Posted by: acooksca | 03/17/2016

Bohemian Life in 1914 San Francisco


Risotto a la Milanese

Clarence E. Edwords was a great chronicler life in San Francisco at the beginning of the 20th century. In his book Bohemian San Francisco – Its Restaurants and Their Recipes, The Elegant Art of Dining (pub. 1914 in S.F.) he wrote, “San Franciscans, both residential and transient, are a pleasure-loving people, and dining out is a distinctive feature of their pleasure.”

Prior to the morning of April 18, 1906, when a devastating earthquake and fire leveled most of The City, 100 restaurants specialized in “some particular dish or some peculiar mode of preparation” to tickle the “fastidious palates of a city of gourmets.” After that day, San Francisco would never quite regain the same dusk-to-dawn revelry Edwords talks about.

An Italian immigrant named Coppa ran several lively downtown restaurants “famous with artists, writers and other Bohemians, in the days that San Francisco was care-free and held her arms wide to the rest of the world.” Coppa didn’t succeed in rebuilding after the fire so he opened a place called The Pompeian Garden out of town on the San Mateo Road. Here, Edwords says a diner would find again the “true Bohemian restaurant of San Francisco, (which) approaches the spirit of the days before the fire.” Coppa’s specialty was “Chicken Portola a la Coppa, the most delicious way that chicken was ever cooked.” Chicken parts are cooked sealed in a cocoanut shell with onion, tomato, bacon, green pepper and young corn kernels.

S.F. stockton st.

1549 Stockton Street, site of Guanduja in 1914

Another Italian restaurateur, named Brenti, did stay and opened Guanduja in North Beach at 1549 Stockton Street near Washington Square. Today that address is the back entrance to the restaurant Rose Pistola. Edwords writes “This is one of the good Italian Restaurants of the Latin Quarter. At the Gianduja you get the prime essentials of a good meal – good cooking and excellent service.” Asked what he considered his most famous dish, Brenti selected Risotto a la Milanese. Here is how he wrote the recipe: “onions chop fine – marrow and a little butter – rice – saffron – chicken broth – whened cook add fresh butter and Parmesan cheese seasoned.” Edwords interpreted the recipe in a manner still easy to follow 100 years later:

Risotto a la Milanese of Restaurant Gianduia, 1914

Chop one large onion fine. Cut a beef marrow into small piece and stir it with the chopped onion. Put a small piece of butter in a frying pan and into this put the onion and marrow and fry to a delicate brown. Now add one scant cup of rice, stirring constantly, and into this put a pinch of saffron that has been bruised. When the rice takes on a brown color add, slowly, chicken broth as needed, until the rice is thoroughly cooked. Then add a lump of fresh butter about the size of a walnut, and sprinkle liberally with grated Parmesan cheese, seasoning to taste with pepper and salt. This is to be served with chicken or veal”

Bohemian San Francisco – Its Restaurants and Their Recipes, The Elegant Art of Dining

Clarence E. Edwords, pub. 1914 in San Francisco

A PDF file of the book is found at:



  1. My mouth is watering for some risotto Milanese and it’s only 9:53 am! 🙂

    • Thanks, Erin. I knew you and Bob would enjoy a little gastronomic history of S.F. The 1914 book is archived on-line and really fun to glance through, especially as so many of the stories involve your neighborhood!

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