A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…as garlic? That would be true if the name were The Stinking Rose, San Francisco's garlic restaurant, located near the landmark Coit Tower and the Embarcadero. Locals as well as visitors call this original restaurant a favorite, and this visitor in particular makes a point to go there whenever I visit the city-by-the-bay.
The menu says, "We season our garlic with food," and they mean it so much they even trademarked the saying. Everything they serve contains the odiferous herb. No exceptions-well, except for the desserts. But I go for the main attraction.
This Californian-Italian restaurant isn't a gimmick. Jerry Dal Bozzo came up with the concept and opened the restaurant with restauranteur Dante Serafini in 1991. In 1995, another Stinking Rose restaurant opened in Beverly Hills. In 1996, Executive Chef Andrea Foncillo joined the team and added his culinary expertise to the operation. This ain't no stinkin' slop joint. The Stinking Rose is dining at its finest.
Like any good Italian restaurant, the ambiance sets the tone. Curtains of strung corks and empty bottles of Chianti hang from the ceiling like grapevines. My companion and I were seated at a two top by the window in the back corner of a room, its walls covered with black-framed photographs of the famous and infamous. The music of Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Dean Martin crooned overhead. A waiter came over immediately, took our order, and returned promptly with our drinks and first appetizer.
Don't say you don't like garlic until you've tried the Bagna Calda, which means "garlic hot tub." Sensual, slippery, garlic cloves soaked in extra virgin olive oil, butter and anchovies are served with bread for dipping. This popular dish, kept warm at the table over a small votive, has only one drawback: it's entirely possible to gorge yourself on it, which could potentially spoil your ability to gorge on forthcoming courses.
Another "must do" appetizer is the Roasted Garlic Potato Onion Soup. The soup is hot when it arrives at the table, covered by a pastry cap over the bowl that creates a soft dough when mixed with the creamy potage. It's beyond good to the last drop. By the time I scrape the bottom of the soup bowl, I'm stuffed.
But wait, there's more. My husband and I choose the top two entries to split: bone-roasted Forty Clove Garlic Chicken or Garlic Braised Boneless Short Rib, served with yummy garlic Yukon Gold mashed potatoes. Priced under $20, these best sellers are worth every clove. If meat can melt in your mouth, these do.
Fish and seafood lovers will go for the sizzling iron skillets with any combination of peel and eat shrimp, crab or mussels or one of three tureens of either garlic steamed clams, seafood "zuppa," or Louisiana shrimp in a tomato broth. All of these menu items can be sized accordingly for small to extremely large appetites.
What would an Italian restaurant be without pasta? Again, fish aficionados have plenty of choices, which is always a safe bet so close to the sea. Whether you prefer pesto to tomato sauce, lasagna to linguini, or gnocchetti with gorgonzola, you can get it here. Ahem. With garlic, of course.
Meat lovers will not want for choices either. Try the Silence of the Lamb Shank with Chianti sauce and fava beans, or go for Roasted Rabbit with olives. The Porterhouse Pork Chop is another favorite, as is the Italian Garlic Meatloaf and the Baby Back Ribs. Those with expandable waistbands might consider a slab of the 100% USDA certified prime Midwestern beef Garlic Roasted Prime Rib, although the large cut is plenty. The Surf and Turf combines The Stinking Rose's Dungeness crab fresh from the Pacific Ocean with the Prime Rib that comes with the afore-mentioned potatoes and Swiss chard. You'll never have to eat again.
Did I mention desserts? There are the standards, all up to par: tiramisu, chocolate mousse, and vanilla ice cream. Oh yes. There's one more. Uh-huh. You guessed it. Leave enough space in your stomach for Gilroy's Famous Garlic Ice Cream-in case you didn't get enough of that which we call a stinking rose-by any other name would taste so sweet.
The Stinking Rose
325 Columbus Avenue (between Vallejo and Broadway)
San Francisco, CA 94133
Open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
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