Supping Theatrically

An entertaining bite in the Petit Cafe completes the evening in grand style

But it was not to be. I had unwittingly stumbled in on Mother's Day, when a $50 brunch buffet had been set up in the main room of the Petit Cafe, opposite the bar. The staff was busy breaking it down, and the kitchen was unwilling to prepare anything at all for about an hour and a half. The Sidecar was excellent, but still.

The Petit Cafe's menu had inflamed my hungers, and I was back in about 30 hours, having offered my goddaughter an evening of Lennon, which I'd seen on offer at the half-price ticket booth, followed by supper. She politely declined the musical, on the basis of miserable reviews, and we substituted Sin City, thereby saving me about 80 bucks. Which made the gentle prices at the cafe even more appealing, especially in such a luxe, over-the-top setting, which somehow happily blends deco light fixtures with art nouveau-influenced swirling motifs, turn-of-the-century pen-and-ink drawings, and rather kitschy large sculptures, including life-size humans with rabbit ears.

We shared a tasty starter of big shells-on prawns roasted in a wood oven, bathed in sherry, garlic, and red pepper, which in its earthenware dish could have come from a real Spanish tapas bar. Anna, who just turned 21, ordered her second legal drink, choosing a Key lime martini over the more familiar Lemon Drop or margarita, again expertly made. We chatted with a foursome snapping pictures of one another at the next table: I offered to take a picture of them all together, and it turned out that they were up from Los Angeles for the premiere of the play one of them had written, called Down and Out, at the Hip Hop Theater Festival at the Bravo. "L.A. represent!" they cried when they heard that both Anna and I had lived there. "Come to our play," they said, and I wished I could, but I already had tickets for Bebe Neuwirth in Here Lies Jenny that night. (And I knew where I was going to eat after.)

Over-the-top décor at the Petit Cafe blends 
art nouveau motifs with life-size sculptures.
James Sanders
Over-the-top décor at the Petit Cafe blends art nouveau motifs with life-size sculptures.

Location Info



Maker's Mark Manhattan $7.50

Roasted prawns $10

Oysters $2-2.50 each

Grilled chicken $11.50

Onion and Gruyère tart $7.50

Mushroom pizza $9.50

Chocolate dome $7.50


Open Sunday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. until 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday until midnight

No reservations

Wheelchair accessible

Parking: difficult

Muni: 2, 3, 4, 27, 38

Noise level: moderate to high

Hotel Monaco, 501 Geary (at Taylor)

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Then Anna tucked into a simple grilled chicken breast with a lemony herbed vinaigrette, sided by mashed potatoes: a little plain for my tastes, but she loved it. "It's the best meal we've had together," she said, nostalgic because it was the last one before she left Berkeley to spend the summer in L.A. I was almost as happy with my grilled rib-eye, chewy and flavorful under its melting nugget of maître d'hôtel butter. I toted a bit of it away, as Anna did half of her rich chocolate-hazelnut dome dessert, an elaborate, delicious cake-and-mousse confection garnished with citrus sorbet and crème anglaise. (The two restaurants offer the same dessert menu.)

I loved our little supper, but I liked the one after Here Lies Jenny, an arrangement of Kurt Weill songs in something of a story arc, even better. Everything fell into place: I had a willing companion in my friend Lee; the Post Street Theater, once an Elks Lodge assembly hall (built in 1924), was architecturally interesting, and we had great seats; the songs were terrific and well sung (and danced to) by the six-member cast. It felt like $50 well spent, and so did the luscious $60 supper (before tip) we shared afterward. Finally I got my oysters, an assortment including local Kumamoto, Hog Island, and Miyagi, and Malpeque from British Columbia and Pearl Point from Oregon. They were perfect with a glass of Riesling. Lee's Manhattan convinced me that the Petit Cafe is one of the most serious bars in San Francisco. I'd ordered the caramelized onion and Gruyère tart with bacon, Lee the roasted mushroom and onion pizza with fontina, and our dishes looked alike. The tiny quichelike tart I'd envisioned turned out to be a version of the French tarte flambé, more like a pizza than a quiche, its flaky crust covered with onions, cheese, and bacon, a little messy and free-form. Lee surprised both of us by eating all of her earthy pizza (I thought she'd take half of it home) and then all of the large portion of vanilla bean crème brûlée that followed. I savored a cup of coffee and relaxed.

Theatergoing in San Francisco had just become infinitely more appealing. I was already looking forward to supper after The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?: maybe a salad lyonnaise or the grilled Meyer Ranch angus cheeseburger, and I really must try the banana cream pie with macadamia shortbread crust. And next there was The Mambo Kings -- maybe then I'd get my steak tartare.

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