Dining on Fresh Seafood at Historic Cliff House
Coming to the Cliff House – a beloved San Francisco landmark – is like having a date with the city’s past. Through its many reincarnations since the mid-1800s, the building retains its most important features – architectural elegance, an oceanfront location, and gorgeous sunset views.
Named after Adolph Sutro, once a mayor of San Francisco who briefly owned the building, Sutro’s at the Cliff House restaurant is evocative of his legendary Sutro Baths – the iron-and-glass public swimming facility with salt and fresh water tanks and trademark wool swimsuits.
An athletic-looking male mannequin in one of those swimsuits greets today’s visitors at the entrance to the dining room. The vaulted ceiling with thin metal beams, a roundabout overlook bridge, glazed tiles and covered lights in the bar area, and glass walls resemble the interior of the long-gone swimming emporium.
The original ceramic reliefs of muses, commissioned from Italy for the Sutro Baths in the 1890s; period photographs, and nautical paraphernalia add to the authenticity of the place.
Some well-made house cocktails, like the gingery Moscow Mule and the fragrant Botanical Garden with St. Germain liquor, are a good start for a scrumptious dinner coming from the state-of-the-art open kitchen. On the night we ate at Sutro’s overlooking the raging waves outside, sustainably sourced fish and shellfish from the Pacific sounded enticing enough to comprise our entire dinner of seafood.
My dining companion’s ahi tuna tartar was carefully placed atop fresh guacamole and crowned with red tobiko and micro greens of biting daikon radish. For an additional kick, wasabi crème fraiche, lemon mustard with coriander seeds, and chili pepper were sprinkled around the plate for optional dabbing.
My plate of plump braised mussels stewed in San Francisco’s own Anchor Steam beer arrived smothered in spicy harissa sauce sweetened with caramelized onions. Two slices of grilled herb bread on the side were good for soaking up the sauce, but I still used a spoon to finish up the buttery liquid packed with just the right amount of heat.
Among the main courses, bacon-crusted Loch Duart salmon was on top of the list, and for a good reason. Grilled just right, served on a bed of pureed potato and wilted rainbow chard, the juiciest piece of salmon benefited tremendously from julienned apples, red onions, and whole-grain mustard sauce.
Pan-roasted local striped bass came with a side of addictive lobster risotto and preserved Meyer lemon for a harmonious combination or tastes and textures.
After a very satisfying meal, paired with Sonoma chardonnay and Napa pinot noir, we could only hope to share a dessert, and at the suggestion of our experienced server chose warm chocolate lava cake adorned with cinnamon ice cream, Hawaiian sea salt, and chili-vanilla crème Anglaise.
Besides Sutro’s two-story dining room with the views of Seal Rocks, the Marin coastline, and the Sutro Baths ruins, there are also the Bistro, the Terrace Room, and the Balcony Lounge at the Cliff House, popular with tourists and San Francisco dwellers for Sunday champagne brunch, wedding receptions, and all kinds of corporate and family events.
Cliff House is located at 1090 Point Lobos, San Francisco, California. Call for reservations (415) 386-3330 or visit their website.