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I began losing faith in the decency of human beings about a third of the way through our first rotation at Equinox. In case you've never heard of it, Equinox is one of those revolving restaurants (the windows and walls are stationary; the floor turns). It's set atop the Embarcadero's Hyatt Regency and offers some of the finest views in San Francisco. When my friend Elsbeth and I took our seats, our table looked out on the Ferry Building and the shimmering blue bay. A few minutes later we were gazing down the canyonlike corridor of Spear Street, which is when we first noticed the smudge on the window. It was a forehead print, I think, with a long, greasy trail behind it. Soon we saw hand prints, elbow prints, cheek prints, and one print that (with a little imagination) could have been made by a baby's ass.
Open for dinner every night from 6 to 10 p.m., brunch on Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Open for cocktails Monday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to midnight, 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Fridays, noon to 1 a.m. on Saturdays, 10:30 a.m. to midnight on Sundays
Parking: not too difficult
Muni: 1, 41, all streetcar lines, BART
Noise level: moderate
We had to wonder: Who was eating in this restaurant that they'd so thoughtlessly defile the views? Out of sorts, I, too, began misbehaving. I placed a piece of bread on the window sill to see if it would still be there when we came back around (it wasn't), and considered leaving notes for our fellow diners ("Hi, I'm at the table ahead of you -- how's the lobster?"). At one point, I grabbed hold of the window frame and tried to stop the restaurant physically, which didn't work, of course: Either my arms would have been torn off or I would have been dragged across table after table at a speed of one inch per second. Equinox continued its unstoppable gyration.
Somehow, all this tomfoolery seemed par for the course at Equinox, which tends to be a place where tourists eat. We saw teenagers charging absurdly overpriced meals to their rooms, groups of businessmen with loosened collars and that three-martini grin, and some 30 Midwesterners (sensible hair for the ladies, checked shirts for the gents) taking a stroll through the restaurant on what appeared to be a guided tour. Married San Franciscans in the throes of an affair will find Equinox ideal for a rendezvous -- the chances of running into anyone you know are just about nil. As for the rest of us, it's an interesting place to visit, but you don't want to eat there.
The entrees at Equinox are more expensive than at Boulevard and the food quality is comparable to a Lake Tahoe casino. I don't mean to put down Tahoe casinos -- throw in $1 drink night at the disco in Caesar's Palace, and I'm down -- but Equinox doesn't quite measure up to most of its similarly priced counterparts here in the city. If I used the criteria I'd normally apply to places serving $25-38 entrees (that is, everything should be flawless), this review would be a bloodbath. If I compared Equinox to those that charge $18-24 per entree, it still wouldn't be pretty. So let's just say this operation has a lot of rough edges, but we enjoyed ourselves in a Disneyland sort of way.
As we stood on Market gazing up at Equinox, we debated the architecture. Elsbeth thought it looked like an alien spaceship perched atop the Hyatt, while I felt it resembled the citadel of an evil wizard. Once inside the hotel, we took a glass elevator to the atrium level, then another glass elevator to Equinox ("Revolv- ing Nightly"). With a whoosh we soared skyward, gazing down at the Hyatt's faux indoor river, faux-ivy draped walkways, and a gigantic, hollow, anodized-aluminum sculpture that would have been fun to cavort through in a world without gravity. The restaurant itself is pretty swank -- purple carpets, diamond-patterned tablecloths, tiny brass lamps at every table -- and the views (smudges excepted) were breathtaking. My martini wasn't particularly well chilled, but Elsbeth's hefty, 9-ounce pour of light, fruity Louis Jadot Beaujolais arrived at perfect room temperature.
The menu at Equinox is divided into two categories -- "Taste of Asia" and New American-style fare. Elsbeth opted for the former, I for the latter. The American dishes weren't too bad, but their Asian counterparts should be avoided. We discerned the pattern quickly: My shrimp martini consisted of five hulking, juicy prawns marinated in "stunningly cold" (as opposed to "ticklingly chilly" or "murderously frigid"?) vodka, served over a cocktail sauce reminiscent of company Christmas parties. Elsbeth's wok-charred ahi came dusted with a strange hot paprika, accompanied by pea sprouts splashed with stale-tasting ponzu sauce and wakame (seaweed salad) that may have been sitting in the refrigerator for a week.
As a New Englander, Elsbeth was dubious of my "San Francisco clam chowder," but for the price it was the best dish on the menu -- a creamy, rich, satisfying ambrosia that paired hearty potatoes with slightly chewy clams. Elsbeth's green papaya salad combined the basic elements of a Thai som tum -- crunchy fruit, mint, and a mild chili-lime dressing -- with Dungeness crab that Elsbeth declared "fishy." I wouldn't go that far, but I can say that the stuff wasn't exactly shimmering with freshness. Elsbeth refused to eat it and stepped out for a smoke, leaving me at our table with the forlorn salad.
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