Every city has one. In New York, it’s Sparks. In LA, it’s Lawry’s. A steakhouse that feels as old as the city itself, and just in case you forget that it’s a landmark, you’re constantly reminded by the black and white photos of famous patrons-past that line the wood-paneled walls.
In San Francisco, that steakhouse is John’s Grill. John’s isn’t only famous by movie-star standards. It’s also famous by literary standards. Yes, this is the John’s Grill that was featured in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. This fact is prominently displayed on their water glasses:
Now, I believe that you can judge a restaurant by its freebies. Between the fresh sour dough bread and the gratis sparkling water, I had a good feeling right off the bat. Our friendly, buttoned-up waitress gave me an even better feeling. She was able to direct us as far as what was the best seafood item - the broiled seabass - which I promptly ordered. The husband went with the New York strip. Both dishes came with a small pile of vegetables and a baked potato.
Here is the seabass:
Yes, that is a butter sauce. And, here is the steak:
As you can see, the husband’s beans fared much better than mine. But, you don’t go to John’s Grill for the beans, which weren’t great. You go for the meatiness of it all.
If I were to sum up both dishes with one word, it would be “rich”. Again, did you see that butter sauce? And, look at the sheen on that steak - I would bet it’s more butter. Plus, you can stuff your potato with more butter AND sour cream. It was a good thing we walked there.
The food was decent. The patrons mostly looked like they had just gotten off work, or were attending some sort of business meeting. The service was impeccable. And, the bill was $60 with no drinks, appetizers, or desserts. But the ambiance - the crisp white linens, the oak walls, the black and white photos, the plush chairs - you get a sense of history. It’s a true, American steakhouse. I’m not saying that I would go back, but I’m not saying I regret going. It’s that type of place.
Historic John’s Grill is located in Downtown San Francisco at 63 Ellis Street, San Francisco, CA 94103
Phone: (415) 986-3274