2100 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94109: If there is one spot in San Francisco where I've eaten more than anywhere else it would be Harris'. Owned by the ex-wife of a member of the Harris Ranch clan, this was the winner of "where I eat steak on my birthday" over Alfred's and even over the wonderfully Old School House of Prime Rib. Harris' sweetbreads, ribeye and an Eagle Rare Manhattan were on the menu at least bi-monthly when it wasn't my birthday. Live jazz, wood and leather, booths you could land a helicopter, (or party of fourteen) in. I've had a lot of great times in Harris', and those memories will be there for me in my foggy fogey times.

There you have it. Ten Old School spots and a few honorable mentions. It wasn't an easy list to make. I've been putting this thing together since last year, and it would have been worse if I'd made myself put them in a hierarchy. Hopefully I won't change my mind anymore.

Have a great New Year's Eve, everyone. You won't catch me out. I'll be having some take out Chinese and an MST3K or Rifftrax viewing with the wife. I'm old!


You kids keep it down!