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Table d'hôte is the feature of San Francisco's restaurant life. It is the ideal method for those who wish a good dinner and who have not the inclination, or the knowledge, to order a special dinner. It is also the least expensive way of getting a good dinner. It also saves an exhibition of ignorance regarding the dishes, for if you are in doubt all you have to do is to leave it to the waiter, and he will bring the best there is on the day's menu and will serve it properly.
It is really something to elicit wonder when one considers the possibilities of a table d'hôte dinner in some of the less expensive restaurants. Take, for instance, the Buon Gusto, in Broadway. This restaurant boasts a good chef, and the food is the finest the market affords. Here is served a six course dinner for fifty cents, and the menu card is typical of this class of restaurants. What is provided is shown by the following taken from the bill of fare as it was served us:
Hor d'ouvres - four kinds; five kinds of salad; two kinds of soup; seven kinds of fish; four kinds of paste; broiled spring chicken; green salad with French dressing; ice cream or rum omelet; mixed fruits; demi tasse.
With this is served a pint of good table wine.
As one goes up with the scale of prices in the restaurants that charge $1, $1.25, $1.50, $2, $2.50, and $3 for their dinners it will be found that the difference lies chiefly in the variety from which to choose and from the surroundings and service.
Take, for example, the following typical menu for a dollar dinner, served at the Fior d'Italia, and compare it with the fifty-cent dinner just mentioned:
Salami and anchovies; salad; chicken broth with Italian paste; fillet of English sole, sauce tartare; spaghetti or ravioli; escallop of veal, caper sauce; French peas with butter; roast chicken with chiffon salad; ice cream or fried cream; assorted fruits and cakes; demi tasse. Wine with this dinner is extra.
Now going a step up in the scale we come to the $1.50 dinner as follows:
Anchovies, salami (note that it is the same as above); combination salad; tortellini di Bologna soup; striped bass a la Livornaise; ravioli a la Genoese and spaghetti with mushrooms; chicken sauté, Italian style, with green peas; squab with lettuce; zabaione; fruit; cheese; coffee. Wine is extra.
Let us now look at the menu of the $3.50 dinner, without wine:
Pate 'de foie gras - truffles on toast; salad; olives; Alice Fallstaff; Italian ham "Prosciutto;" soup - semino Italiani with Brodo de Cappone; pompano a la papillote; tortellini with fungi a funghetto; fritto misto; spring chicken sauté; Carcioffi all'Inferno; Capretto al Forno con Insallata; omelet Celestine; fruit; cheese, and black coffee.
This dinner must be ordered three days in advance.
These menus will give a good idea of the different classes of dinners that can be obtained. Between are dinners to suit all tastes and pocketbooks. If you wish to go beyond these there is no limit except the amount of money you have. If but the food value be taken into consideration then one will be as well pleased with the fifty-cent dinner as he will be at the higher priced meals, but if light and music and brilliant surroundings are desired, then one must pay for them as well as for the meal he eats.
All of the restaurants mentioned serve good table d'hôte dinners, giving an astonishing variety of foods for the money, and it is all cooked and served in a manner that leaves nothing to be desired. As before mentioned if you wish a table d'hôte dinner composed entirely of sea food you can get it at the Shell Fish Grotto for one dollar.
A good rule to follow when dining at any of the restaurants is: When in doubt order a table d'hôte dinner. You will always get a good meal, for the least out lay of money and least expenditure of thought. Often one desires something a little different, and this is easy, too, and you can conserve your brain energy and get the most for the least money by seeing the proprietor or manager of the restaurant and telling him that you wish to give a little dinner. Tell him how many will be in the party and give him the amount you wish to spend. It will be surprising, sometimes, to see how much more you can get for a slight increase in the price. Of course your wines and cocktails will be extra and these must be reckoned in the cost.
From this we come to the ordered dinner, and here is where your own knowledge and special desires come in. Here, too, comes a marked increase in the cost. You now have the widest range of possibilities both as to viands and as to price. It is not at all difficult to have a dinner, without wine, that costs twenty-five dollars a plate, and when you come down to the more normal dinners, unless you confine yourself to one or two dishes you will find that you far exceed in price the table d'hôte dinners of equal gastronomic value.
While this is true it is well to be able to order your dinner for it frequently occurs that one does not care to go through the heavy course dinner provided table d'hôte. Sometimes one wants a simple dish, or perhaps two, and it is well to know something about them and how to order them. We have made it a rule whenever we have seen something new on the bill of fare to order it, on the theory that we are willing to try anything once, and in this way we have greatly enlarged our knowledge of good things.
It is also well to remember national characteristics and understand that certain dishes are at their best at certain restaurants. For instance, you will be served with an excellent paste at a French restaurant, but if you want it at its best you will get it at an Italian restaurant. On the other hand if you desire a delicate entree you will get the best at a French restaurant. For instance, one would not ask for sauer braten anywhere except at a German restaurant. It will readily be seen that the Elegant Art of Dining in San Francisco means much more than the sitting at table and partaking of what is put before you. Dining is an art, and its pleasure is greatly enhanced by a knowledge of foods, cooking, serving, national characteristics, and combinations of both foods and wines. How few people are there, for instance, who know that one should never drink any hard liquor, like whisky, brandy, or gin, with oysters. Many a fit of acute stomach trouble has been attributed to some food that was either bad or badly prepared when the cause of the trouble was the fact that a cocktail had been taken just prior to eating oysters.
Some of the possibilities of dining in San Francisco may be understood when we tell you of a progressive dinner. We had entertained one of the Exposition Commissioners from a sister State and he was so well pleased with what he had learned in a gastronomic way that he said to us:
"The Governor of my State is coming and I should like to give him a dinner that will open his eyes to San Francisco's possibilities. Would it be asking too much of you to have you help me do it?"
"We shall be glad to. What do you want us to do?"
"Take charge of the whole business, do as you please and go as far as you like."
"That is a wide order, General. What is the limit of price, and how many will be in the party?"
"Just six. That will include the Governor and his wife, you two and myself and wife. Let it be something unusual and do not let the cost interfere. What I want is something unusual."
It has been told us that when the Governor got back home he tried to tell some of his friends about that dinner, but they told him he had acquired the California habit of talking wide. This is the way we carried out the dinner, everything being arranged in advance: At 6:30 we called at the rooms of the Governor in the Palace Hotel and had served there dry Martini cocktails with Russian caviar on toasted rye bread.
An automobile was in waiting, and at seven o'clock we were set down at Felix's, in Montgomery street, where a table was ready for us and on it were served salami of various kinds, artichokes in oil and ripe olives. Then came a service of soup, for which this restaurant is famous, followed by a combination salad, with which was served a bottle of Pontet Canet.
The automobile carried us then over to Broadway and at the Fior d'Italia our table was waiting and here we were served with sand-dabs au gratin, and a small glass of sauterne.
All the haste we made was on the streets, and when we finished our course at the Fior d'Italia we whirled away over toward North Beach to the Gianduja, where had been prepared especially for us tagliarini with chicken livers and mushrooms, and because of its success we had a bottle of Lacrima Christi Spumanti, the enjoyment of which delayed us.
Again in the automobile to Coppa's where Chicken Portola was served, with green peas. Accompanying this was a glass of Krug, and this was followed by a glass of zabaione for dessert.
Back again to the heart of the city and we stopped at Raggi's, in Montgomery street near Commercial where we had a glass of brandy in which was a chinotti (a peculiar Italian preserved fruit which is said to be a cross between a citron and an orange).
Then around the corner to Gouailhardou & Rondel's, the Market Cafe, where from a plain pine table, and on sanded floor, we had our coffee royal. As a fitting climax for this evening we directed the chauffeur to drive to the Cliff House, where, over a bottle of Krug, we talked it all over as we watched the dancing and listened to the singing of the cabaret performers.
This dinner, including everything from the automobile to the tips cost but fifteen dollars for each one in the party.