Established 1978
Taste

Reinventing Old Favorites


by James Stolich

San Francisco has a long history of preserving its treasured establishments, especially long-running, beloved restaurants. Think Park Tavern (keeping the tradition of Moose’s alive) and Tosca Café—but there are more.

Schroeder’s Restaurant

Originally opened in 1893, Schroeder’s Restaurant had an amazing 120-year run serving financial district patrons—the doors opened to women in the 1970s—food and drink in its Bavarian-inspired beer hall. The original structure was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, and the restaurant was reopened at its current location, 240 Front Street, by Henry Schroeder.

After the restaurant’s most recent closure in January 2014, its new owners, Andrew Chun and Jan Wiginton (they opened Press Club in 2008), have taken over the reins to lead the old-time eatery into a brand new era.

BCV Architects redesigned the 5,000-square-foot space and preserved all of the original murals by Herman Richter. There are long wooden tables throughout that convey the rustic sense of a beer hall, but there are also modern design elements, which bring the space into the present. Illuminated glass shelving serves as a partition between the different areas (bar and beer hall, main dining, private dining room), which also showcases the restaurant’s original beer steins.

Chun and Wiginton have gathered a team of some of the city’s most talented industry professionals. Executive chef Manfred Wrembel (he has worked at Plum with Daniel Patterson and at Incanto with Chris Cosentino) heads up the kitchen. He is incredibly passionate about his German roots and has crafted a menu of traditional German dishes with lighter preparations using California’s bounty of wonderful ingredients. Most go well with the restaurant’s 22 draft beers. A must: share the classic bratwurst (sauerkraut, house-made mustard, and pickles). Other favorites include Wiener Schnitzel (veal, celery root, fava beans, Meyer lemon) and local trout (fennel, kumquat, sorrel, yogurt). The beer selection highlights Germany, Czech Republic, California, and Oregon. Open Monday through Friday, from 11:30 a.m. until 10 p.m.; dinner from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m.; lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Closed Saturday and Sunday.

The Big 4 Restaurant

After the Big 4 Restaurant inside the historic Huntington Hotel closed for renovations early this year, there has been vast speculation over what changes might occur. The hotel recently reopened to a lot of fanfare, reincarnated as the Scarlet Huntington—and to the delight of regular patrons, the restaurant’s décor has changed very little. The vintage bar, green banquettes, piano, and all the other well-known artifacts, are all present and accounted for, but beautifully updated.

The biggest change is the departure of long-time chef Gloria Ciccarone-Nehls who is being replaced by chef Kevin Scott (Paragon, Bar Jules, and Hog Island Oyster Bar). Scott has been consulting with the Puccini Restaurant Group to roll out a new menu, which draws inspiration from classic comfort fare, with lighter touches, such as steak tartare (with quail egg and pain de mie). Hearty and sophisticated entrees include Mediterranean fish stew (lobster, prawns, ling cod, littleneck clams, PEI mussels, Pernod-saffron broth, aioli, crostini), a delicious variation on a theme. Desserts such as roasted figs (honey, fromage blanc, honey-thyme cracker) are both sweet and savory.

There are also more bar bites, since locals love to stop in for drinks and linger. Definitely try a plate of crispy artichokes (fried capers, aioli) or the deviled eggs (tarragon, shallot, Dijon).

Nearly all of the restaurant staff stayed on board during the transition, which means that regulars will be greeted by the same friendly faces. It is evident that the new Big 4 is committed to catering to its long-time regulars, but also wants to attract a younger crowd with its more contemporary menu. Open for dinner Monday through Sunday, from 5:30 p.m. until 10 p.m. The bar opens at 4 p.m.; bar bites served from 5:00 p.m. on. Lunch service began in June.

Elite Café

The familiar, neighborhood Elite Café located at 2049 Fillmore Street has quietly undergone some changes in recent months. It originally opened as the Lincoln Grill in 1928 before becoming the Elite Café in 1981. Housed in a period art deco building, the Elite has been bringing the flavor of New Orleans to loyal San Franciscans for decades. Owner Peter Snyderman (Alta Plaza, Blue Light Café, Fillmore Grill) took over ownership in 2005 and painstakingly restored all of the restaurant’s vintage tables, booths, bar, and signature art deco elements.

He recently hired chef James London (CO-OP at the Hotel on Rivington in New York City) to revamp the menu. London has significant restaurant experience in Manhattan and has worked alongside both Jacques Pepin and André Soltner at the French Culinary Institute. The restaurant continues to serve cuisine true to the flavors of New Orleans but with a lighter touch. It is also perhaps the best spot on Fillmore to see and be seen. Open for dinner, Monday through Thursday, from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. until 10:30 p.m.; Sunday, 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. Weekend brunch is a neighborhood tradition, from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.; bar menu, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

James Stolich’s CookWithJames.com provides regional Italian and Spanish dishes for all occasions. He has been featured in UrbanDaddy.com, AgencySpy.com, and Jenn Garbee’s intriguing book, Secret Suppers, about rogue chefs and their little known culinary lives.

 






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