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Around the Clock

Pretty Chairs All in a Row: Before the music starts, Eleven offers elegant dining.

Out on the town? Find it all, from pie-show meals to late-night munchies with our menu guide

THIS ELECTION is about change," Bill Clinton said in 1992 and the Republicans in 1994. Not to be outdone, we've decided to get into the swing of Change '96 by altering our dining section. Instead of completely rotating our cast of restaurants every month, we've established a core of regular players who will remain in our pages, though not without some monthly additions and subtractions. And instead of grouping dining establishments together along geographic or ethnic boundaries, we're using a new organizational structure that sorts restaurants into four categories based their usefulness to hungry theater- and concert-goers. So while SF Live's new dining guide may not change the world the way stepping into a polling booth does, it's sure a lot tastier.

Theater Distric Dining | Supper Clubs
Coffee & Dessert | Dinner After the Show

All reviews written by Holly Erickson (H.E.), Hank Hamilton (H.H.), Christa Palmer (C.P.), or Zack Stentz (Z.S.)

Credit Cards: AE=American Express, CB=Carte Blanche, DC=Diner's Club, J=JCB, MC=Mastercard, T=Transmedia, V=Visa.

Theater Distric Dining

"Give me convenience or give me death!" Patrick Henry might have shouted if he was trying to grab a quick bite to eat before slipping into his seat at the local symphony or bear-baiting. With that great American patriot in mind, this first passel of dining choices have been selected on the basis of their early opening hours, closeness to major entertainment venues, and willingness to accommodate drop-in diners. After all, why suffer through fast food-induced heartburn during an aria when one can linger over a fine, leisurely meal before sauntering down to the show?

A pleasant, civilized restaurant a short walk from Davis Hall and the opera house. Free parking in the area is easy if you arrive for a pre-show dinner. Relax with dishes such as grilled oregano prawns with a buttery oregano marinade and grilled pears; and ravioli stuffed with chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, ricotta and pine nuts in a sauce of smoky, aged provolone, roasted red onions and cream; 687 McAllister St., 415/673-9353. Lunch Mon-Fri, dinner Tue-Sat; late dining Fri-Sat. $$. Beer & wine. MC, T, V. Reservations available. (H.H.)

The Grand Cafe
A large cafe and bar area fronts a spacious dining room featuring whimsical sculptures and an open kitchen. Service is professional and fast, permitting an excellent meal before a nearby performance. Try lobster and shrimp ravioli in a lobster-sorrel sauce or chicken braised in pinot noir with mushrooms, smoked bacon and onions. 501 Geary St (at Taylor, in the Hotel Monaco) 415/292-0101. Breakfast, lunch, dinner 7 days. Late dining Fri-Sat. Cafe menu until very late. $$-$$$. Cocktails. Reservations suggested. AE, D, MC, V. $7 valet parking available, and there's a public garage under Union Square two blocks away. (H.H.)

La Scene
An elegant place in the very heart of the theater district with live piano some nights, La Scene opens early and closes late, so leave your car with the valet and take in a show. The light, contemporary dishes include a salad of rare tuna on greens with cucumber and red pepper shreds and a tahini vinagrette, monkfish ravioli, and rib-eye steak with horseradish butter, sweet potato fries and grilled miniature vegetables. A $21 fixed-price chef's choice early-bird dinner makes this place even more appealing to the theatergoer. 490 Geary St, 415/292-6430. Serving begins at 5:30pm nightly. $$-$$$. Cocktails. AE, C, DC, MC, T, V. $5 valet parking. (H.H.)

The front dining room reminds me a of a classic tea room. The vegan (no meat, no dairy, no fat added in cooking) dishes never fail to satisfy and often surprise. Try a mango-and-Fuji-apple salad with greens, blood oranges and a citrus vinaigrette; spinach pasta topped with Italian vegetable sausage, with an onion sauce with tomato relish and vegetables; baked pumpkin, filled with a ragout of turnip and fennel, millet quinoa pilaf and garnished with a beet purée. 246 McAllister St; 415/487-9800. Lunch Tue­Fri, dinner Tue­Sun, brunch Sun. $­ $$. Beer and wine. MC, T, V. Reservations suggested. (H.H.)

Original Joe's
Yes, Virginia, there is an original Joe's and yes, this is where that style of restaurant began in 1937. Enjoy old favorites such as eggplant Parmigiana; sautéed chicken with mushrooms, onions, wine and tomato; and, of course, Joe's Special. 144 Taylor St (above Turk); 415/775-4877. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, late dining, very late dining 7 days. $-$$. Cocktails. DC, MC, V. Reservations available to 6 or more. (H.H.)

In the Villa Florence Hotel, this restaurant serves really good northern Italian food wrapped around one of the more active social bars in the city. Everybody feels confident and safe here. Everyone gets fed well, too. Try to have the saffron risotto with shrimp and scallops. 221 Powell St (above O'Farrell); 415/397-7720. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, late dining 7 days. $$-$$$. Full bar. AE, D, DC, J, M, V Reservations suggested. Public parking garages nearby. (H.H.)

I hadn't been inside of this survivor of the local scene in years, so it was a discovery that the restaurant's quality and bargain prices are as good as ever. Selections of healthy soups, salads and quiche change daily; service is cafeteria style and speedy, which makes this a good pre-theater choice. Go for the Caesar salad, vegetarian lasagna, or seven-layer torte, and look for the $7 theater special. 442 Geary St; 415/441-5761. Lunch, dinner and late dining all week. $. Beer and wine. AE, DC, MC, V. No reservations. (H.H.)

The Skyroom
An attractive, pleasant restaurant, little known to even city dwellers, this is the kind of place that retired Marine Corps officers love, which makes sense when you see what building it's in. The view is out over the low-rise buildings around Union Square, and you can catch a bit of bay. Keep this place in mind when attending the Marines Memorial Theater. There are bargain early-bird dinners and a small list of quality wines at reasonable prices. Dig into American classics such as grilled pork chops, filet of sole and prime rib. 609 Sutter St (above Mason, 12th floor of the Marines' Memorial Club); 415/673-6672. Breakfast, dinner 7 days; lunch Mon­Sat. $$. Cocktails. MC, V. Reservations available. Park in the Union Square garage. (H.H.)

Supper Clubs

Eat, or see a show? The following establishments resolve the eternal dilemma in a very '90s fashion by allowing patrons to do both simultaneously. So whether tastes run toward Cole Porter and pasta or Coltrane and catfish, diners should have no problem finding places to tap their toes while tickling their taste buds.

Coconut Grove Supper Club
This lavishly appointed venue is under new management, and has accordingly lowered its prices and relaxed its dress code in an effort to bring '40s elegance to the Gap and Dockers generation. The venue features nightly piano, "Fat Tuesday" with complimentary jambalaya and $2 martinis, and blues, jazz, swing or big band music Fri­Sat. 1415 Van Ness Ave; 415/776-1616. Open Tue­Sun 5:30pm­2am. $$. AE, MC, V. Reservations available. (H.E.)

(a.k.a. '11') A hot property (now under new ownership) with live rock, cool jazz, blues and reggae playing from a stage above the dining room. Eleven also boasts a busy bar and good Mediterranean food. The clientele tends to be on the youngish side, favoring shoulder-pressing crowds and (sometimes) deafening music. Quieter meals are available before the music begins. Try dishes such as gnocchi with tomato sauce, cheese tortellini in an herb cream sauce, and New York steak with broccoli and roast potatoes. Cover charge for music, waived if dining before. 374 11th St (between Folsom and Harrison); 415/431-3337. Lunch Mon­Fri, dinner, late dining Mon­Sat, very late dining Fri­Sat. $$. Cocktails, smoking at the bar only. AE, CB, DC, MC, T, V. Reservations available. Validated parking for $5 at nearby Costco. (H.H.)

Fizz Supper Club
A brand-new kid in the 'hood, run by a guy with a good record (Cafe Macaroni, Little City, Trams, etc., etc., etc.), Fizz offers indoor tables and an all-weather courtyard with fountain, bar and cypress trees. Live jazz is played every night. At lunch the menu leans toward sandwiches, but at lunch or dinner, look for stuffed mussel soup; couscous and rabbit timbale served with harissa sauce; roasted chicken ravioli with marscapone and a mustard green peppercorn sauce; and andouille-stuffed quail with saffron risotto cake and braised escarole. Don't overlook the well-priced 91-item wine list. 471 Pine St (above Montgomery); 415/421-3499. Lunch Mon­Fri, dinner Mon­Sat. $$-$$$. Cocktails. AE, MC, T, V. Reservations suggested. Park on streets or Sutter-Stockton garage. (H.H.)

Harry Denton's Starlight Rooms
Not so much a restaurant as a nightclub with a small cafe menu, this venue offers wonderful twilight and evening views along with the requisite live band and dancing (and cover charge) to whet the appetite for dishes such as a plate of smoked salmon, trout and scallops; scampi-style baked shrimp; or smoked and chilled tenderloin with sweet onion confit. Live music from the house band holds sway Tue-Sat, while DJs keep the dance floor moving Sun and Mon. Oh, and be sure to dress for the occasion--and that doesn't mean ironing the creases on that denim jacket. Sir Francis Drake Hotel, 450 Powell St; 415/395-8595. Open 4:30pm­2am nightly. $$. No cover Sun­Tue, $5 Wed­Thu, $10 Fri­Sat. Cocktails. AE, DC, MC, V. (H.E.)

Julie Ring's Heart and Soul
After her success with Julie's Supper Club, Julie Ring started Heart and Soul, where music goes hand in hand with the food and the concept. With its rich color theme, based on the owner's grandmother's home in Chicago and recreated by her sister Marian, Heart & Soul is much like an old-time supper club. The music--jump jive, retro, jazz and swing--is from the '30s and '40s. Cocktails are poured from 5pm and include martinis ($3 on Thursdays), manhattans and sidecars in generous glasses. Dance music starts at 8:30pm (9:30pm weekends). Dinner is old-fashioned American-style fish, pork chops, sirloin steak, roast chicken and daily specials. Desserts include a mouth-watering peach cobbler. 1695 Polk St; 415/673-7100. Open 5pm Tue-Sat dinner and cocktails, Sun cocktails only. No cover before 8pm. $$, AE, MC, V. Free parking Tue­Thu ($5 Fri and Sat) at 1776 Sacramento St. (H.E.)

Miss Pearl's Jam House
Miss Pearl's introduces a bit of the Caribbean into an urban motel (popular with touring musicians.) The live reggae some nights carries you away. Squint your eyes a bit and the swimming pool does look like ... aw, no way! But the food could be coming out of a beach-side shack, albeit one with a really good chef: yucca-dough turnover filled with chicken, beef, pork, olives and raisins on a spicy tomato sauce; pan-fried catfish spiced with ginger and garlic on a ginger-and-rice pancake; and red snapper on a bed of baby green beans, garnished with avocado relish and drizzled with a spicy papaya vinaigrette. 601 Eddy St (at Larkin, in the Phoenix Hotel); 415/775-5267. Dinner Tue-Sun, late dining Fri-Sat, brunch Sun. $$. Cocktails. AE, MC, V. Reservations available. (H.H.)

Named after both the quarter of New Orleans where jazz began about a century ago, and a late, lamented jazz club in Boston, Storyville was started by woodwind player, Don Pender, and partner Katherine Hoffman. The red velvet plush walls, black leather couches, gold deco sconces, fireplaces and photos of jazz greats help recreate not any particular jazz club of the past, but the ambiance of many of them. The Southern and New Orleans cuisine, with favorites like crab bisque, jambalaya, gumbo, catfish and chicken fingers, are mixed with American standards like roast chicken. There are two rooms: The Lounge is up-front, where the house band, including Pender, play from 5 to 8pm. The nonsmoking showroom in the back of the club offers dining and shows. 1751 Fulton St; 415/441-1751. Dinner and cocktails Tue-Sun 5pm­midnight, Sun brunch 11:30am­3pm. No cover most nights. $$. AE, MC, V. Parking across street at Plaza Foods. (H.E.)

Coffee & Dessert

Roger and Me director Michael Moore once claimed that every restaurant in San Francisco was in actuality a coffee and dessert place. He didn't mean it as a compliment, but in truth, sometimes something short of a full meal is just the ticket before or after a show. So by all means, ignore the curmudgeonly Mr. Moore, hoist a cup of frothy arabica-based beverage and have a slice of that dark, decadent dessert that has the seeming density of a neutron star and a taste that leaves you in a puddle on the floor.

Cafe Greco
This sidewalk cafe in the heart of North Beach is a bustling little nook, with a charming and energetic staff who, without fail, greet their guests with the friendly Italian greeting, "Bon Giorno!" High ceilings and open door-length windows lend this cafe a European flavor, as after-dinner strollers, visiting Europeans and local North Beach-dwellers occupy the marble-topped tables inside and the green umbrella tables outside. Best known for their rich, full-flavored coffee always complimented with a choice of cinnamon, nutmeg or cardamom, Cafe Greco serves other delectable treats which include savory chocolate-covered biscotti, focaccia breads and other goodies. Columbus Street at Stockton and Green. Open Sun-Thu 7am­midnight, Fri­Sat 7pm­1am. (C.P.)

Greens Front Counter
While the restaurant proper at this gorgeous bayview location inside historic Fort Mason has become justly famous for serving cutting-edge vegetarian fare prepared by kung fu­trained monks (I could be wrong on that last part), most people walk right past the pastry and coffee counter up front to hustle to their seats, and that's too bad. With a great selection of baked goods, caffeinated beverages and the expected Odwalla juices, Greens' counter is the ideal place to fuel up before or Fort Mason events. And though sitting inside with your goodies isn't really an option, who needs to when surrounded by Fort Mason's spectacular vistas? Cradling a cup of coffee while watching a gigantic cargo ship slide past Alcatraz sounds like my idea of heaven. Fort Mason, Building A. Open until around 10pm. (Z.S.)

Mrs. Fields
Don't laugh. Unlike its characterless counterparts in the malls of America, this conveniently located outpost of the Mrs. Fields empire actually has a few indoor tables where one can easily dive in for a quick sugar 'n' caffeine rush and watch the shivering, bare-legged cable car riders roll past before sallying forth again. Moreover, the cappuccino is passable and the fudge brownies are absolutely first-rate. Corner of Powell and O'Farrell. Open till 10pm. (Z.S.)

Seattle Street
Surprisingly enough, few places in the theater section of Geary Street specialize in coffee and desserts. Seattle Street is one of them, and offers a cozy place to get away from the outside street's frantic pace. Tasteful photographs are mounted on the walls and even beneath the transparent tabletops, and the counter offers a wide assortment of drinks and snacks, including some tempting fresh juices for those who don't wish to be bouncing off the walls at 3am. 351 Geary. Open until midnight. (Z.S.)

Dinner After the Show

So you were in such a hurry that you skipped supper on the way to the show, and the sounds of the performers were nearly drowned out by the gurgling of your gastric juices. No problem. Just try one of these late-night establishments, where you can make like a character in an Edward Hopper painting and linger over a steaming entree while pondering that sax solo or soliloquy you just heard.

Biscuits and Blues
A subterranean blues club serving some tasty Gulf/Southern entrees like grilled catfish or fried chicken, served with such soulful sides as black-eyed peas, greens, mashed potatoes, and (of course!) a biscuit. 401 Mason St; 415/292-2583. Midnight breakfast Fri­Sat. $. Cocktails. AE, MC, V. No reservations. (H.H.)

The Brazen Head
There's no sign to help you find this cozy, romantic cubbyhole serving French-continental fare. Try filet mignon with sautéed mushroom caps, scalloped potatoes and vegetables, or a chicken breast in a crushed pepper with brandy sauce. 3166 Buchanan St; 415/927-7600. Dinner, very late dining 7 days. $$. Cocktails. No credit cards. (H.H.)

La Rondalla
A bona fide Mission District classic with live music later in the evening, the bustling La Rondalla serves the first-rate, authentic Mexican fare you'd expect in a neighborhood like this. Recommended dishes include burritos, huevos rancheros, pozole, and beef tongue in tomato sauce. 901 Valencia St; 415/647-7474. Lunch, dinner, late dining 7 days. $-$$. No credit cards. (H.H.)

Don't go to this busy yet intimate neighborhood-style Italian restaurant in hopes of anonymity, because they'll treat you like a longtime, valued customer on your very first visit. And do try the osso buco, salmon carpaccio with capers, fettuccine with chicken breast and eggplant, or the crab ravioli in cream sauce. 692 Sutter St; 415/922-3944. Dinner, late dining 7 days. $$ Beer & wine. AE, MC, T, V. (H.H.)

Max's Diner
One of the ubiquitous Max's locations, this site recreates a '50s diner theme with vinyl booths, shakes and huge portions. Eat meatloaf. Stuff a huge sandwich of pastrami, corned beef or brisket down your gullet. Scarf a chicken-fried steak. Like the man says, a very bad place for a diet. 311 Third St; 415/546-6297. Lunch, dinner 7 days. Late dining Mon­Sat. $$. Cocktails. AE, CB, MC, V. (H.H.)

Plump Jack
This establishment is a little outside the conventional theater district but well worth the trip, boasting a first-class Mediterranean-influenced menu with an excellent, fairly priced wine list. Some excellent choices include risotto with caramelized artichokes, onions and shallots and the grilled halibut with morels, wild leeks, roasted potatoes and spinach. 3127 Fillmore St; 415/563-4755. Lunch Mon­Fri, dinner and late dining Mon­Sat. $$-$$$. Beer & wine. AE, MC, V. (H.H.)

A lively social bustle and a really good wine selection support an Italo-Californian menu featuring items like crab ravioli in a shellfish sauce, filet of broiled salmon stuffed with leeks, or tubular pasta tossed with porcini. 1 Tillman Place (off Grant between Sutter and Post); 415/421-2300. Lunch, dinner, late dining 7 days. $$-$$$. Cocktails. AE, MC, V. (H.H.)

One of the top people-watching restaurants in town, the food and atmosphere here attracts locals, visitors, stars and star-watchers alike, though the people play second fiddle to the food. Great live piano, too. A light late-night menu is available for theater and opera crowds. At lunch, try an ancho chicken salad sandwich with cilantro, grilled orange vinaigrette and vegetable chips; at dinner, the grilled pork chops served with risotto, radicchio vinagrette and fried sage. 150 Redwood Alley (above McAllister, above Polk); 415/861-7827. Lunch Mon­Fri; dinner, late dining 7 days; very late dining Fri­Sat. $$-$$$. Full bar. AE, DC, MC, V. Reservations suggested, but not necessary. No-smoking room available. Valet parking available. (H.H.)

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From the November 1996 issue of SF Live

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