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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CLOSED – Capp’s Corner, San Francisco, California

Recently I heard a rumor on Facebook that one of the oldest Italian restaurants in North Beach, Capp’s Corner, is going to close on March 17th. I searched for more info and found out they simply can’t afford to stay in business after a huge rent increase. San Francisco, this is starting to get real old. Soon, I fear, much of the old charm in one of the most well-loved cities in the country will be gone, thanks to greedy landlords. I’m hoping Capp’s Corner can survive, but in any case I urge you to visit real soon.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

Capp’s Corner was opened by Joe Capp (Caporale), a San Francisco native, boxing promoter, and bookie, and Frank Sarubei in 1963 on the corner of Green and Powell Streets. Joe tended bar and greeted customers at the door in his trademark fedora hat, black suit and tie, smoking his cigar. In the 1960s a dinner at Capp’s, served family style with soup, salad, bread, vegetable, and pasta, cost around $5. In the 1980s the restaurant was purchased by the current owner, Tom Ginella. Joe Capp passed away in 1996.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

When you enter Capp’s you see the large carved-wood back bar, which appears to be over 100 years old (the restaurant was a Basque place before 1963). They still use the old manual cash registers at the bar.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

photo by Dean Curtis, 2015

 

The dining room is decorated with simple wooden furniture, checked table coverings, the original linoleum flooring, and many framed works of art and photographs on the walls, making for an interesting browse before or after your meal.

 

linguine with clams and mussels - photo by sptsb.com

linguine with clams and mussels – photo by sptsb.com

 

The dinners are served “family style” with a good, thick, house made minestrone soup, a green salad with house made creamy Italian dressing, and French bread (soup or salad at lunchtime). The menu includes several pasta dishes, which come with soup and salad, and many heartier entrees, which come with soup, salad, pasta marinara, and vegetables. The linguine with clams and mussels is very well-regarded (Lawrence Ferlinghetti, owner of City Lights bookstore, is a fan). Also popular are chicken parmigiana, petrale sole, leg of lamb, osso buco, and the NY steak, which a friend ordered on my recent visit. I was impressed by the flavor and size of the steak (only $25 with all the extras is a true steak bargain). I had the osso buco, which was very tender and served with plenty of delicious sauce. And you can bet that I’ll be going back soon for a steak or some pasta with clams and mussels!

 

Capp’s Corner
1600 Powell St, San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 989-2589
Open for Lunch Sun, Mon, Wed-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm, Sat 11:30am-4:00pm
Dinner served Mon, Wed, Thur 4:30pm-10:00pm, Fri 4:30pm-10:30pm, Sat 4:00pm-10:30pm, Sun 2:30pm-10:00pm
Bar is open Mon 11:00am-10:00pm, Wed-Sun 11:30am-2:00am
Closed Tuesdays

 

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Gene & Georgetti, Chicago, Illinois

My favorite steakhouse in a city known for its steakhouses is Gene & Georgetti. It’s a winning combination of history, classic, never-remodeled decor, old-fashioned service, and prime, dry-aged beef. There may be better steaks in town (I don’t know), but I prefer eating a great steak in a classic steakhouse.

 

G&G1 G&G2

 

 

 

 

 

Gene & Georgetti was opened in 1941 by Gene Michelotti and Alfredo Federighi (aka ‘Georgetti’), taking over an Italian restaurant called Vic’s when the owner retired. In the beginning Alfredo was the chef and Gene the bartender. Gene’s welcoming personality led to it becoming a popular steakhouse with local movers-and-shakers, politicians, and celebrities such as Lucille Ball and Frank Sinatra. When Alfred passed in 1969, Gene became sole owner. That same year Gene’s daughter Marion married Tony Durpetti. When Gene died in 1989 Marion and Tony purchased the restaurant from Gene’s wife Ida, and they still own the restaurant today. Gene and Georgetti has been in the same family for 73 years.

 

bar and front dining area, photo by Zagat.com

bar and front dining room, photo by Zagat.com

 

I love the atmosphere at Gene & Georgetti: dark wood paneling, red and white linen tablecloths, chairs with brass-tacked upholstery, chandeliers, art and photos of celebrities on the walls, Sinatra or Dino playing softly through the PA, and white-jacketed, no-nonsense waiters.

 

mural of old Chicago in dining room - photo by chicagonow.com

mural of c. 1951 Chicago in 2nd floor dining room by owner Tony Durpetti  – photo by chicagonow.com

 

menu

menu

 

The menu (which is a vintage work of art) is classic Italian steakhouse, with a range of appetizers, pastas, steaks & chops, Italian specialties, and seafoood entrees. For an appetizer (or entree) I recommend shrimp DeJonghe, a Chicago specialty of garlicky breaded shrimp, which originated at DeJonghe’s Hotel & Restaurant around the turn of the century. The “Garbage Salad” is famous. It’s an antipasto style iceberg salad that is tossed with a house red wine vinaigrette with a large shrimp on top. As in many midwest eateries the dressing is liberally applied, so if you don’t like salads served that way you may want to order the dressing on the side. The photo below is of the iceberg house salad, not the garbage salad.

 

house salad - photo by Dean Curtis, 2007

house salad – photo by Dean Curtis, 2007

 

Broiled steaks come in four cuts: strip loin (New York), bone-in or boneless, T-bone, bone-in rib eye, and filet mignon, bone-in or boneless. The boneless strip loin and filet mignon come in two sizes. On previous visits I had a bone-in rib eye, which was very large, and excellent. On my visit in 2007 I had a bone-in strip loin. Steaks are priced typically for Chicago, but if you are on a budget they have many entrees under $30 and pastas under $20. They also offer lamb, pork, and veal chops. I love seeing Lyonnaise potatoes on the menu in the Midwest (and at a few West Coast restaurants). They are fried potato slices, like potato chips but thicker.

 

bone-in strip loin - photo by Dean Curtis, 2007

bone-in strip loin with creamed spinach and Lyonnaise potatoes – photo by Dean Curtis, 2007

 

There are many Italian-American dishes on the menu such as veal, chicken, and eggplant parmigiana, veal scalloppine, veal and chicken marsala, and filet Florentine. But I recommend another Chicago specialty, chicken (or veal) Vesuvio, roasted chicken with garlic, olive oil, white wine, parsley, and oregano, served with a generous pile of roasted potatoes. Delicious!

 

The next time you’re in America’s best metropolis (in my opinion), stop in at Chicago’s finest steakhouse, under the El at Franklin and Illinois. Valet parking is complimentary.

Gentlemen, be sure to heed the credo posted in a frame over the bar:

words to live by, framed and hanging over the bar at Gene & Georgetti

words to live by, framed and hanging over the bar at Gene & Georgetti

 

Gene & Georgetti
500 N Franklin St, Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 527-3718
Open Mon-Thu 11am-11pm, Fri & Sat 11am-12 midnight, Sun, opens at 5pm for major conventions.

 

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Barone’s Famous Italian Restaurant, Valley Glen, California

The story about Barone’s Famous Italian Restaurant, still owned by the Monteleone family (since 1950), is actually a story of three restaurants. Two are now history, but the story has a happy ending.

 

photo by baronesfamousitalian.com

photo by baronesfamousitalian.com

 

The original Barone’s restaurant was opened in 1945 at Beverly Glen and Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks by Tony and Frank Arpaia, Jerry and Josephine Barone, and Joe Izzo. It quickly became popular so had to move into a larger building at 14151 Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks (where it remained until 2006). In 1950 more members of the extended family, Frank (Josephine’s brother) and Mary Monteleone joined in the business. According to Frank Monteleone‘s son Tom, who now runs the restaurant, the Dead End Kids would come in all the time to eat after a day’s work filming (Lucille Ball, John Wayne, and Jane Russell were also regulars). One day they asked why Barone’s didn’t serve pizza. The owners told them they didn’t know how to make pizza because they were from Buffalo. The Dead End Kids showed them how to make a good sauce and a New York style thin-crust, but the restaurant didn’t have mozzarella so they used Monterey Jack cheese. The Jack came in square blocks, so they made a rectangular pizza covered with square slices of jack cheese. It was the first rectangular Neapolitan style pizza in California and to this day the restaurant still makes the pizza the same way, with Monterey Jack cheese.

 

Barone's, Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks - photo by city-data.com

Barone’s, Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks – photo by city-data.com

 

The second restaurant involved in the story of Barone’s is a German restaurant, Hoppe’s Old Heidelberg, which opened in 1958 at 13726 Oxnard St. in Van Nuys (now Valley Glen). Old Heidelberg was decorated with modern stained glass windows to filter out the light, dark carved wood walls, deep red leather booths, and Teutonic bric-à-brac. The waitresses wore dirndls. After over 36 years of serving German specialties, it was purchased by award-winning Swiss chef Ueli Huegli, who came with experience from a long list of European and Southern California restaurants. He renamed it Matterhorn Chef (the third restaurant in our story) and added Swiss dishes to the menu.

 

Barone's dining room - photo by The Jab, 2013

Barone’s dining room – photo by The Jab, 2013

 

In 2006 the Matterhorn Chef closed. Barone’s moved out of the Ventura Blvd. location and into its space on Oxnard St. So when you go to Barone’s today you are actually in the original Hoppe’s Old Heidelberg, which thankfully has not changed much since 1958! Perhaps the German/Swiss decor was replaced with Italian paintings but the red booths, woodwork, and stained glass windows are all intact (the lighting is newer). I went once to the Barone’s location on Ventura Blvd before it moved and I admit that I like the “new” Old Heidelberg/Matterhorn Chef/Barone’s space better. Good news for Matterhorn Chef fans came in 2010 when Ueli Huegli opened a new restaurant in Valley Glen called Swiss Chef, with many of the famous dishes that were on the menu at Matterhorn Chef.

 

arty stained glass windows at Barone's - photo by The Jab, 2013

arty stained glass windows at Barone’s – photo by The Jab, 2013

 

The menu is long at Barone’s, with pizza, Italian specialties, and steaks. I had the “famous” New York pepper steak (USDA Choice grain-fed, aged 21-days), which was good as I recall. But you really should try the pizza because that is what they are famous for. Barone’s has long been famous for its old school entertainment, and the tradition continues every Friday and Saturday night after 8:30, when performers playing jazz, standards, and oldies get people of all ages in the bar cuttin’ a rug on the dance floor. It’s a lively scene I experienced back when I visited the old Sherman Oaks location and again in 2013 at the Valley Glen Barone’s.

 

scene from Fast Times at Ridgemont High filmed at Old Heidelburg (now Barone's)

scene from Fast Times at Ridgemont High filmed at Old Heidelburg (now Barone’s)

 

You may recall a funny scene in 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High (one of my top-ten favorite 80s films), where Mark “Rat” Ratner (Brian Backer) and Stacey Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) had a date, but Rat forgot to bring his wallet. That scene was filmed at Old Heidelberg (now Barone’s). You can clearly see the red booths and stained glass in the above still (I think this is the same room that I snapped a photo of but looking towards the front of the restaurant instead of the back). Too bad the high-backed leather chairs are gone today (though similar ones are still used at The Imperial House In San Diego and at the Sycamore Inn in Rancho Cucamonga). The restaurant has been used in other films as well.

 

Barone’s Famous Italian Restaurant
13726 Oxnard St, Los Angeles, CA 91401
818-782-6004
Open daily at 11:00am, lunch served Mon-Fri 11:00am-3:00pm, dinner Mon-Thu until 9:30pm, Fri-Sat until 11:30pm, Sun until 9:00pm
Live entertainment Friday and Saturday 8:30pm-12:30am

 

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La Dolce Vita, Beverly Hills, California

I first heard about this hidden gem of a restaurant on the defunct web site latimemachines.com by a man named Jonathan M., who I never had the pleasure of meeting, but I felt a kinship with him through our shared love for time-travel restaurants. Sadly, he closed his website a few years ago and I don’t know what became of him. I was able to print many of the pages from his site before it went down, which grew very extensive in its last years of 2009-2011. He championed La Dolce Vita as one of the Top 10 Time Machine Restaurants in Los Angeles. Perhaps it was even #1 on his list (though I seem to recall that Musso and Frank Grill had that well-deserved spot). Anyway, I finally was able to visit La Dolce Vita recently with friends and now I know what Jonathan was raving about. Even after a minor remodel in 2013 and without long-time maître d’ Ruben Castro, who retired the same year, it was a wonderful dining experience, so now it is one of my favorite overall restaurants in California.

 

photo by The Jab, 2014

photo by The Jab, 2014

 

Near the busy intersection of Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevards, La Dolce Vita was opened in 1966 by two waiters from Patsy D’Amore’s Villa Capri, Jimmy Ullo and George Smith. The legend goes that Frank Sinatra and actor George Raft helped fund the restaurant. You will hear many restaurants claim that Sinatra was a regular, but at La Dolce Vita it’s a fact. It was his main hangout until his death. He liked to sit at table #2, a small table for two near the bar with a view of the front door and the entire restaurant (table #15 was his regular booth for entertaining, and is now marked with a brass plaque with his name). Other regulars included Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Gregory Peck, Don Rickles, Anthony Quinn, and every President (today, photos and brass plaques honor its previous celebrity clientele)..

 

La Dolce Vita bar - photo by The Jab, 2014

La Dolce Vita bar – photo by The Jab, 2014

 

In the 1980s, Ruben Castro was hired as a waiter. His local resume was impressive, having worked at Sunset Strip landmarks Frascati’s, Estephanino’s, La Rue, Nicky Blair’s, and The Saloon in Beverly Hills, since emigrating from Mexico in 1966, the same year La Dolce Vita opened. He moved to captain, then maître d‘, until his retirement in 2013.

 

dining room - photo by The Jab, 2014

dining room – photo by The Jab, 2014

 

In 2000 Ullo and Smith sold the restaurant and it started to go somewhat downhill, no longer attracting local diners. The great-great-grandson of Henry Ford, Alessandro Uzielli, an AFI-graduate who works for Ford Motor Company in movie product placement, as well as being a movie producer (Bongwater), purchased La Dolce Vita in 2003 to try to save a fading Hollywood landmark. After a slow start people started to show up again, including Robert Wagner, Jill St. John, Don Knotts, Bob Newhart, and Tony Martin. Today’s regulars include Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Lorne Michaels, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Steve Martin, and Penélope Cruz.

 

dining room - photo by The Jab, 2014

dining room – photo by The Jab, 2014

 

In 2013 the restaurant closed for a week for a refurbishment. Not much was changed that I can see from photos taken before the remodel. The original brick walls (which are actually fake), tufted booths, gilt-framed and paned mirrors (which make the place look larger than it is), decorative metal wall dividers, and lamps from the 1960s remain. The only change that is obvious is an acoustic tile ceiling was replaced with a more attractive ceiling (a change for the better). A slight disappointment on my recent visit was the original brass-tacked bar stools (in pic below) have been replaced for some reason with contemporary high-backed bar “chairs” that didn’t look right (strangely, the old ones were still present in the pics on this post-remodel article), though I loved the diamond tufted bar front in gold.

 

photo by la-confidential-magazine.com

bar with old bar stools – photo by la-confidential-magazine.com

 

The restaurant has no windows, which makes for a nice dark and romantic atmosphere, just how Le Continental likes it. Classic songs by Sinatra, Dino, and other legendary vocalists plays at a soft volume.

 

dining room - photo by The Jab, 2014

dining room – photo by The Jab, 2014

 

Also in 2013, the menu was revised, but most of the restaurant’s dishes are Italian classics (such as chicken and veal scaloppini and steak Florentine), and their famous dishes, such as steak Sinatra (a prime filet mignon with red peppers and a chianti demi glace) and veal meatballs with spaghetti, remain on the menu. All of their pastas are made in house. I had a starter of arancini, followed by a Caesar salad, and steak Sinatra. Everything was excellent and the service was top-notch.

 

steak Sinatra - photo by The Jab, 2014

steak Sinatra – photo by The Jab, 2014

 

The next time you’re in the Los Angeles area you owe it to yourself to make a reservation to dine in style at La Dolce Vita. Wear a suit. Dino would have.

 

La Dolce Vita
9785 Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(310) 278-1845
Open Sun-Thu 5:00pm-10:00pm, Fri-Sat 5:00pm-11:00pm

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