Outside Game

You have to pick the right time and place, but if you do, you'll swear San Francisco was made for patio dining.

Outdoor dining in windswept, fog-shrouded San Francisco? If the locale is well chosen (pockets of meteorological phenomena like the Mission or the bay-facing slopes east of Van Ness), and the time is right (say, anytime between 1 p.m. and the setting of the sun), there are definite possibilities. Some of the possibilities even have good food. The following al fresco suggestions rarely require scarf, gloves, and trench coat, even in the summertime, and their menus are enticing in any climate.

The Terrace Courtyard

Ritz-Carlton Hotel

600 Stockton (at California), 296-7465, www.ritzcarlton.com.

This beautifully manicured urban oasis is not only lovely and elegant -- especially at this time of year, with planters overflowing with blossoms and the tiered central fountain murmuring an aquatic sound design -- the food is Ritz-worthy. The Sunday Jazz Brunch, for instance, is a ridiculously sumptuous buffet of blinis with caviar, custom-designed omelets, freshly made sushi, freshly shucked oysters, a dazzling cheese board, and exquisite seasonal fruits and salads, all enjoyed to the urbane chime and clatter of a cable car chugging up California Street. The Courtyard also offers breakfast and lunch daily and dinner Sundays and Mondays through October.


44 Belden (at Pine), 986-6287, www.beldenplace.com.

The best place in the city to enjoy positively Parisian sidewalk dining is Belden Place, a handsome downtown alleyway between Pine and Bush and Kearny and Montgomery streets. On sunny days, its narrow confines are crowded with smartly set tables, wrought-iron chairs, and diners enjoying sips and platters from the five dapper eateries that share the block. Plouf and Cafe Bastille serve up wonderful French bistro fare, Cafe Tiramisu adds a hint of Via Veneto, and Erzulie is the next best thing to old Havana, but my favorite Belden hideaway is B44, a Gaudi-esque hot spot fragrant with anchovies, tapas, manchego, paella, roast rabbit, jerez, and other Catalan specialties. The alleyway's annual Bastille Day celebration (July 14) is festive indeed. Foreign Cinema

2534 Mission (at 21st Street), 648-7600, www.foreigncinema.com.

Al fresco moviegoing is combined with Cal-Med cookery and Mission District cool at this landmark nightspot. Classic works by Fellini, Truffaut, and Antonioni play on one wall of the inner courtyard while you and your fellow diners sup family style on fresh oysters, house-cured sardines, grilled calamari, and pork chops with lavender and chanterelles; it beats popcorn and a Pepsi. The volume is controlled at each table via vintage drive-in speakers, or you can concentrate on the grub and regard the movie as nothing more than a transient aesthetic motif. Either way, the heat lamps, flickering candles, and picnic tables create a pleasant setting for a meal beneath the stars. Pier 23

Embarcadero (at Greenwich), 362-5125, www.pier23cafe.com.

When the sun's out, the mood is easy, and the afternoon stretches lazily ahead, Pier 23's outdoor patio is one of the finest places I know. Nothing beats sitting at one of those big round tables on a cloudless day, listening to Old Blue Eyes and Sarah Vaughn, watching the sailboats drift by, letting the whole sweep of the bay infect you with a beatific sort of tranquility. There are a few scrawny palm trees to add to the whole South Seas atmo, and the centrally located happy, stretching Buddha is absolutely appropriate. Smoky/juicy burgers, an indolent Sunday brunch, and potent margaritas are among the alluring house specialties.

The Blue Plate

3218 Mission (at Valencia), 282-6777.

The Mission has always had the best weather in town, and the best place to enjoy it 'round about suppertime is the Blue Plate. Head out to the back garden on a balmy evening, and enjoy your meal in a secluded, extra-urban ambience of fresh herbs, abundant flora, luxuriant ivy, and a lovely old stone fountain. The house cuisine is a lively reinterpretation of American comfort food in which salads are draped with grilled peaches, potatoes are ribboned with huckleberries, and lamb chops are dusted with coriander; just about everything is delicious and deeply satisfying. And the atmosphere is as warm and friendly as a midsummer's day.

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