By the end of May the dot-com bomb hit and the oncoming
recession started to trickle down to the restaurant industry.
As the year progressed since then, we've heard from many restaurateurs
that business dropped between 20 and 50 percent.
As investment money dried up, people moved away from San Francisco
and tourism slowed, the ever-resourceful restaurant community
reacted. Some places added another dining day, going from
six to seven days, or they added services. Others did the
opposite by cutting hours in order to cut labor costs. Still
others down-scaled menu prices or offered three-course dining
deals to lure in patrons.
Nevertheless, looking at the big picture, 50 restaurants of
note debuted. At the same time, 35 significant restaurants
closed, and therein lies the story. There were approximately
three times as many closures of venerable or neighborhood
restaurants this year as compared to last.
And then came the national tragedy of Sept. 11, which added
wheels to the decline.
This year, the greater downtown area of San Francisco lost
the Iron Horse, Brasserie Savoy, Splendido,
Oritalia, Planet Hollywood, Cypress Club,
Scott's Seafood, Montage, LiveFire and
Yank Sing on Battery.
On the other hand, the area gained some new spots. One of
the splashiest openings of the year was Asia de Cuba in
the redone Clift Hotel. Another million-dollar venue was the
Zenlike Ozumo on Stuart Street's restaurant row.
After more than 100 years, Maye's Oyster House, on
Polk Street is temporarily closed, according to a recorded
message on their telephone. A pretty good deli opened on Polk
in the form of the East Coast West Delicatessen, and
Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store morphed into the popular
Spoon. After a long and successful run, Luzern
closed out in the Sunset. Not surprisingly, Nasturium
closed in the Richmond District.
In SoMa, Ristorante Ecco stopped cooking pasta and
Basque had game only for a little while. Doidge's
and Bonta closed quietly in Cow Hollow. But in the
same neighborhood, Radicchio became the lovely Merenda,
with former PlumpJack chef Keith Luce as an owner and
James Ormsby replacing Luce at PlumpJack. Across the
street from Merenda, Charlie's drew the hormone-fueled
crowds, and Chestnut Street remained pretty stable,
with Steven Levine's Cozmo Corner Grill a solid addition.
On a stretch of Market Street near the Castro, Alfred Schilling
Chocolate Co. Restaurant & Cafe became DeLessio Market
& Bakery, while this week the closed Piaf's is
expected to become Piyassa Restaurant & Bar, a northern
Mediterranean venue with Turkish tastes.
Chef Todd Davis, formerly of the Lark Creek Inn,
brought a change of style to MC2, going from fusion
to contemporary American.
In competitive North Beach, we said goodbye to a slew of restaurants:
Glow, Cypress Club, Cafferata Piccola Cucina,
Emma, P.J. Mulhern's, Basta Pasta, and
In Noe Valley, Cafe J and the venerable Speckmann's
closed. At the Wharf, Gabbiano's Restaurant & Oyster Bar
became the new home for the World Trade Club, which
moved out of the Ferry Building. Laghi in midtown
succumbed to location woes, while the once-wacky Flying
Saucer closed on Valencia Street.
Not far away, Three Ring morphed into the Creole-themed
Le Crewe under new owners, and in the same neighborhood
two new favorites opened - Andalu on Guerrero, and
Alma on Valencia.
Everyone except the fast food outlets suffered at the airport
for the first half of the year, but after September the suffering
was meted out equally. George Chen's Restaurant Qi
and Water Bar closed.
Bruno Chemel, former chef at Qi, has teamed up with the Real
Restaurant Group which plans to open Beaucoup at
1001 California St. on Nob Hill in early spring. The ambitious
project, much like the newly opened Redwood Park in
the Transamerica Pyramid, cheffed by George Morrone and
owned by Charles Condy, will have a casual bar and
bistro, an upscale dining space and another space for private
In Marin, both the Avenue Grill and Chen's Dragonfly,
as well as Steve Simmon's Savanna Grill all closed.
The latter became a branch of Izzy's Steak & Chophouse.
The tiny Filou in San Anselmo became the equally tiny Fork,
and we liked it. Roxanne's, a restaurant sans stoves,
just opened last week in Larkspur.
In the Napa Valley, the town of Napa and the opening of COPIA
engendered a boom in restaurants, while Pat Kuleto launched
the Martini House in St. Helena with chef Todd Humphries
from the nearby Wine Spectator Restaurant in the Culinary
Institute of America at Greystone. Pilar Sanchez of Meadowood
Resort replaced him at the CIA. Cindy Pawlcyn opened
the Latin-themed Miramonte in St. Helena to oles.
In Sonoma County, the Girl & the Gaucho opened, while
chef Brian Whitmer left Moose's to open Carneros in
the Lodge at Sonoma. Two newbies brightened the scene
in tiny Healdsburg ... Charlie Palmer's Dry Creek Kitchen
in the Healdsburg Hotel and Manzanita from Willowside's
In the East Bay, Italian Colors faded in Jack London Square,
to be replaced by a branch of Barclay's Restaurant & Pub.
The snazzy Terrace Bar at the Claremont Hotel and Resort
became a Paragon Restaurant & Bar, making number four.
Bistro Liaison in Berkeley livened up mid-Shattuck,
while Downtown, also on Shattuck, popped up near the Berkeley
Rep. Probably the best new place in Oakland turned out to
be A Cote. In Solano County, Remark in Vallejo became
the ambitious WaterBarge Restaurant & Tavern.
On the Peninsula, Buffalo Grill went to the last round
up even while several stylish places flung open their doors
- Village Pub in Woodside and Trader Vic's in
Palo Alto, among them. Former Postrio dynamo Kim Beto helped
open Kingfish in San Mateo and industry veteran chef
Howard Bulka debuted Marche in Menlo Park.
The Ritz Carlton's Navio in Half Moon Bay made a splash
on the coast and Cetrella came to the sleepy town.
Bradley Ogden opened the oddly named Parcel 104 in
Santa Clara, and Z perched in Los Altos.
Restaurants aside, we lost some pretty terrific people last
year. Innovative French chef Jean-Louis Palladin passed
away, as did cookbook author-chef Barbara Tropp. Front
of the house smiles were lost when David Benjamin and
Louis ""Luigi'' Marateo died. Hotelier-pioneer Bill
Kimpton died at age 65 after a long illness. And the World
Trade Center attack snatched pastry chef Heather Ho from our
In the four-star switcheroo of the year, chef Ron Siegel
went to Masa's, a Kimpton Group restaurant, from the
Condy-owned Charles Nob Hill, while chef George Morrone left
the Kimpton-owned Fifth Floor for the Condy-owned Redwood
Park. The former Waldorf Astoria's Laurent Gras' has just
debuted a highly inventive and refined menu at the Fifth Floor.
Jody Denton left the Azie-Zibibbo-LuLu fold for his
own restaurant in Bend, Oregon. Considering the economy, we
were surprised to hear that the Latin- themed project he was
working on for restaurateur Rowena Wu is still on. Zibibbo
executive chef Brent Pollock is overseeing the Folsom Street
Chef Julia McClaskey left Dine and, with former manager
Robert Hill (now at Cafe Kati), is in negotiations for a space
in San Francisco. Justine Miner, McClaskey's former sous chef,
is working to open her RNM bar & lounge on Haight Street
That's also when the four-star Fleur de Lys will reopen
after a million-dollar fire closed the four-star eatery for
many months. With backing from the Piatti restaurant group,
Fleur de Lys owners Hubert and Chantal Keller are still planning
to open a brasserie near Union Square or on Jackson Street
near the popular Kokkari, depending on how negotiations
And any day now, chef Philippe Jeanty will open Jeanty@Jack's
in downtown San Francisco.
Weitten by: GraceAnn Walden - a former restaurant cook who
writes about the restaurant scene for the San Francisco Chronicle
and leads history- food tours of North Beach, the traditional
Italian neighborhood of San Francisco on Saturdays and weekdays.
Check out her web site: graceannwalden.com
You can e-mail her at [email protected].