A Neighborhood Place

Info:
A Neighborhood Place
By Dianne Jacob
Garibaldi's

347 Presidio (at Sacramento), 563-8841. Open Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch, dinner from 5:30 to 10 p.m., to 10:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Dinner only on Saturday. Brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays. Reservations: recommended, especially on weekends. Parking: pray for an act of God or pay $5 for the valet -- it's there for a reason. Muni: 43 Masonic. Sound level: noisy.

Garibaldi's likes to think of itself as a neighborhood place. But the crowd there is younger than the neighborhood's general population: Presidio Heights is home to heirs of shipping magnates and a place where older women wear Givenchy gowns to parties at mansions. Houses run about three to a block and start at around $5 million apiece.

So what would you be doing there? Hey, Sacramento Street boasts great antique stores and consignment clothing shops in which you can buy the castoff quality objects of the truly rich. You might see Amy Tan having her nails done in a salon. And you might have meal at Garibaldi's.

Even when you've made reservations, it is customary to wait for your table at the bar, where you can choose from such specialties as a pineapple-infused martini ($6.50). We tried a Cosmopolitan and an Island Breeze (both $6.50) and enjoyed their fresh fruit flavors and generous measures of alcohol. Pass the time by munching on a bowl of large, garlicky green olives, and don't let the hip and elegant atmosphere fool you. This is a place where you can get square: Order that regular martini, a steak with potatoes, and a brownie with vanilla ice cream for dessert. You don't have to try the goat cheese wrapped in phyllo pastry. If you do, however, it's delicious.

Garibaldi's decor is simple. The wood and metal bar is a highlight of the room, and the tables are covered with white cloth. While the lighting is dim, candlelight and spot lamps allow you to read the menu. Once the evening gets going the bar can get rowdy, and the place can be noisy enough that conversation without raised voices becomes a challenge. The weeknight we were there a man at a table beckoned over an acquaintance by sucking a $20 bill to his mouth.

At least they were both well-dressed.
Start with a favorite: the asparagus, sauteed with pancetta, garlic, hot chile oil, and oyster sauce ($8.95). If you want to stay traditional, have a perfectly dressed Caesar salad with homemade croutons ($7.95). The aforementioned goat cheese, wrapped in buttery phyllo, arrived on a bed of watercress, served on a pool of tangy chestnut honey-pomegranate vinaigrette ($9.95).

The California-Mediterranean menu boasts the usual meat, fish, and fowl-based entrees. The accompanying vegetables are expertly cooked and still crunchy, including the almost fluorescently green broccoli (a real accomplishment on the part of the kitchen, considering the darkness in the dining room).

The bottom of the menu bears a line that's an important clue about the food. It reads, "Split Plate Fee: $2.00." Take heed: Portions are enormous. We tucked into a steaklike slab of grilled ahi tuna with a tangy sauce of soy and lemon ($19.95); a filet mignon accompanied by an overly salted potato gratin ($19.95); and a rich fettuccine with meaty chanterelles, prosciutto, and a creamy porcini sauce ($17.95). Chef Tim Sweeney, formerly of Joyce Goldstein's celebrated Square One restaurant, has a way of elevating the ordinary: The filet mignon was sauced with a reduction of Armagnac, currants, and black pepper, creating a burst of contrasting flavors and textures.

Desserts cost $7 and are also generously sized, as we learned when we all ordered our own -- our waiter coyly suggested a gurney after asking if there would be anything else. The rather excessively accessorized gingerbread cake was my favorite -- a giant brown wedge with three tiny mounds of hazelnut gelato on the top like buttons, plus a caramelized butter rum sauce. By comparison, the white chocolate cheesecake was so classic as to seem uninteresting. But the apple-cranberry quince crisp was perfect, served warm with vanilla gelato.

Service was friendly and professional, but uneven. Our waiter disappeared for about a half an hour after he served our drinks, while the patrons at the tables next to ours arrived later but finished much earlier than we did. An extensive wine list boasts red, white, and sparkling wines from around the world, with prices ranging from $16 to $160 per bottle, while a dozen wines are also available by the glass. We chose a glass of St. Supery 1996 chardonnay, Napa Valley and a Chateau de la Chapelle, Bordeaux style, 1996 from Gironde, France, both priced at $6.50. Both were excellent, full of flavor, body, and fruit.

Garibaldi's has been so wildly successful that the restaurant's owners, John Hurley and Daniel Martes, opened a lavish and well-received second branch on College Street in Oakland about a year-and-a-half ago. West of the Bay Bridge, if you're strolling Sacramento Street and need a break from the ritzy shops and the hired dog walkers, follow the carriage trade to the original location.

Published:In a review of Garibaldi's restaurant published Dec. 16, the chef was misidentified. The real chef is Tim Feeney. SF Weekly regrets the error.

 
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