Mayor Oscar Goodman has been a tireless advocate for Downtown, and now he has an unlikely ally in Triple George Grill, a new restaurant near the Lady Luck Casino, both of which are owned by the Henry Brent Company. I can't think of a better reason to head down to Third Street.
The design and menu are reminiscent of the great men's grills of San Francisco, places such as Sam's Grill and Seafood, the old Jack's and the popular Tadich Grill, which opened in the 19th century and still serves some of the best seafood in Fog City.
If you're confused by Triple George's name, don't be. The menu provides us with a dictionary-style definition of "George" as an adjective meaning "a person who is free in giving and sharing." It's easy to be a George in here, because most of the plates are big enough for sharing.
The look is a throwback to those early 20th-century steak- and chophouses, built with floor-to-ceiling mahogany booths that afford louche privacy, a number of mirrors, a brick-lined piano lounge and an enormous horseshoe bar smack in the middle of the dining room, where many of the patrons take their meals.
Servers are clad in white jackets and aprons, just as they are in places of this genre in San Francisco. Soft jazz plays in the background. In short order, the restaurant has turned into a de facto club for local office workers who cluster at the bar for martinis and San Francisco-style dishes such as crab Louie and petrale sole. The food here is delicious and hearty, so come hungry.
Chef Ro Fernandez, lately of the House of Blues, mans the stoves, assisted by a wonderful pastry chef named Teresa Borowski, whose desserts taste more like somebody's grandma made them than professionally crafted restaurant stuff. Seafood is prominent on the menu, but there are also homey dishes such as chicken potpie and a variety of steaks and chops to cut your teeth on.
I couldn't resist starting with clams casino, a retro dish consisting of six clams stuffed in their shells and baked with a buttery bread-crumb, red pepper and bacon stuffing. There are oysters Rockefeller, a similar preparation made with spinach and a velvety Hollandaise sauce. Both dishes are impeccable.
The Louie salad—made with a creamier, milder version of Thousand Island dressing, the seafood of your choice and a wedge of crisp iceberg lettuce—is one more strong suit here, and available in both a mammoth full-sized portion and a more reasonable half-portion. At $9.95, the small crab Louie is a bargain, garnished with a generous portion of Dungeness crab, plucked fresh from the shell.
There is an amazing shrimp bisque, coral-pink and thick without being cloying, and a traditional New England clam chowder, which somehow seems out of place here. If you want to go for broke, order the San Francisco treat: cioppino (no, not Rice-A-Roni), a rich tomato broth laced with shrimp, scallops, fish and crab and topped with a Paul Bunyan-sized crouton of toasted sourdough bread. Believe me, it isn't half this good on Fisherman's Wharf.
Seafood comes charbroiled, sautéed, blackened or deep-fried, and here the choices seem more limited. Alaskan halibut and swordfish are made for the charbroiler, but I do not understand why the restaurant even bothers with an inferior product such as farm-raised Atlantic salmon when we have healthier and tastier salmon on this coast.
Sautéed petrale sole is another Fisherman's Wharf favorite, and here Fernandez is doing it with a light egg batter and a slightly weighty but pleasant white sauce on top. My favorite entree, hands down, would be shrimp George, broiled with a buttery, garlic-rich bread-crumb topping. I've been dreaming about the dish all week.
George's Favorites are also old San Francisco to the hilt. There is Joe's special—that amalgam of ground chuck, spinach, mushrooms and eggs—but, inexplicably, no Hangtown fry, a wonderful oyster and bacon omelet. I suspect the pastry chef gets some credit for a short crust that sits atop the chicken potpie, a terrific version. The only disappointment to avoid is pot roast. Doesn't anybody cook this stuff long enough?
Steaks are USDA choice and a reasonable value, but I still hold out for prime when I can afford it. However, no one can afford to miss these desserts: Teresa's carrot cake; an incredible layer cake; old-fashioned chocolate cake actually made with real flour, unlike the puddle of mush that normally passes for chocolate cake these days; and a slew of bionic, terrific homemade cookies. Take one home if you can't manage to eat it after your meal.
Triple George Grill isn't going to make anyone cancel a trip to San Francisco, but it is the closest you'll get to the Bay Area near Downtown. Hizzoner, I'm sure, agrees.