Far East Cafe, San Francisco, California – CLOSED

In San Francisco there are two Chinese restaurants that claim to be the oldest in the city and both were established in the same year: 1920. There’s the Hang Ah Tearoom, which also claims to be the first dim sum restaurant in the U.S. The food is reported to be good, but the place has zero atmosphere. The other is the Far East Cafe in the heart of Chinatown. In contrast its dining room is spectacular and apparently much of it is original.

 

Far East Cafe

Le Continental couldn’t find any detailed info about the Far East Cafe online. All we know is that it opened in 1920 with its ornate lamps, paintings and other decor coming from China.

 

Far East Cafe

The Bar

 

The Far East Cafe serves traditional Cantonese style Chinese and Chinese-American food, with a sprinkling of Szechuan dishes on the menu as well. They specialize in seafood, so that’s what you should order.

 

Far East Cafe

A unique feature are the private wood dining compartments on one side of the dining room (that matches the wood paneling on the opposite side), which the restaurant says are the last in any Chinese restaurant in the city. Sam’s Grill and Tadich Grill (both in San Francisco) also still have similar private dining compartments. Reservations are REQUIRED to sit in a private compartment (walk-ins welcome for the main dining room).

 

Far East Cafe

The restaurant was freshly painted since the last time I visited but the colors are pleasing, not garish like in so many Chinese restaurants. And check out those beautiful murals and intricate “palace” lamps! I also love the vintage linoleum floor.

 

Far East Cafe

The service was very attentive on my recent visit. The waiters wear black vests with white shirts, black slacks, and red ties.

 

Far East Cafe

 

Far East Cafe
631 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 982-3245
Open daily 11:30am-10pm

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The American, Kansas City, Missouri – CLOSED

UPDATE: The American closed to the public at the end of 2016 and is now only open for private functions.

On a recent visit to Kansas City (my first) we had cocktails in the gorgeous American Restaurant in Crown Center, designed by Warren Platner in 1974. We enjoyed the view, the design, the drinks, and the wonderful singer and pianist in the lounge, then moved on to have steak dinner in the Plaza III Steakhouse. There just wasn’t enough time in a long weekend to dine at every classic restaurant. Unfortunately, Le Continental has just learned that The American, Kansas City’s only classic fine dining restaurant, will be closing at the end of the year. Plans are to use it for “pop-ups” and special events in 2017, but there is no word on if it will stay the same or be remodeled.

 

The American Restaurant

dining room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

Crown Center, a mixed-use redevelopment project just south of downtown, was the vision of Joyce C. Hall, Hallmark’s founder. Headquarted in Kansas City, Hallmark’s main office looked out on a little used area of land with old warehouses and parking lots. On the site Mr. Hall built a complex with office space, a shopping center, condos, two hotels (a Westin and a Sheraton), and large fountain (in the city of fountains), and an office building. In 1974 a restaurant was opened on the top floor of the office building that would be the world-class midwest dining destination south of Chicago. Joe Baum, known for the NYC restaurants Tavern on the Green, The Rainbow Room, and the Four Seasons (which just closed this month), was a consultant on the project. James Beard, “The Dean of American Cookery”, was hired to conceptualize and create the modern American menu. And Warren Platner, who had designed modern wire furniture for Knoll and a restaurant for Eero Saarinen’s 1965 CBS building, was hired to design the interiors (he would later design the Windows on the World).

 

image by Dwell.com

image by Dwell.com

 

Platner created a cathedral-like space with high ceilings decorated with fan-shaped bent wood light sculptures facing a view of the city through huge glass windows that could be shaded with wooden shutters. The furniture and carpet were done in fuschia with brass lamp fixtures for lighting and brass railings along the staircases from the foyer and bar into the lower-level dining room.

 

image by designobserver.com

image by designobserver.com

 

Today the restaurant is mostly the same except the brass light fixtures, banquettes, and fuschia color scheme are gone. It’s still a spectacular space. I was there in daylight. I imagine it’s even more striking at night.

 

The American Restaurant

the bar – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

Over the years several locally famous chefs helmed the kitchen at the American including James Beard award-winning chefs Debbie Gold, Michael Smith, and Celina Tio. The menu these days, under executive chef Michael Corvino since 2013, has been updated (he is leaving the restaurant in August). They recently dropped table-side prepared dishes from the menu, which were still offered in 2010 (according to a blog post I read). The menu  consists of a prix-fixe three-course menu at $65, with a tasting menu at $110.

If you can possibly make it to Kansas City, you should visit the American before the end of the year.

 

The American
Crown Center, 200 E 25th St #400, Kansas City, MO 64108
(816) 545-8001
Open Wed-Thu 5:30pm – 10:00pm, Fri-Sat 5:30pm – 11:00pm, live music starts at 6:30 on Fridays and Saturdays

 

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Plaza III, Kansas City, Missouri – CLOSED

Recently I visited Kansas City for the first time after having wanted to go for the last several years to experience the Paris of the Plains (Kansas City has more public fountains than any city except Rome). I loved it! It was easy to get around (by car), downtown is thriving, there are beautiful homes all over the place, and some fine museums. Then there’s the food! Bar-be-que, burgers, bar-be-que, chili, bar-be-que…you get the picture. And I had to get a Kansas City steak, in a city that was once a major beef producing city. At its peak in the 1920s Kansas City’s stockyards were second only in size to Chicago’s. Following a flood in 1951 they began their decline until they closed in 1991.

 

Plaza III Steakhouse

photo by t-mizo on Flickr

 

In 1961 Paul Robinson, manager of the Golden Ox Steakhouse in Kansas City (now closed but due to reopen later this year), met Joe Gilbert, founder of the Four Winds Restaurant at the Kansas City Downtown Airport (now closed but the TWA Museum there is well worth a visit). They teamed up with Joe’s son Bill Gilbert and opened the Plaza III in 1963 in Country Club Plaza, a lovely Spanish style outdoor shopping center designed by J. C. Nichols and architect Edward Buehler Delk that opened in 1923, which is considered the first planned shopping center in the U.S.

 

Ad from 1971

Ad from 1971

 

In 1972 the Gilbert-Robinson group opened a more casual restaurant next door to the Plaza III in an old clothing store called Tom Houlihan’s, naming it Houlihan’s Old Place. That restaurant eventually expanded in the Houlihan’s chain of restaurants, numbering 79 locations by 2012. The original Houlihan’s relocated in 2003 to nearby Fairway, Kansas. Plaza III ‘s dining rooms (which started out decorated in 60s Spanish) were remodeled in 1986 in a classic steakhouse look with lots of wood, dark brown leather booths, brass lamps, and potted palms. The large downstairs space was a disco in the 70s, then a series of clubs until its remodel in 2005 for use as additional dining space for the restaurant, with live jazz on weekend nights.

 

Plaza III Steakhouse

dining room

 

The Plaza III menu is classic steakhouse all the way. First comes out a chilled relish tray. Their famous steak soup is a must. It’s a rich, thick, dark brown stew with large chunks of tender steak and vegetables. A bowl would be enough for a meal.

 

Plaza III Steakhouse

beef soup – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

Steaks are à la carte, USDA Prime, wet aged, and a presented tableside wrapped in plastic before you choose one. I had the famous Kansas City Strip, center cut, because “when in Rome…”, which comes in two sizes (I got the large despite having three lunches earlier. I’m not kidding.). Other options are the ribeye (two sizes), porterhouse, t-bone, filet mignon (two sizes), strip steak au poivre (brandy cream sauce), strip steak au fromage (with Roquefort), tenderloin Oscar, twin filet medallions, and prime rib in two sizes. I’m getting hungry! There are also lamb, veal, chicken, and seafood choices, and many surf & turf combinations available. Steaks come with a choice of béarnaise or au poivre sauce if desired. Sides are extra but come in two sizes, most at $5 & $9. Don’t forget to order chocolate or Grand Marnier soufflé when you order your steak so it will be ready by the time you’re ready for dessert. Both their regular and reserve wine lists have won awards.

 

Plaza III Steakhouse

I didn’t get a good photo of my steak but it looked like this – photo via the Plaza III facebook page

 

The Plaza III has had serious steakhouse competition on Country Club Plaza over the years but it has stood the test of time. In 2014 the chain steakhouse Ruth’s Chris closed on the Plaza after 17 years. I call that progress.

 

Plaza III Steakhouse
4749 Pennsylvania Ave, Kansas City, MO 64112
(816) 753-0000
Open Mon-Thu 11:00am-10:00pm, Fri-Sat 11:00am-11:00pm, Sun 5:00pm-9:00pm

 

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Chicken Pie Shop, Fresno, California – CLOSED

 

When I was a young man running around San Diego on my Lambretta scooter in the 1980s I loved to eat at the Chicken Pie Shop in Hillcrest, especially during cold winter days (OK, it never got very cold in San Diego, but we’re cold wimps in California). It was the ultimate homemade comfort food, served in a time machine café that first opened in 1938 at 5th and B downtown and later moved to 5th and Robinson in Hillcrest (first on the southeast corner, moving to the northeast corner in 1965). The chicken pot pie dinner was tasty, cheap, and very filling (lunch there was my meal for the day). In 1990 the shop was purchased and moved to North Park. It’s not a time warp anymore in atmosphere but the menu is still old-fashioned and the food is good, hearty, and cheap. The friendly, veteran staff stayed with the restaurant when it moved.

 

Storefront of Chicken Pie Shop, Fresno

photo by mears on Flickr

 

In the cool Tower District of Fresno is an unrelated Chicken Pie Shop (aka Grandmarie’s) that is thankfully still frozen in time. In 1956 Mary Ross (“Grandmarie”) and her husband opened the original Chicken Pie Shop on Olive Street in Fresno to serve chicken pies from her own recipe. In 1966 it moved into a space on the same block previously occupied by Byde’s Hardware (the old location is now a parking lot next door). Mary Ross’ grandson Gary Ross is the current owner, so this year the restaurant has been owned by the same family for 60 years!

 

Dining room of Chicken Pie Shop, Fresno

photo by Dean Curtis, 2011

 

The dining room is probably the same as it was when it opened: two-tone green tufted-naugahyde booths, wood-grain Formica tables, original linoleum floors (a rarity these days!), chrome coat racks, and TWO horseshoe-shaped lunch counters in chartreuse Formica with bright-green swivel chairs. And there are large, colorful, rooster wall hangings!

 

lunch counter of Chicken Pie Shop, Fresno

one of two lunch counters – photo by Dean Curtis, 2011

 

rooster wall hanging in Chicken Pie Shop, Fresno

photo by Dean Curtis, 2011

rooster wall hanging in Chicken Pie Shop, Fresno

photo by Dean Curtis, 201

 

 

 

 

 

 

rooster wall hanging in Chicken Pie Shop, Fresno

photo by Dean Curtis, 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The baked chicken pies are excellent: a flaky pastry crust filled with chicken chunks and served with mashed potatoes, a golden gravy made from scratch from the restaurant’s chicken stock, biscuits, and cole slaw, all house made. Other options for lunch or dinner are chicken & noodles, fried chicken livers, honey ham steak, country fried steak ‘n gravy, and pot roast. An assortment of sandwiches, salads, and soups are available, including their homemade chicken barley soup served with a mini loaf of homemade bread. They also serve breakfast. An off-menu special is the berrock, a pasty-like meat pie of Volga-German (Germans from Russia) origin.

 

berrock at Chicken Pie Shop, Fresno

berrock on vintage plate – photo by Dean Curtis, 2011

 

chicken pie with mashed potatoes, gravy, cole slaw, and vegetables - photo by Dean Curtis, 2011

chicken pie with mashed potatoes, gravy, cole slaw, and vegetables – photo by Dean Curtis, 2011

 

As you can see, they still use vintage china. The good diner-style coffee is served in Tepco mugs, perfect with one of their house made deserts, such as the apple crumble. I had rice pudding and can say without reservations that it was THE BEST rice pudding I’ve ever had, hands down! And I love rice pudding so I’ve tried it all over the country.

 

rice pudding at Chicken Pie Shop, Fresno

rice pudding – photo by Dean Curtis, 2011

 

After your hearty meal why not walk it off around the Tower District, which is a hip area of independent shops, restaurants, nightlife, and a historic theater.

 

(Grandmarie’s) Chicken Pie Shop (no web site)
861 E Olive Ave, Fresno, CA 93728
(559) 237-5042
Open Mon-Fri 7:00am – 7:00pm, Sat 8:00am – 6:00pm (possibly 2:00pm), Sun 8:00am – 2:00pm

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Francesco’s, Oakland, California – CLOSED

Last week I heard from a friend that Francesco’s Italian Restaurant, near the airport in Oakland since 1968, will be closing its doors for good soon. The word is they will be open until March or April of 2016. I went back last weekend for a long-overdue return with friends and it won’t be the last time I go back before it closes. The East Bay will be losing perhaps the last family-owned old-style Italian restaurant in the area and that is a real shame. This is a place I was excited to check out about 10 years ago but now I wish I had visited more often. Here are some pics I took last Saturday night.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Dewey Bargiacchi opened Francesco’s in 1968 after running the popular Chandelier in Jack London Square. His mother, known as Mama Bargiacchi, founded the North Pole Club and the Villa de la Paix in Oakland. Francesco’s is now owned by the third generation of the same family.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

the bar - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

the bar – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

amazing grapes chandelier - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

amazing grapes chandelier – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

our waitress Lisa preparing tableside Caesar salad - it was delicious! -  photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

Our waitress Lisa preparing tableside Caesar salad – it was delicious! – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

"Italian pot roast" with their homemade ravioli - YUM! - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

“Italian pot roast” with their homemade ravioli – YUM! – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Be sure to look at the memorabilia of the family’s restaurant history at the entrance to the bar and the old photos and articles on the Oakland airport over the years.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Francesco’s
8520 Pardee Dr, Oakland, CA 94621
(510) 569-0653
Open Mon-Fri 11:00am – 9:45pm, Sat 4:00pm-9:45pm, closed Sunday

 

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