By Pete Kane
By Anna Roth
By Lou Bustamante
By Anna Roth
By Max A. Cherney
By Anna Roth
By Alex Hochman
By Anna Roth
I've always liked baseball: the leisurely pace of the game, the grassy playing field, the uniforms (and the men who wear them), and, last but of course not least, the food -- I like hot dogs, peanuts, and Cracker Jack. Despite my avowed intention to attend a game in person every season, I find in reality (which is where I live, kind of) that most of my exposure to baseball is literary, filtered through the sensibilities of Ring Lardner, Roger Angell, and, most recently, Richard Greenberg (whose Tony Award-winning play sweetly offered a glimpse of just what those guys look like under those uniforms and neatly usurped the original -- well, I thought it was original! -- title of this column: Take Me Out).
24 Willie Mays Plaza
San Francisco, CA 94107
Region: South of Market
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Grilled squid $7
Leg of lamb $19
Short ribs $20
Creamed spinach $7
Butterscotch pudding $6.50
Open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday from 5:30 (5 on game nights) until 10 p.m. Closed Monday.
Parking: $8 valet on non-game nights, otherwise difficult
Muni: 30, 45, N
Noise level: moderate
The last time I went to a game, in Dodger Stadium, I was sorely disappointed: Too much time had elapsed since my previous visit, and I was taken aback by the constant pandemonium that the management had decided was needed to please today's discriminating audience. I left feeling like I'd been inside a pinball machine. It didn't help that different levels featured different food stalls, and I had to trek down (and then up) several flights of stone steps in heels to fetch a box of cold Krispy Kremes.
Ever since I hit this town, Janice and Chester and my dad and I have been saying we'd take in a game at Pacific Bell Park. But we stall until I realize that Janice and Chester's move to the East Coast is imminent. There are half a dozen upcoming home games that appeal -- a Bay Bridge series with the A's, a once-upon-a-time Subway series with the (ex-Brooklyn) Dodgers against the (ex-New York) Giants -- but our choice is made when I am able to get tickets for only one out of the six possibilities: a Monday night game against the Dodgers. (My father is relieved: Janice and Chester have become fervent A's fans, whereas he's loyal to the Giants: "It might have been awkward!") I also make a reservation at Acme Chophouse for a 5 p.m. dinner.
When I go to Pac Bell to pick up our tickets at noon on game day, I learn that there is a tour of the stadium at 12:30, so, what the hell, I buy a ticket for that, too. I browse among the bobblehead dolls and T-shirts in the stadium shop, manfully resisting the lure of adorable $4 key chains and a Joe DiMaggio-signed bat for $1,899, until I spy the Giants Appetizers cookbook, which is kinda steep at $18 but lists, in addition to 35 recipes (only 10 percent of which specify Velveeta), the guys' favorite S.F. and on-the-road restaurants. (It seems that Morton's sells a lot of steaks to the Giants.)
The statistic-heavy tour (hey, it's baseball!) is surprisingly enchanting. It's a glorious day, and when we enter the top level and are smacked with the amazing panorama of the bay beyond the stadium, I get tears in my eyes. The cheap seats have a much more stunning view than the luxury suites. I'm also thrilled when we get to visit the dugout and walk onto the field (but not on the exquisitely manicured Kentucky bluegrass).
A few hours later and we're all tucked into a snug but comfortable booth at Acme, which is jumping: The bar is packed three deep, and every table seems to be full. The menu is shortish, as befits a chophouse (though Chester points out that there are no chops of any kind on it): eight or nine choices each of seafood, other appetizers, main courses, and sides.
The best dish of our starters is a plate of fried nuggets of sweetbreads, crisp outside, creamy within, with a tart, warm escarole-and-red-cabbage salad. Chester's grilled marinated squid is spicy and chewy, with its own nice little warm salad of baby greens. The Caesar salad, a pile of whole romaine leaves, is lightly dressed with a thin, barely anchovied dressing: a fine rendition, though I like my Caesars punchier. My "1/2 cracked Dungeness crab" is also a perfectly good version of the dish, but I expected more of the body of the beast on my plate; instead, it's a tangle of legs. (Another meal would find me trying the barbecue ribs -- recipe on Page 6 of the Giants Appetizers cookbook, courtesy of pitcher Jason Christiansen, even though his favorite S.F. restaurant is Scoma's. On the road? Morton's!)
It's with the main courses that Managing Chef Traci Des Jardins (of Jardinière) and her able chef de cuisine, Thom Fox, really hit them out of the park: All of our choices are succulent and delicious, and I would happily return and order them again. There's juicy rotisserie duck breast in thick slices under a cascade of roughly chopped olives in interesting variety, and chunks of rotisserie leg of lamb that actually taste like lamb. I love my long-braised short ribs, with a garnish of sweet baby carrots and onions, awash in beef jus; the dish goes very well with the side we order of buttery smooth mashed potatoes, as suggested by our waiter. Janice's massive 22-ounce bone-in grass-fed rib-eye, which covers its plate and looks as daunting as the 72-ounce steak served with a dare (finish it and its accouterments in an hour and it's free; otherwise, $50) at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, somehow manages to disappear (everybody helps). It's a gutsy, well-flavored piece of meat. I love it. Now I want to try the enticing-looking grass-fed steak tartare, which we spy on another table.
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