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After hearing me rave about my meal at C&L, a well-meaning friend inquired if I was sure that it was, as I called it, "the best little steakhouse in San Francisco." "I always hear good things about Izzy's," she said, and I had to admit that I hadn't eaten there.
Which is an omission I rectified in the new year. I learned a long time ago not to make New Year's resolutions that will either be broken or ignored. (Top of the list, for me and so many others: "lose weight" and/or "get in better shape," followed closely by "get rid of clutter and become better organized." Instead I watch episodes of The Biggest Loser and Clean Sweep, occupying time that could be spent exercising or throwing out old magazines.) This year I vowed only to eat more fruits and vegetables and to get in touch with people I hadn't seen in a while, which leads me to call Aline to invite her, her husband Gary, and her 10-year-old son, Cyrus, out to dinner.
Aline reminds me that Cyrus, a delightful and exuberant kid who loves acting and has sophisticated taste in movies, is a little less experimental when it comes to eating: "not so good on exotic -- he loves Italian and any meat dishes of most cultures." I tell her that I plan to take them to Izzy's Steak and Chop House in the Marina, and she's pleased. "It's been a while since we've had a big steak," she says.
San Francisco, CA 94123
Region: Marina/ Cow Hollow
Filet mignon au poivre $25.95
Cajun filet $24.95
Pork chops $17.95
New York cheesecake $5.50
Key lime pie $5.50
Open Monday through Saturday from 5:30 to 10 p.m., Sunday from 5 to 10 p.m.
Parking: difficult. Muni: 22, 28, 30, 43, 76
Noise level: moderate to high
When the night comes, we drop Gary and Cyrus off in front of the eatery, which looks from the street like an old-fashioned saloon, to claim our 7 p.m. reservation while we hunt for parking. It takes only two turns around the block before we slide into a space, but when we walk into Izzy's we join a mob scene standing at the bar and clustered around the hostess, who's busy on the phone. We fight our way through to find Gary, who says, "They wouldn't seat us until all of our party was here." Which is fair, but it takes us a while to attract the attention of the hostess, distracted by the ravenous hordes without a reservation clamoring to add their names to the list. When we do connect, we're immediately led to a table in the back of the room. Aline is mildly disappointed that we haven't scored one of the wooden booths lined up along the side of the room; I understand the attraction, but point out that the restaurant's straight, unupholstered walls force you to sit uncomfortably upright in the booths, while we can loll about in our chairs. We admire the frieze of condiments and jellies that rings the room on top of the wainscoting -- within reach of us, in case we feel the need of Pickapeppa Sauce, jalapeño mint jelly, or exotic mustards. The bottles are immaculate, but Aline wonders if they're taken down and refrigerated every night.
The place is designed to look as venerable as one of the old restaurants pictured in the framed vintage photographs that plaster the walls, but in truth Izzy's (the first of a small local chain) was opened on Feb. 9, 1987, a date chosen because Feb. 9 was the birthday of Izzy Gomez, a legendary San Francisco saloonkeeper of the '30s. (A photo of him standing at the stove and insouciantly stirring a saucepan while wearing a hat is on the front page of the menu.) Both Gary and Cyrus are wearing cool fedoras, and they seem right in step. Gomez's speakeasy was downtown, "not far from the old Montgomery block, across from the firehouse at First and Pacific," as patron William Saroyan writes in his journals. He goes on to say, "Izzy Gomez's was something else. Unique. Sui generis. It really was as portrayed in The Time of Your Life [Saroyan's play], except that it was also a hangout for hard-boiled, sophisticated newspapermen. ... They gave the place a rowdy, slightly underworld character of half-suppressed brawl. ... For meals, Izzy served thick, luscious steaks, french fries, and salads. He gave a considerable number of meals and liquor out free, not just to starving artists, but to people he liked."
The one-page, straightforward, and easy-to-read menu eschews most adjectives and offers steak (more than half a dozen kinds), french fries (here called shoe string potatoes), and salad (Izzy's house, Caesar, and hearts of romaine with blue cheese), as well as a few other starters (including prawn cocktail, sautéed mushrooms, and Cajun fried oysters), several chops (veal, pork, or lamb), and a number of seafood and chicken dishes. Aline asks why a steakhouse offers these, and I joke that they're for the meat-averse dates of the he-men who bring them here. "I should really try one of them," I say (the fish, not the he-men), whereupon Aline promptly changes her mind about trying the New York sirloin ("dry aged 21 days") and says she really wants the peppered swordfish with lime chive sauce.
But when she tries to order it, our friendly server (who has already won my heart by saying "That'll be plenty," after we order three starters, instead of upselling) says, cheerfully, "No swordfish tonight. It'll have to be the grilled salmon." Aline switches instead to the Cajun-style blackened filet, and we are left seafoodless.