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Birth of the French Restaurant
French impression came strongly about this time, and the Poodle Dog, of Paris, had its prototype at Bush and Dupont streets. This was one of the earliest of the type known as "French Restaurants," and numerous convivial parties of men and women found its private rooms convenient for rendezvous. Old Pierre of later days, who was found dead out on the Colma road some two years after the fire of 1906, was a waiter at the Poodle Dog when it started, and by saving his tips and making good investments he was able to open a similar restaurant at Stockton and Market, which he called the Pup. The Pup was famous for its frogs' legs a la poulette. In this venture Pierre had a partner, to whom he sold out a few years later and then he opened the Tortoni in O'Farrell street, which became one of the most famous of the pre-fire restaurants, its table d'hôte dinners being considered the best in the city. When Claus Spreckels built the tall Spreckels building Pierre and his partner opened the Call restaurant in the top stories. With the fire both of the restaurants went out of existence, and the old proprietor of the Poodle Dog having died, Pierre and a partner named Pon bought the place, and for a year or so after the fire it was one of the best French restaurants in the city. After Pierre's untimely death the restaurant was merged with Bergez and Frank's, and is now in Bush street above Kearny.
Much romance attached to Pierre, it being generally believed that he belonged to a wealthy French family, because of his education, his unfailing courtesy, his ready wit and his gentility. Pierre specialized in fish cooked with wine, and as a favor to his patrons he would go to the kitchen and prepare the dish with his own hands.
In O'Farrell street the Delmonico was one of the most famous of the French restaurants until the fire. It was several stories high, and each story contained private rooms. Carriages drove directly into the building from the street and the occupants went by elevator to soundproof rooms above, where they were served by discreet waiters.
The Poodle Dog, the Pup, Delmonico's, Jacques, Frank's, the Mint, Bergez, Felix and Campi's are the connecting links between the fire and the pioneer days. Some of them still carry the names and memories of the old days. All were noted for their good dinners and remarkably low prices.
Shortly after the fire Blanco, formerly connected with the old Poodle Dog, opened a place in O'Farrell street, between Hyde and Larkin, calling it "Blanco's." During the reconstruction period this was by far the best restaurant in the city, and it is still one of the noted places. Later Blanco opened a fine restaurant in Mason street, between Turk and Eddy, reviving the old name of the Poodle Dog, and here all the old traditions have been revived. Both of these savor of the old type of French restaurants, catering to a class of quiet spenders who carefully guard their indiscretions.
In the early '50s and '60s the most noted places were not considered respectable enough for ladies, and at restaurants like the Three Trees, in Dupont just above Bush street, ladies went into little private rooms through an alley. Peter Job saw his opportunity and opened a restaurant where special attention was paid to lady patrons, and shortly after the New York restaurant, in Kearny street, did the same.
Merging the post-pioneer, era with the pre-fire era came the Maison Doree, which became famous in many ways. It was noted for oysters a la poulette, prepared after the following recipe:
Oysters a La Poulette
One-half cup butter, three tablespoons flour, yolks of three eggs. One pint chicken stock (or veal), one tablespoonful lemon juice, one-eighth teaspoon pepper, one level teaspoon salt. Beat the butter and flour together until smooth and white. Then add salt, pepper and lemon juice. Gradually pour boiling stock on this mixture and simmer for ten minutes. Beat the yolks of eggs in a saucepan, gradually pouring the cooked sauce upon them. Pour into a double boiler containing boiling water in lower part of utensil. Stir the mixture for one and one-half minutes. Into this put two dozen large oysters and let cook until edges curl up and serve hot.
Captain Cropper, an old Marylander, had a restaurant that was much patronized by good livers, and in addition to the usual Southern dishes he specialized on terrapin a la Maryland, sending back to his native State for the famous diamond-back terrapin. His recipe for this was as follows:
Terrapin a La Maryland
Cut a terrapin in small pieces, about one inch long, after boiling it. Put the pieces in a sauté pan with two ounces of sweet butter, salt, pepper, a very little celery salt, a pinch of paprika. Simmer for a few minutes and then add one glass of sherry wine, which reduce to half by boiling. Then add one cup of cream, bring to a boil and thicken with two yolks of eggs mixed with a half cup of cream. Let it come to a near boil and add half a glass of dry sherry and serve.
You may thicken the terrapin with the following mixture: Two raw yolks of eggs, two boiled yolks of eggs, one ounce of butter, one ounce corn starch. Rub together and pass through a fine sieve.
Uncle Tom's Cabin, Tony Oakes, the Hermitage, and Cornelius Stagg's were noted road-houses where fine meals were served, but these are scarcely to be considered as San Francisco Bohemian restaurants.
The Reception, on the corner of Sutter and Webb streets, which continued up to the time of the fire, was noted for its terrapin specialties, but it was rather malodorous and ladies who patronized it usually went in through the Webb street entrance to keep from being seen. The old Baldwin Hotel, which stood where the Flood building now stands, at the corner of Market and Powell and which was destroyed by fire some fourteen years ago, was the favorite resort of many of the noted men of the West, and the grill had the distinction of being the best in San Francisco at that time. The grill of the Old Palace Hotel was also of highest order, and this was especially true of the Ladies' Grill which was then, as now, noted for its artistic preparation of a wondrous variety of good things.
Probably the most unique place of the pioneer and post-pioneer eras was the Cobweb Palace, at Meiggs's Wharf, run by queer old Abe Warner. It was a little ramshackle building extending back through two or three rooms filled with all manner of old curios such as comes from sailing vessels that go to different parts of the world. These curios were piled indiscriminately everywhere, and there were boxes and barrels piled with no regard whatever for regularity. This heterogeneous conglomeration was covered with years of dust and cobwebs, hence the name. Around and over these played bears, monkeys, parrots, cats, and dogs, and whatever sort of bird or animal that could be accommodated until it had the appearance of a small menagerie. Warner served crab in various ways and clams. In the rear room, which was reached by a devious path through the debris, he had a bar where he served the finest of imported liquors, French brandy, Spanish wines, English ale, all in the original wood. He served no ordinary liquor of any sort, saying that if anybody wanted whiskey they could get it at any saloon. He catered to a class of men who knew good liquors, and his place was a great resort for children, of whom he was fond and who went there to see the animals. The frontispiece of this book is from one of the few existing (if not the only one) photographs of the place.
Equally unique, yet of higher standard, was the Palace of Art, run by the Hackett brothers, in Post street near Market. Here were some of the finest paintings and marble carvings to be found in the city, together with beautiful hammered silver plaques and cups. Curios of all sorts were displayed on the walls, and among them were many queer wood growths showing odd shapes as well as odd colorings. A large and ornate bar extended along one side of the immense room and tables were placed about the room and in a balcony that ran along one side. Here meals were served to both men and women, the latter being attracted by the artistic display and unique character of the place. This was destroyed by the fire and all the works of art lost.