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

 

 

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

 

 

Memory Lane – Windows on the World, New York City

This blog is primarily intended to celebrate classic and historic restaurants that still exist, but occasionally I will be posting about a restaurant that is gone or recently closed.

My mom was born and raised in New York City (in Queens) so although I grew up in San Diego we made several trips “back East” to visit family. In the early 1970s my relatives who lived on Long Island were very excited about the new modern skyscrapers in “The City”, which were designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki. My uncle worked only a few blocks from the World Trade Center for a shipping company in an older building that overlooked the Hudson River. I remember visiting the Twin Towers in 1976 as it was just after the big Bicentennial celebration in NYC on the 4th of July and there were still many historic boats in the city from the Parade of Ships. We visited the rooftop observation deck (which opened in 1975) during the day….

 

teenage me, a bit nervous on the roof of the World Trade Center, 1975 or 1976

teenage me, a bit nervous on the roof of the World Trade Center, 1976

 

…and were lucky enough to dine at the Windows on the World at night. I don’t know how my Uncle scored a table there as it was the hot new restaurant in the city at the time.

 

tumblr_lulunzMCVR1qgpvyjo1_1280

 

Windows on the World opened in May, 1976. The restaurant was one of several opened in NYC by restaurateur Joe Baum, including The Forum of the Twelve Caesars (1957-1975), The Four Seasons (1959 and still open!), and La Fonda Del Sol (1960-early 1970s).

 

La Fonda Del Sol - designed by Alexander Girard with furniture by Charles and Ray Eames - photo by B22 Design's Facebook page

La Fonda Del Sol – designed by Alexander Girard with furniture by Charles and Ray Eames – photo by B22 Design’s Facebook page

 

menu designed by Malton Glaser, 1976 - image by Container List

menu designed by Milton Glaser, 1976 – image by Container List

 

 

 

Warren Platner was the interior designer of the Windows on the World, working with Baum and graphic designer Milton Glaser on the menus, china patterns, and other graphics.

 

 

 

 

elevator lobby for the restaurant at the 106th/107th floors - photo by Glen. H on flickr

elevator lobby for the restaurant at the 106th/107th floors – photo by Glen. H on flickr

 

reception to the Windows on the World, designed by Warren Platner - photo by Dwell.com

reception room for Windows on the World, designed by Warren Platner – photo by Dwell.com

 

Windows on the World, 1976 - photo by the Container List

Windows on the World, 1976 – photo by the Container List

 

The menu was a table d’hôte blend of American and Continental, created by the team of Baum with consultants Jacques Pepin and James Beard. There was also a more intimate Cellar in the Sky dining room with a 5-course menu and an extensive wine list, and the Hors d’Oeuvrerie, with an à la carte menu of small plates. The bars were called the City Lights Bar and the Statue of Liberty Lounge.

 

City Lights Bar, 1976 - photo by phdonohue.tumblr.com

City Lights Bar, 1976 – photo by what’s left on tumblr.com

 

In 1993 a bomb inside a truck was detonated by terrorists in the basement below the north tower, killing six people and injuring many. The restaurant was closed due to damage to its receiving and storage areas, but it had been in decline after a couple ownership changes. Joe Baum won the bidding for a new Windows on the World, which opened in 1996.

 

new Windows on the World - photo by Container List

new Windows on the World – photo by Container List

 

new Windows on the World

new Windows on the World – photo by KungFoohippy on imgur

 

Tragically, we lost Windows on the World and 79 employees of the restaurant on September 11, 2001. The new 1WTC building has a fine dining restaurant, but there is a controversial required fee of $32 just to take the elevator to the observation level that has the restaurant with the clever name ONE. (The original Windows on the World had membership dues at first, which varied by the area of Manhattan you lived in, but anyone could visit the restaurant for a one-time fee of $10 plus $3 per person. I guess in contrast, considering inflation, the $32 fee seems a bit more reasonable?)

Personally, I would rather dine at the modernist Four Seasons (which Joe Baum opened in 1959) that recently was saved from a remodel. Buy Peter Moruzzi’s book Classic Dining to see photos of The Four Seasons and then you’ll want to save your money and go!

No. 9 Fishermen’s Grotto, San Francisco, California – CLOSED

UPDATE: Fishermen’s Grotto was purchased in 2016 and closed for remodeling. As of June 2017 it remains closed.

One of my favorite web sites during the pre-commercialization heyday of the World Wide Web was the Los Angeles Time Machines site (latimemachines.com). It started in 2004 but it had the look of a 90s web site, basic but chock full of great information. Sadly, in late 2011 the author took the web site down for health reasons and it has never come back. There are a few remnants from the site, namely some outdated Google Maps made from the locations that were listed on the site. This map has hours (which may not be correct anymore) addresses, and year opened, while this map just has short descriptions of the sites. For Mad Men fans, here is a Google Map by the latimemachines.com site showing classic restaurants that were used as filming locations in the early seasons of the TV show. Why I bring up L.A. Time Machines is because the site had a list of Top Ten Overall Time Machine Restaurants in the Los Angeles area.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

In the Bay Area, Le Continental’s award for best all around time machine experience goes to No. 9 Fishermen’s Grotto!

 

Mike 'Pa' Geraldi - photo by Fisherman's Grotto Facebook page

Mike ‘Pa’ Geraldi, 1934 – photo by Fisherman’s Grotto Facebook page

 

In 1931 Mike Geraldi, a fisherman from Sicily, started selling the fish he caught at a stand  at No. 9 Fisherman’s Wharf. In 1935 he opened Fishermen’s Grotto, a full service seafood restaurant on the site.

 

Fisherman's Grotto, 1936 - photo by Fisherman's Grotto Facebook page

Fishermen’s Grotto, 1936 – photo by Fishermen’s Grotto Facebook page

 

Although the Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood and tourist attraction in San Francisco extends from Pier 39 to Ghirardelli Square, the original wharf where Fisherman’s Grotto is located was created in 1906 from the remains of Meiggs’ Wharf enlarged with rubble from the great San Francisco earthquake. It still acts as a working wharf with many fishing boats operated by the third generation of long-time Italian fishing families. In the early days of the wharf these fisherman would set up stands offering their days catch. Some had large pots to cook Dungeness crab to be sold as crab cocktails in paper cups. Later many stands evolved into restaurants, including Castagnola’s (the stand opened in 1916, but the restaurant opened later), Alioto’s (1925, the restaurant in 1938), Sabella / La Torre (1927, the restaurant starting in the late 1940s), Pompei’s Grotto (1946), The Franciscan (1957), and Scoma’s (1965). Most of the above restaurants have been expanded, remodeled, and updated. The only ones that retain a classic feel are Pompei’s Grotto, Scoma’s (though gradually it is being updated), and Fishermen’s Grotto, which is the oldest and the best-preserved restaurant on the Wharf.

 

Fishermen's Grotto, 1940

Fishermen’s Grotto, 1940 – photo by Fishermen’s Grotto Facebook page

 

Look at the front of the building in the historic photos above and you can see that the Fisherman character was there from the start. It’s still used throughout the restaurant and on many of their souvenir items available in the gift shop. Yes, there’s a gift shop. And they regularly put out vintage items from their old stock that are for sale!

 

Venetian Dining Room postcard - caption reads "Gaily decorated first and second floor Venetian Dining Rooms of Fisherman's Grotto give visitors a view of world famous Fisherman's Wharf and fishing fleet." - by Ashleyanne Krigbaum's Flickr

Venetian Dining Room postcard – caption reads “Gaily decorated first and second floor Venetian Dining Rooms of Fisherman’s Grotto give visitors a view of world famous Fisherman’s Wharf and fishing fleet.” – by Ashleyanne Krigbaum on Flickr

 

Venetian Dining Room - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

Venetian Dining Room today – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

The original building’s dining room is called the Venetian Dining Room, which is festively painted in gold and has padded wooden booths with striped poles like those on Venetian gondolas. Some even have lamps at the top, and all have hat/coat hooks. This is one of my favorite historic dining rooms anywhere and it’s kept in perfect shape! Make sure you look at all the historic photos lining the walls, as well as at the views outside to the harbor. Originally there were Venetian dining rooms on both the first and second floors, but now the remaining one is on the ground floor.

 

Venetian Dining Room - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

Venetian Dining Room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Fishermen's Grotto, 1950 - photo by Fisherman's Grotto Facebook page

Fishermen’s Grotto, 1950 – photo by Fisherman’s Grotto Facebook page

 

In 1953 Fishermen’s Grotto expanded on the north end of the building, purchasing and incorporating the Vista Del Mar restaurant next door, which opened in 1951. The swanky Fireplace Cocktail Lounge and beautiful Florentine Dining Room opened upstairs, commanding sweeping views of the harbor.

 

stairway to upstairs Fireplace Lounge and Florentine Dining Room

Stairway today to upstairs Fireplace Lounge and Florentine Dining Room

 

Fireplace Lounge, 1950s - photo by Fisherman's Grotto Facebook page

Fireplace Lounge, 1950s – photo by Fisherman’s Grotto Facebook page

 

Florentine Dining Room, 1950s - photo by Fisherman's Grotto Facebook page

Florentine Dining Room, 1950s – photo by Fisherman’s Grotto Facebook page

 

Also added around this time (on the first floor) were the gift shop and the Grotto Tavern, a cozy small bar with the Fisherman etched in the glass doors, wonderful tufted red vinyl high-backed bar stools, blonde wood ceiling and walls, and a large mural of an Venetian scene.

 

Grotto Tavern entrance - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

Grotto Tavern entrance – note the old sign from the crab stand with such low prices! – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

closeup of Fisherman - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

Imbibing Fisherman – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Grotto Tavern, 2005 – cash register has since been replaced by computer terminal – photo by Dean Curtis

 

Gift Shop - photo by Dean Curtis, 2012

Gift Shop – I took this photo of part of the gift shop in 2012 when they were renovating it. Thankfully the gift shop is still as beautiful as ever. – photo by Dean Curtis, 2012

 

In the 1960s the Fireplace Lounge and Florentine Dining Room were remodeled a bit. The lounge received new blue vinyl chairs, blue tufted-vinyl, high-backed bar stools and new carpet in the fisherman motif, but the rest of the lounge remained the same, including the honey-stained wood walls with diamond-shaped panels, the stained glass windows, also in a diamond pattern, the coffered wood ceiling, the light sconces, the curving wood bar, and the back bar with decorative carved wood treatments and a statue of Poseidon with (perhaps) Amphitrite, one of his many mates. This is the way it looks today. Absolutely stunning. Unfortunately, a TV was added sometime around the early 2000s (I don’t recall its presence when I first visited the bar in the late 1990s). But the fish tank is still there to distract you from the TV, and the fireplace is as well. The last time I visited on a recent weekday summer night the fireplace was lit, though it may not be every night through the year. On my recent visit we were told that the Fireplace Lounge is staffed only on Friday and Saturday nights, though we were served a drink in the bar after we asked nicely.

My phone photos are very dark since I didn’t want to use a flash, so they can’t do justice to the beauty of the room. But hopefully they can give you some idea. Compare them with the B&W photo above of the Fireplace Lounge in the 1950s to see how little has changed.

 

Fireplace Lounge - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

Fireplace Lounge showing fireplace and fish tank – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Fireplace Lounge - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

Fireplace Lounge – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Fireplace Lounge bar - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

Fireplace Lounge bar – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Fireplace Lounge - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

Fireplace Lounge – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Fireplace Lounge bar - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

Fireplace Lounge bar – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

The Florentine Dining Room also has not changed much since 1953, with the exception of new carpet, chairs (which don’t look much different from the original ones), and chandeliers which look like they were added in the 1960s. The gorgeous open beamed ceiling and wavy wood treatments back-lit by recessed lighting are still there in all their glory, as well as picture windows galore, with views of boats in the harbor in the foreground and the city and the Golden Gate bridge in the background.

 

Florentine Dining Room - photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

Florentine Dining Room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

The dining room is huge, so it can accommodate the summertime tourist crowds (it seats 265 diners). As you make your way into the dining room there is another bar (three in one restaurant!) that is a real novelty in San Francisco. The back bar is sunken below floor level so the patrons can drink and dine while seated in lounge chairs instead of bar stools. A brilliant bar concept! The only other sunken bar I recall is the one that was in an old Italian restaurant in Hayward, CA, called Banchero’s, which closed in 2012. I really miss that place!

 

Florentine Dining Room

Florentine Dining Room looking towards the west – the sunken bar is just out of view to the right

 

powder room

 

Near the host stand and the ladies’ powder room (yes, it’s still called that in this time machine) there is a table with some souvenir pamphlets you can take home, and a display case of other souvenirs available in the gift shop downstairs (ask when it closes so you don’t miss the gift shop). And check out all the memorabilia on the walls downstairs, inside and outside).

 

memorabilia

 

The menu is seafood, of course. Their Boston clam chowder recently won a local award. I recommend any of the Dungeness crab dishes, such as the crabcake, crab Louie (my favorite), and the whole or half crab roasted in olive oil, garlic, and lemon. Local Dungeness crab season runs from November until the summertime, but the season normally continues in Oregon and Washington until mid October, so it’s fine to order it here year ’round. Dungeness crab is currently a sustainable seafood resource. There are also pasta and meat dishes on the menu. My friend recently tried the filet mignon and it was excellent. I would not recommended the dishes with bay shrimp, which are usually frozen in most restaurants, or the seafood dishes with heavy sauces that tend to overpower delicate fish. As in most seafood restaurants order with care so you get the freshest local seafood possible. It’s easy to ask the server “what was locally caught today?”

 

FG map

 

Fisherman’s Grotto is still owned by the Geraldi family, after 80 years! Take that, Bubba Gump! Forget the national chain restaurants in Fisherman’s Wharf. Instead take your business to a locally owned, family restaurant like Fishermen’s Grotto, Scoma’s, Alioto’s, or Pompeii’s Grotto. When I moved to the Bay Area in 1992 many locals told me to avoid Fishermans’ Wharf. It’s full of tourist traps, they said. I went anyway, and discovered Fishermen’s Grotto. So, sometimes it’s better to ignore locals’ advice and check it out for yourself!

 

FG fishermanI was surprised to see such low scores on Yelp for Fishermen’s Grotto. I always take Yelp with a pillar of salt, but it seems that people either ‘get’ classic restaurants or don’t. One of Le Continental’s rules on classic dining is to lower your expectations a little. Go to this incredible time machine with the goal of dining as they would have in the 1950s: have a martini at the Fireplace Lounge or sunken bar, dine on some crab and spaghetti, soak in the views listening to some Sinatra or Dino that plays softly in the background, and be thankful that you still can have such an experience. Then go have an Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista Cafe.

 

Fishermen’s Grotto
2847 Taylor St, San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 673-7025
Open Sun-Thu 11:00am – 10:00pm, Fri- Sat 11:00am – 11:00pm
They validate parking for up to two hours at the garage at the north end of Taylor St., just past the restaurant.

 

Postcard Panorama

Image

Trader Vic's Oakland“The Deck” overlooking the bar, Trader Vic’s, Oakland – from The Jab’s collection

This location, the first Trader Vic’s, closed in 1972 – more info