Pat's Cafe: A Cozy Familiarity That Still Mirrors San Francisco's Funk

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The exterior of Pat's Cafe is tough to ignore.

Pat's Cafe, a nine-year-old American restaurant tucked away on Taylor street by Columbus Avenue in North Beach, has found a perfect balance to give locals and tourists alike a true taste of our city.

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Tangerine, green and yellow all splash the walls of Pat's Cafe
It's a lot to take in, but once inside, it's difficult to leave. Pat's Cafe may be a bit of an eyesore outside, with its mustard yellow exterior, but the interior gleams. Bells jingle to greet all those who walk in, only followed by the welcome of tangerine-splashed walls, colorfully-tiled floors, and the smile of a server. It's cozy, to say the least. Sunlight floods through windows on the street-side of the cafe, allowing customers to watch the trolley cars pass by filled with tourists craning their necks to capture the best photos of the Wharf. San-Francisco-themed photographs and artwork adorn the tangerine walls, and the air is filled with conversations from both tourists and locals, and swing music from the radio.

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Cafe Gratitude Says It's Closing Over a Tip Pooling Lawsuit. Is Pooling Tips Even Legal?

Categories: Ask the Critic
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nikola-master / Shutterstock
The blowup of the Cafe Gratitude empire, yesterday's biggest food-news story, was ostensibly brought on by the owners' response to several lawsuits that waiters have filed over the restaurants' tip-pooling policies. In recent months, several nationally renowned New York restaurants have also been hit with lawsuits over tip pooling.

Is tip pooling even legal in California? SFoodie posed that question to several San Francisco attorneys specializing in employment law.

The answer, in brief, is yes. Matt Marca, a labor employment lawyer with the San Francisco office of Littler, which is representing Cafe Gratitude,* told SFoodie that California state courts first ruled in 1990 that tip pooling is legal among staff who provide direct service to customers -- waiters, bussers, bartenders. 

In 2009, the California Appellate Court ruled in Etheridge v. Reins International that the pool could be expanded to include anyone in the chain of service. "The court took a pragmatic look at service," Marca explains. "The restaurant doesn't know everything that goes into a tip that a customer gives for service. When you talk to a maitre d' and he's unpleasant, maybe you leave less of a tip. Maybe he's nice to you and you leave a better tip. If you sat down, and your waiter was wonderful but the food was horrible, maybe you left less of a tip, and the kitchen's the issue. Maybe your plate arrives and the food is wonderful and the service is great, but the plate had leftover food from the last meal on it, so you're not going to leave as good a tip. That's the dishwasher's fault." 

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Why Are There No Chinese Restaurants on OpenTable?

Categories: Ask the Critic
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myhsu/Flickr
R&G Lounge: One of San Francisco's best restaurants, but not on OpenTable.
San Francisco-based OpenTable.com isn't just successful, it practically has a monopoly on mid-to-high-priced restaurants in this town, from a small neighborhood bistro like Bia's to destinations like Chez Panisse. In fact, looking over the 1,114 restaurants in its Bay Area listings, it's harder to ID places that don't use the online reservation service than restaurants who do.

Unless you start looking for Chinese restaurants.

Search the list for "Asian restaurants" -- there's no "Chinese" grouping in the search form, though "Japanese" and "sushi" exist -- and you'll find two ABC Seafood locations on the Peninsula, plus a couple of Brandy Ho's and Tommy Toy's in the city.

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Why Are All You Guys Reviewing the Same Place at Once?

Categories: Ask the Critic
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Kimberly Sandie
Did all you critics need to gush over Nojo's tempura this week?
Today's question comes from B.T.:
Why did you, Michael Bauer, and Patricia Unterman review Nojo in the same week? Did you all go to the restaurant together?
In the days when I read restaurant reviews rather than writing them, weeks like this used to infuriate me. Now that I'm part of the problem, it just makes me sigh. In fact, I suspected Nojo might have a three-review week.

High-profile restaurants are likely to get reviewed as soon as they become eligible -- for most regular restaurant critics in town, open season begins 30 days after opening day. Most of us go several times to the restaurant, spread out over two to four weeks. It takes another two weeks to file the story, follow it through the editing process, and have the photographer visit. Minimum wait time for a review to appear after a restaurant opens: six weeks. (Nojo opened March 30, so it earned itself a couple of extra weeks.)

In fact, if you're of a mathematical bent, you might be able to calculate the probability of a triple-review week yourself. More »

S.F. Public Library to Acquire the Six-Volume Modernist Cuisine

Categories: Ask the Critic
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I was out for dinner with a couple of friends, talking about the reading Nathan Myhrvold gave this week at Omnivore Books, which we had all missed. The cost of attendance: purchasing a copy of Myhrvold's six-volume, 2,400-page Modernist Cuisine -- one of the most talked-about, controversial books of the year -- at a steeply discounted price of $500. (For more background, read Michael Ruhlman's review in the New York Times.) One friend wondered aloud whether the San Francisco Public Library would buy a copy.

Yesterday, I spoke to Mark Hall, fourth-floor manager at the Main Branch of the library, who oversees the purchasing of all cookery books. Yes, he says, the library has already ordered two copies of Modernist Cuisine -- one for the reference section, and a second copy to circulate. The book should be on the stacks in a few months. Although Modernist Cuisine is listed in the library catalog as a single book, Hall says patrons will be able to check out individual volumes. You'll have to check back and place a hold on them when they appear online.

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Where Can We Take Our Parents? And Hear Ourselves Talk?

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Mona C./Yelp
Chabaa: Quiet, good, cheap.
Today's query comes from J.S.:
So, the girlfriend's parents and my parents are both flying out to San Francisco to meet each other for the first time. We'd like to take them all out to dinner, but here's the thing: My father is deaf in one ear, and her dad doesn't hear so well either, so we need someplace reasonably quiet. Plus, we'd like to pick up the check at the end of the meal, so something that doesn't break the bank would be appreciated. Both our parents are NPR-listening, would-be foodies, so adventurous and spicy is fine. Any ideas? Also, we live in Hayes Valley and are both bicyclists. Imagine we'd be taking public transit or cabs, so something in Marin headlands might not be so great.
A quiet restaurant is generally harder to find than an affordable one. Well, to be more specific, quiet + affordable + good enough to draw a devoted clientele = not common at all. Operating under the assumption that you hope to spend $20 a person maximum, I have a few suggestions:

If your parents want spicy but you don't want them to think you're being cheap for cheap's sake, I'd suggest one of two Thai restaurants: Lers Ros, in the Tenderloin, does a brisk business, but rarely grows deafening. I've only worked my way through a tiny portion of the giant menu so far, but have enjoyed the salads, pork belly, and anything pad ped. Bonus: The soups are served in a hotpot that spits flame out the center, which makes everyone feel like they're living on the edge. And the N will get you out to Chabaa, the quietest and most attractive of the restaurants I'm recommending. If you order off this translated Thai-language menu in addition to the more Americanized Thai menu, you'll find the roasted pork neck, salads, and Lao sausages are standouts, and the servers couldn't be friendlier.

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Uh, Can You Find Tempeh in the Tempeh District?

Categories: Ask the Critic
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Tempeh. Not from the Tempeh District.
In one of its regularly scheduled publicity stunts, PETA wrote to Ed Lee this week asking him to change the name of the Tenderloin to "Tempeh District." I'd consider the change ― Jones and O'Farrell will forever be known as "the Tandoorloin" after a Chronicle piece many years ago. One niggling question, though: Can you actually get tempeh in the neighborhood?

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Where Should I Go on an Ex-Date? How About a New One?

Categories: Ask the Critic
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Anchor and Hope
Over the weekend, I received questions from people on opposite ends of the dating spectrum. The first request:

Where should I take an ex for dinner when he's in town for business? He'll be staying downtown. I want someplace near his hotel where we can catch up, but not too quiet and not too expensive. Also: He doesn't drink.
Answer: My first thought was Barbacco or RN74, but both of those are better if you're hoping to duck behind a thick wine list when the accusations fly. So I'd recommend you pick one of Doug Washington and the Rosenthal brothers' more casual places: Salt House (545 Mission, at First St., 543-8900) and Anchor and Hope (83 Minna, at Second St., 501-9100). They're good-looking restaurants with flattering lighting, the bustle is considerable enough to create a sonic bubble around your conversation, and the food is easy to enjoy whether he's a fish-and-chips guy or an expense-account daredevil. Plus, if you need to do a little post-date processing on your own, 83 Proof and House of Shields are right around the corner.

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Where Do I Take A Dozen People for Brunch This Weekend?

Categories: Ask the Critic
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Master Maq/Flickr
Mama's: Good for brunch, bad for the groups.
This week, I'm relaunching SFoodie's "Ask the Critic" column: real dining questions for real San Franciscans. Do you have questions about cheap restaurants, unfamiliar cuisines, dating someone with dietary restrictions, or things you're too shy to ask your foodie friends about? I promise honest answers ― and if I don't know offhand, I'm not afraid to make a few phone calls. Hit me up at jonathan.kauffman@sfweekly.com.

This week is the second time this month I've answered the following question. From G.G.:
I have to plan a Sunday brunch with a dozen people, including kids. Any ideas for some place that might accommodate such a monstrous party? Not dim sum ― we did that last time.
Large groups, I'm sorry to say, are hellish for both restaurants and customers. Someone's always late, someone never pays enough, and everyone has special needs. Brunch already inspires people to wait long past their tolerance level, and so the last place you want to go to is to a well-known brunch spot like Mama's, Boogaloos, or Brenda's. 

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How Do You Ask Your Customers to Leave at the End of the Meal?

Categories: Ask the Critic
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So not to dwell on one bad moment in a good meal, but I wanted to address the incident that happened at the end of my last dinner at Seven Hills:
Ten minutes after signing the check, as our conversation was winding down, the waiter leaned over. "I'm sorry," he whispered, "but my boss asked me to tell you that we have another reservation waiting. Would it be possible to leave?" We filed out, shaking our heads.
As far as I'm concerned, a great meal doesn't end with the signing of the check, it ends with everyone at the table sitting around, letting the conversation die off, feeling flushed and contented. (And frankly, that often takes more than 10 minutes, especially if you've spent some cash and made a night of it.) As a restaurateur, how you say good-bye to your guests is more important than how often you pour water or change the silverware, since it's the last thing they remember of your restaurant. But small restaurants also need to turn tables to survive. So how do you get customers out of their seats? 


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