Deco Dreams

An art show's lingering effects take us on a tour of deco restaurants

After a screening of King Vidor's 1928 silent The Patsy -- with adorable flapper Marion Davies in an evening coat trimmed with white fur that would have been right at home in a glass case at the Legion, dining on creamed chicken in patty shells at the Yacht Club and impersonating Mae Murray and Lillian Gish -- we continued the mood by descending down a flight of stairs to Shanghai 1930, yet another supper club that feels timeless. We walked by a jazz trio holding forth in the mirrored bar room as we were led to a table in the dining room, lined with sculptural Chinese pottery and glass etched in deco patterns. "It's wonderful to see such a crowded room at 9:30 on a Thursday night," I said as I sipped an icy Orange Drop and perused the daunting three-page menu. We skipped the beluga caviar service in favor of chili-encrusted fried calamari, still tender under its crust; an unusual cold salad of crisp threads of eel tossed with pale green crescents of celery and pickled ginger; and steamed shaolung bao, soup dumplings that lost much of their point (biting into them and getting a rush of liquid) when they stuck to the steamer. But we were more than happy with the meaty, moist squab smoked over tea leaves, served with fat buns and sour plum sauce; the "fish on a vine," a white-fleshed fillet scored to look like a bunch of grapes, lightly fried, and served in a slightly sticky and very tasty reduction of red wine, verjus, and soy sauce, garnished with red grapes; exquisite baby pea shoots wokked with Kaoliang liquor; "jade and ebony," plump black mushrooms paired with baby bok choy; and especially the divinely fatty, vermilion-glazed pork belly simmered in red wine lees (vinegarlike residue). This was food of substance, delivered in a stylish setting.

But my most thrilling deco moment was, alas, one that is not easily repeated: a surprisingly delicious lunch at the members- and invited-by-members-only City Club (155 Sansome, 362-2480, www.cityclubsf.com), which roosts on the top two floors of the Stock Exchange Building, built in 1929 (timing!) and designed by the echt-art deco architect Timothy Pflueger and interior decorator Michael Goodman. I was impressed by the invention and quality of the meal we had (ranging from a classic, impeccably roasted beef hand-carved to order to an original risotto made with chorizo, the first I'd ever seen), but I was already delirious due to the classic and original setting, a set of perfectly preserved art deco rooms. A number of different artists had created every detail, and there was almost too much to be absorbed in one visit: the famous Diego Rivera mural, of course, with its themes of California industry, but also carved fireplace surrounds; overmantel decorations; bronze elevator doors encrusted with copper, silver, and brass; massive marble-topped tables; a sculpted, gold-leafed ceiling on one floor and a brass-leafed one on the other ("When they ran out of money after the Crash," we were cheerfully told).

Supper Club Time: Bix.
Anthony Pidgeon
Supper Club Time: Bix.

Location Info

Map

Bix Restaurant

56 Gold
San Francisco, CA 94102

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Union Square/ Financial District

Details

Bix

Salmon and potato pancake $11

Grilled marrow bones $10

Truffled hamburger $18

Mascarpone mousse $8

Shanghai 1930

Eel salad $8.95

Glazed pork belly $14.95

Fish on a vine $15.95

Bix, 56 Gold (at Montgomery), 433-6300. Open for dinner Sunday and Monday from 5:30 to 10 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday until 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday until midnight. Open for lunch on Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: valet $10. Muni: 10, 12, 15, 41. Noise level: moderate to high.

Shanghai 1930, 133 Steuart (at Mission), 896-5600. Open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; for dinner Monday through Thursday from 5:30 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m. Closed Sunday. Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: valet $12 at lunch, $10 at dinner. Muni: 2, 7, 9, 14, 21, 66, 71. Noise level: moderate to high.

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Luckily there's a guided tour of the facilities given the first Wednesday of every month at 3 p.m. by Masha Zakheim, ex-S.F. State professor, historian, and daughter of one of the artists whose work is on view inside as well as at Coit Tower (call 285-0495 for reservations). She leads you from the monumental Ralph Stackpole sculptures outside on Pine Street, through the building's lobby (with its modernistic ceiling inspired by a Berlin nightclub), and up to the City Club itself. Without her aid, I never would have seen that the bas-relief I thought was Mayan actually depicts the Stanford football team (with wide Mayan cheekbones), or that the determinedly moderne chrome staircase isn't abstract, as it appears at first glance, but repeats silhouettes of a man-about-town in business dress, golf togs, and evening clothes. And that one could command an excellent luncheon in such extraordinary surroundings ... I never felt the need to be a clubwoman until now.

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