Posted by: acooksca | 08/17/2015

San Francisco’s Cliff House

Cliff House Popovers

Cliff House Popovers

For the past two years San Francisco has been unusually sunny and warm. Yesterday, when the National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for The City, it was time to catch a cooling breeze at the Cliff House. Poised above the Pacific Ocean on the western headland of San Francisco, the Cliff House overlooks the ruins of Sutro Baths and out to the Farallon Islands 27 miles off shore. From inside the casual eatery, called The Bistro, a wall of windows exposes the view south down Ocean Beach. There is an even more dramatic view looking north, from Sutro’s Restaurant. Through floor to ceiling windows you watch the sea crash along cliffs at the entrance to the Golden Gate, where more then 30 ships have been pounded to pieces on the rocks. Today we are there to sip a cooling cocktail at the long zinc-topped bar and gaze at a panorama which seems to stretch all the way to Japan.

Cliff House Bistro

Cliff House Bistro

There have been five major incarnations of taverns here on this point. The first was a simple retreat built in 1858 of timber salvaged from a shipwreck on the cliffs below. It was a long trek from the City and hosted riders out for a day on horseback and small game hunters. Six years later it was expanded into the Cliff House Restaurant to handle Sunday carriages headed for a day at the coast using the new toll road (now Geary Boulevard). By the opening of Golden Gate Park in 1875 the Cliff House was a landmark and had hosted 3 presidents. Over the next century it was destroyed several times by fire and once by a tremendous dynamite explosion when a schooner ran aground. After a sale in 1937 to owners of the nearby Playland-at-the-Beach amusement park the property declined into a roadhouse with a curio shop and limited food options. The current Cliff House opened in 2004 with a graceful restoration similar to how the San Francisco landmark looked in the early 20th century.

The view from Sutro Restaurant

The view from Sutro Restaurant

The Bistro at the Cliff House is bathed in airy, morning light and an inviting place for an elegant breakfast. The prices may seem a little steep but they include a basket of the kitchen’s signature popovers with house made jams… just to keep you amused until your order arrives. A house specialty is eggs San Francisco: poached eggs with Dungeness crab on toasted sourdough with brandy cream sauce. We particularly enjoyed an omelet stuffed with thick-cut bacon, cheddar and well-seasoned mushrooms with crispy potatoes. The service is competent and friendly.

 Lamb Sirloin with Olives and Gigante Beans at Sutro's

Lamb Sirloin with Olives and Gigante Beans at Sutro’s

Sutro’s Restaurant is a more polished dining room and a birthday lunch here was worth lingering over. The kitchen is serious about the care it takes. The menu is innovative, stylish and changes seasonally. Lunch items range from chicken and dumplings (herb roasted breast with scallion gnocchi) to Thai style bouillabaisse. The dinner menu tempts with foie gras torchon and bacon crusted Scottish Salmon. All tables face the stunning view and we always note how welcoming the service feels.

To be here at the very edge of town, sipping a cooling cocktail as the sun sets into the Pacific is a great way to enjoy the Cliff House.


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