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Early Italian Impression
Almost coincident with the opening of the Iron House an Italian named Bazzuro took possession of one of the stranded sailing vessels encumbering the Bay, and anchored it out in the water at the point where Davis and Pacific streets now intersect. He opened a restaurant which immediately attracted attention and gained good reputation for its service and its cooking. Later, when the land was filled in, Bazzuro built a house at almost the same spot and opened his restaurant there, continuing it up to the time of the great fire in 1906.
After the fire one of the earliest restaurants to be established in that part of the city was Bazzuro's, at the same corner, and it is still run by the family, who took charge after the death of the original proprietor. Here one can get the finest Italian peasant meal in the city, and many of the Italian merchants and bankers still go there for their luncheons every day, preferring it to the more pretentious establishments.
The French peasant style came a little later, beginning in a little dining room opened in Washington street, just above Kearny, by a French woman whose name was a carefully guarded secret. She was known far and wide as "Ma Tanta" (My Aunt). Her cooking was considered the best of all in the city, and her patrons sat at a long common table, neat and clean to the last degree. Peasant style of serving was followed. First appeared Ma Tanta with a great bowl of salad which she passed around, each patron helping himself. This was followed by an immense tureen of soup, held aloft in the hands of Ma Tanta, and again each was his own waiter. Fish, entree, roast, and dessert, were served in the same manner, and with the black coffee Ma Tanta changed from servitor to hostess and sat with her guests and discussed the topics of the day on equal terms.
In California street, just below Dupont, the California House boasted a great chef in the person of John Somali, who in later years opened the Maison Riche, a famous restaurant that went out of existence in the fire of 1906. Gourmets soon discovered that the California House offered something unusual and it became a famed resort. Somali's specialties were roast turkey, chateaubriand steak and coffee frappe. It is said of his turkeys that their flavor was of such excellence that one of the gourmands of that day, Michael Reece, would always order two when he gave a dinner - one for his guests and one for himself. It is also said that our well-beloved Bohemian, Rafael Weill, still holds memories of the old California House, of which he was an habitué, and from whose excellent chef he learned to appreciate the art and science of cooking as evidenced by the breakfasts and dinners with which he regales his guests at the present day.
But many of the hardy pioneers were of English and American stock and preferred the plainer foods of their old homes to the highly seasoned dishes of the Latin chefs, and to cater to this growing demand the Nevada was opened in Pine street between Montgomery and Kearny. This place became noted for its roast beef and also for its corned beef and cabbage, which was said to be of most excellent flavor.
Most famous of all the old oyster houses was Mannings, at the corner of Pine and Webb streets. He specialized in oysters and many of his dishes have survived to the present day. It is said that the style now called "Oysters Kirkpatrick," is but a variant of Manning's "Oyster Salt Roast."
At the corner of California and Sansome streets, where now stands the Bank of California, was the Tehama House, one of the most famous of the city's early hostelries, whose restaurant was famed for its excellence. The Tehama House was the rendezvous of army and navy officers and high state officials. Lieutenant John Derby, of the United States Army, one of the most widely known western authors of that day, made it his headquarters. Derby wrote under the names of "John Phoenix," and "Squibob."
Perini's, in Post street between Grant avenue and Stockton, specialized in pastes and veal risotto, and was much patronized by uptown men.
The original Marchand began business in a little room in Dupont street, between Jackson and Washington, which district at that time had not been given over to the Chinese, and he cooked over a charcoal brazier, in his window, in view of passing people who were attracted by the novelty and retained by the good cooking. With the extension of his fame he found his room too small and he rented a cottage at Bush and Dupont street, but his business grew so rapidly that he was compelled to move to more commodious quarters at Post and Dupont and later to a much larger place at Geary and Stockton, where he enjoyed good patronage until the fire destroyed his place. There is now a restaurant in Geary street near Mason which has on its windows in very small letters "Michael, formerly of," and then in bold lettering, "Marchands." But Michael has neither the art nor the viands that made Marchands famous, and he is content to say that his most famous dish is tripe - just plain, plebeian tripe.
Christian Good, at Washington and Kearny, Big John, at Merchant street between Montgomery and Sansome, Marshall's Chop House, in the old Center Market, and Johnson's Oyster House, in a basement at Clay and Leidesdorff streets, were all noted places and much patronized, the latter laying the foundation of one of San Francisco's "First Families." Martin's was much patronized by the Old Comstock crowd, and this was the favorite dining place of the late William C. Ralston.
One of the most famous restaurants of the early '70s was the Mint, in Commercial street, between Montgomery and Kearny, where the present restaurant of the same name is located. It was noted for its Southern cooking and was the favorite resort of W. W. Foote and other prominent Southerners. The kitchen was presided over by old Billy Jackson, an old-time Southern darkey, who made a specialty of fried chicken, cream gravy, and corn fritters.