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Ferry Godsends

Alta Mira
That Oceanic Feeling: Sausalito's Alta Mira reminds one of why locals pay top dollar for their hillside homes.

Warming weather means outdoor dining by the Bay

By Hank Hamilton

Well, spring is sprung and the dew is on the flower and it's time to rush to some celebration of the season. As the days lengthen and warm, I'm lured to celebrate through outdoor dining in various spots around the Bay.

Look, I'm a San Franciscophile--heck, a bigot--with the best of them, Olympic class. But when I want to celebrate the great outdoor feast, I prefer to grab a ferry and hit a few places on the waters of the Bay--my idea of heaven. Most places with open decks make judgments about their customers' tolerance of temperature, fog and drizzle. If outdoor dining is important, call. However, I remember calling a well-known place north of the city on a foggy Sunday morning, eightish, to find that the deck staff had been told not to bother coming in. By 11am, the sky was blue, the wind was fair, the sun was hot and the competitors were doing a brisk business. C'est la business. Another important caution is that you should always be aware of the return ferry schedule or have arranged overnight accommodations (near most ferry stops).

First, consider any of the principal three Tiburon places: Sam's, Guaymas and Tutto Mare. (The latter two are owned by Spectrum Foods.) The ferry stops right at Guaymas and only steps away from the other two. If you come by car, there's a city lot a bit further up Main Street.

Sam's Anchor Cafe
Sam's offers a large deck that is often packed shoulder-to-shoulder on bright Sundays with eggs Benedic and burger-chomping, Bloody Mary-swilling folks. A good old-fashioned San Francisco seafood menu is available indoors and out. A no-reservations policy at lunch and brunch can provide time for a couple of rounds before dining, so be careful. Also, be careful of the sneaky seagulls that can swipe a sandwich off your plate while you bend to pick up a napkin. There's a TV in the bar where you can check up on the game from time to time. 27 Main St. (415/435-4527). Lunch, dinner 7 days; late dinner Fri.-Sat.; brunch Sat.-Sun. Cocktails, wine and beer. Mod$ A, M, V. Reservations available only for dinner.

When Guaymas is crowded (most nights and weekends), the Mexican fiesta can be deafening, but you escape that din outside on the deck, which is why we're here anyway, right? The deck is not as large as Sam's; thankfully, however, reservations for these tables are available: Use 'em. The margaritas are great for washing down a brunch of scrambled eggs with shrimp, onion, mushrooms, pasilla peppers and cactus; or sautéed chicken with house-made tortillas, topped with farmer cheese and sour cream. At other meals, expect chicken, seafood, pork and steaks, each grilled, roasted or fried and served with varieties of hot-pepper-based sauces. Try a grilled, halved baby chicken with strips of scallions, a scallion sauce and a chunky salsa of green tomatoes and jalapeños. 5 Main St. (415/435-6300). Lunch, dinner 7 days; late dining Fri.-Sat.; brunch Sun. Cocktails, wine and beer. Mod$ A, M, V. Reservations suggested.

Tutto Mare
This newest of these three offers--surprise!--Italian food. This is a two-story operation with a deck and a bar on each floor. A fairly formal dining room (not used in winter) is upstairs and a less formal cafe at street level. There are some shared items on the two menus. Sunday brunch is the same up and down, with items like an omelet with wild mushrooms and taleggio cheese, or sausage hash with poached eggs over salmon. At other meals you might find baked mussels on a cracker crust, or a baked monkfish, or a pasta in cuttlefish ink. 9 Main St. (415/435-4747). Lunch, dinner 7 days; late dining Fri.-Sat.; brunch Sun. Taverna 7 days. Cocktails, wine and beer. Mod$-exp$. A, D, M, V. Reservations available upstairs only.

In Sausalito, there's not a lot of outdoor/on-the-water/view dining, but the Alta Mira (a heart-healthy walk up the hill from the ferry stop) offers a dyn-o-mite deck above the town with one of the best city/East Bay views.

Alta Mira
The atmosphere and menu remind one of earlier generations of American-Continental restaurants. Even the bar and the bartender will evoke memories of the past. Out on to the deck, the sights of the crowded hills and the gridlock of boats yank you back to today. I would come here for a casual lunch or for the brunch featuring 20 of their more popular dishes, but only if I can sit on the deck. 125 Bulkley Ave. (415/332-1350). Breakfast, lunch, dinner 7 days; brunch Sun. Cocktails, wine and beer. Mod$-exp$ A, C, D, M, V. Reservations recommended for brunch. Valet parking is available.

One or two certain generations may remember when this place was The Trident. It still looks very much the same, but the staff is more conservatively attired. It offers a partly protected dining deck with great views of the bay and San Francisco. Boats pass within spitting distance ... wave, and they wave back. The food here is mostly ordinary preparations of seafood, veal, chicken, steak and pasta. But traditional brunch dishes are served every day from opening through lunch. And the view is fab. 558 Bridgeway, south of the ferry (415/331-3232). Brunch, lunch, dinner 7 days. Cocktails, wine and beer. Mod$ A, M, V. Reservations suggested on weekends. Parking lot with valet in front.

One of a 60-plus-member chain that is also represented at Fisherman's Wharf, this place seems to be attractive to families and a younger crowd. The food is interesting, competently prepared and sometimes attractive (like many of the customers), but breaks no barriers with lots of Mexican/Southwestern kinda things and Italian spattered here and there. There is only a handful of tables on a sheltered deck over the bay, and reservations are not available for those, so show up early and catch up on your favorite sport on one of the five TVs. Downside: the wine list is short, but decent. 660 Bridgeway, at Princess, upstairs (415/332-8512). Lunch, dinner 7 days; brunch Sat.-Sun. Cocktails, wine and beer. A, C, D, Di, M, V. Reservations suggested.

Over in Oakland, the waterfront scene centers on the currently booming Jack London Square area. With a total of about 14 restaurants--seven on the waterfront--only two, Jack's Bistro and Zazoo's, have outdoor tables at the water. One other, Il Pescatore, has outdoor tables on the land side, but at two of those tables you can sorta lean over this way a bit and see boats and water. An alternative is certainly to eat at one of the others that offer indoor tables with a water view. You can also eat outdoors with no water view at the Happy Beli Deli in Jack London Village, which I'd like to recommend, but it's not a "destination." So, let's just go with ...

Jack's Bistro
In the Waterfront Plaza Hotel, just a short walk from the ferry, this is an upscale American bistro with a bar and patio tables. Although only a few are actually on the water, they're in the sun almost the entire day. The food here is competent and involves the usual brunch suspects, followed by things like rotisserie chicken ; tri-tip served with mashed potatoes mixed with cooked spinach leaves; and a serviceable burger with fries. The indoor dining room is well laid out so that almost everyone is provided a view of the activity on the ship channel. There's also sports TV and dancing inside. 1 Broadway (510/444-7171). Early breakfast, lunch Mon.-Sat.; dinner 7 days; brunch Sun. Cocktails, wine and beer. Mod$-exp$ A, Di, M, V. Reservations available.

Located in the Village and the newest of the places mentioned here: It opened in May 1996. The food runs toward casual Mediterranean-American dishes. Lunch features kabobs, burgers and such, while dinner adds more serious steak and salmon dishes. Live entertainment is planned for the near future. 30 Jack London Square (510/893-7440). Lunch, dinner 7 days. Cocktails, wine and beer. Mod$ A, Di, M, V. Reservations available for dinner. Free parking lot.

Please note that the Oakland/Alameda ferry has a transfer agreement with Muni, while Golden Gate Ferry does not ... tsk, tsk. Call them to complain.

HANX Wine Notes

I've been itching to mention some good wines I've encountered recently, and this seems as good a space as any to crowd in a few. If you can't find the wine at your favorite shop, call the number given.

David Bruce 1995 Sonoma Pinot Noir. Rich, dense and complex; shows very complex, cherry-based fruit with excellent balancing wood; good company for a spicy tomato sauce or a wood-grilled steak. (408/354-4214)

Flora Springs 1995 California Sauvignon Blanc. Balance of fruit, acid and smoky wood tones; both crisp and slightly creamy; slightly grassy and spicy; should go well with asparagus dishes and broccoli soups. (707/963-5711)

Lockwood 1984 Monterey Cabernet Sauvignon. Rich and complex with dense fruit and chocolate tones; later, prominent coffee accents show up. (800/753-1424)

Lockwood 1994 Monterey Partners Reserve Chardonnay. Fresh, clean and fruity with tropical overtones; hints of apricots and citrus; a little hint of caramel in the aftertaste.

Hank Hamilton can be contacted at [email protected], and he'd love to hear from you. Really.

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From the April 1997 issue of the Metropolitan

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