Not exactly fast food

If you think about a restaurant that is only open for lunch, you probably think of a sandwich joint in an office park.  Mostly, that’s true.  But I know of one fine dining establishment that closes every afternoon at 5, The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus in San Francisco.

The Rotunda is the perfect site for “ladies who lunch”, upscale tourists and lucky guys from the East Bay who have a lunch meeting in the City.  It’s on the fourth floor of the store, so you get to ride the escalators up and gawk at the $1100 shoes and $600 shirts, or stop and look at the really expensive stuff.

Because they rely on being available for shopper to have a bite, they only take reservations for 1/3 of the tables.  We walked in around 1:30 pm and had no problem getting a table, but were not able to get a window seat with the big view of Union Square.

The rococco design of the old City of Paris store lives on.

The rococo design of the old City of Paris store lives on.


Meals at The Rotunda always begin with a tiny cup of consumé and bit of pastry, delivered to every diner even before the waiter makes his way to the table.

A delicate beginning to the meal

A delicate beginning to the meal


Next up is the popover, accompanied by strawberry butter.  In the old days you got two kinds–strawberry and plain butter.  The accountants got to the menu, though, and now you have to ask for plain butter. In these hard times we all have to make sacrifices.


A very practiced presentation.

A very practiced presentation.

Making popovers is an art; one that the Rotunda has perfected.  If you look hungry, they’ll even bring you another one.  Be careful, though. The food is here is good; you don’t want to spoil your appetite.

Gail started with the tomato soup–not tomato bisque, not cream of tomato, honest to God tomato soup, big tasty chunks of perfectly ripe tomato and not a drop of cream in sight.  Linda Bandler would love this soup just as much as Gail did.

Then Gail had the shrimp and crab louis.

That's a  heck of a mound of dungeness crab.

That’s a heck of a mound of dungeness crab.

There isn’t anything very creative about this dish, it”s just the basics of perfectly fresh crisp lettuce, tomato, hard boiled egg and avocado topped with a ton of fresh dungeness and a bunch of huge prawns.  It’s hard to beat doing something simple and standard, just doing every little bit of it perfectly.

I had something considerably more daring:

Smoked salmon and truffled egg salad

Smoked salmon and truffled egg salad

This is an open-faced sandwich–there is a slice of brioche bread under all that smoked salmon.  The egg salad was phenomenal, strongly flavored with savory truffles.  The combination is something I’ve never seen before and may never see again, I’m very glad I tried it.

Our friend Harry has another The Rotunda classics, the lobster club:

How to make an old standby super upscale.

How to make an old standby super upscale.


Just take the chicken out of a club sandwich and substitute lobster, what could be simpler?  Switch from Wonder bread to house made brioche bread.  Add some chips made from hand sliced potatoes, and you’ve got a dish worthy of the Neiman Marcus name.  You can charge a couple of bucks more, too.


A meal like this deserves dessert.  I had the chocolate caramel butterscotch budino, which is just the richest dish of pudding you ever had.

Not what you get in those little plastic cups.

Not what you get in those little plastic cups.

It isn’t often that a dish is so rich I can’t finish it, but there was just too much heavy creamy goodness here for me to choke it all down.  Fortunately, Gail helped.

Gail went for the simple finish to her meal:

One single, perfect scoop of Espresso ice cream.

One single, perfect scoop of Espresso ice cream.

Gail didn’t want the entire dessert, just the scoop of ice cream, so she asked for what she wanted and the house was happy to comply.  I’m always surprised by people who are afraid to order “off the menu”–it’s a restaurant, they will make what you want.

And yes, I ate my flower.  Just for the heck of it, they don’t really have much taste.  It’s a good way to amaze the grandkids, too.

Harry had the limoncello tiramisu.  Limoncello is a liqueur made from lemon peel, and is bitter as a three time loser in divorce court, but you can add a ton of sugar and make it palatable.

Another gorgeous dish.

Another gorgeous dish.


Service was, shall we say, leisurely.  You don’t just pop into the Rotunda for a quick bite on a 30 minute lunch break, and they aren’t about to rush you through your meal.  Eat here and you have time to savor your meal and share all the latest gossip with your companions.

Prices are what you would expect from a store with $1500 purses and $200 mens ties.  What few reservations they take are available on  Always ask for a window table.

We get to The Rotunda 3 or 4 times a year, and enjoy it every time.  It’s the classiest way to have lunch on a shopping trip to the City, and unquestionably the best lunch-only place to eat anywhere.

Rotunda on Urbanspoon




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